5 2023 NBA Draft prospects Portland should target with Knicks pick

Dereck Lively II, Duke Blue Devils - Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Dereck Lively II, Duke Blue Devils - Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports /
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The focus of the Portland Trail Blazers has turned completely to the offseason, which includes free agency and some monumental decisions to make for the team’s future. Included in those decisions is what to do with the New York Knicks’ draft pick Portland acquired and sits at No. 23 overall.

The pick stems from the midseason trade that sent Josh Hart to New York for Cam Reddish, Svi Mykhailiuk, Ryan Arcidiacono, and a lottery-protected pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Hart had been a consistent starter next to Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic, but as the team pivoted, he was sent to the Eastern Conference.

While Hart flourished for the Knicks as a spark-plug player, the Blazers floundered and missed the playoffs. The silver lining of these opposite pendulum swings is that Portland is now armed with a second pick in a potentially better-than-expected draft.

Given how much analysis has been done about the Blazers’ own pick, which will land high in the lottery, it’s worth digging into the types of late-round steals the team could get with the23rd pick in the NBA draft.

With a number of needs, there is a vast range of prospects that the team could pursue with this pick.

Knicks Pick Candidate #1: James Nnaji, Barcelona

One of the most significant issues the Portland Trail Blazers have had during Lillard’s career has been the lack of defense. The team has struggled due to personnel and injuries, but with Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic in the lineup, it’s hard to build the foundations of a competent defense that can even make it to the playoffs.

With Nurkic infinitely more replaceable than Lillard, the Blazers would do well this offseason to start looking for a player to replace him at center. While Victor Wembanyama would be the dream target, there’s no guarantee that the team will be able to skyrocket in the lottery and get the first overall pick.

Instead, looking for an underrated center project with the Knicks pick would suit the team better. There will be many flawed but high-upside centers to draft, but youngest, most athletic of them is James Nnaji.

Nnaji has spent a few years in the lower rungs of Barcelona’s men’s basketball team in Spain, but at just 18 years old, Nnaji has started to flash some tantalizing yet raw physical gifts. He only averages about 5 points and 4 rebounds a game, but that’s due to how difficult it is for younger players to play major Euroleague minutes, not his lack of talent:

By taking Nnaji, the Blazers would be committing to letting him develop slowly between the G-League and spot NBA minutes, hoping that he could eventually capitalize on his immense physical gifts and become one of the best rim-running two-way centers in the NBA.