The Portland Trail Blazers roster admittedly needs some work if the team wants to contend for a title next season, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
Damian Lillard is still in Rip City (for now), Jerami Grant is likely to return, Matisse Thybulle showed he’s worth keeping around as an inexpensive defensive stopper, and while Jusuf Nurkic isn’t an ideal big man for the Blazers, he’s still a proven NBA center when he’s healthy and engaged.
Then there are the kids. Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe are two foundational building blocks for Portland in the event Lillard is dealt or two of the most desirable players on the NBA trade market this summer if Dame stays put.
Apparently, though, they’re not two of the best players in the league age 23 or younger?
Simons, Sharpe left off The Athletic’s 23-and-under mock draft
James L Edwards, Tim Cato, and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic decided to do a fun exercise to show just how bright the future of the NBA is. They completed an eight-round 23-and-under mock draft, snaking their way through who they believe to be the best 24 players in the league in that age bracket.
There was some serious talent that went off the board in the first few rounds, including Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. (2023 NBA Defensive Player of the Year), Orlando’s Paolo Banchero (2023 NBA Rookie of the Year), and Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards (No. 1 overall pick).
Then players like Houston’s Alperen Sengun, the Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren, Detroit’s Jalen Duren, and New Orleans’ Trey Murphy III flew off the board in the final few rounds.
This begs the question: Are these players better than Simons and/or Sharpe?
Disclaimer: All three writers built their teams as actual teams; which means balanced rosters, offense, defense, shooting, etc.
Forgive them for not including Sharpe, perhaps. He proved down the stretch of his rookie season that he’s a potential NBA star, but potential is an important word in that sentence. Maybe he hasn’t shown enough yet.
Simons is a much more inexcusable snub. Holmgren hasn’t stepped foot on an NBA floor yet and is a 7-footer with feet issues (which usually doesn’t bode well for players his size). Sengun has proven himself to be an excellent interior scorer, but how much value does that hold in the current NBA?
McDaniels is a rangy, defensively-gifted wing, but he just averaged double figures in scoring for the first time in his career in his third NBA season. He’s only a year and a half younger than Simons, who just completed his fifth season in the league and scored more than 20 points per game.
Duren has started 31 career contests. Murphy is a solid role player, but he’s even older than McDaniels and doesn’t shoot or score as well as Simons, who has 132 more games of NBA experience.
Maybe they forgot the Blazers guard is still only 23? Since he’s already a proven player in the league who’s started more games than Holmgren, Duren, and Banchero combined? And has played more games in the last two seasons alone than the third-overall pick in this exercise, Zion Williamson, has managed to play in his entire career?
Simons is simply better than at least a handful of players on this list. It’s laughable he’s not included. There’s arguably a place for Sharpe over Duren and Holmgren, certainly, and maybe McDaniels and Sengun as well.