Candidate No. 2: Shaedon Sharpe
Now entering his second season, Shaedon Sharpe is a 6-foot-6, 200-pound guard out of the University of Kentucky, which he attended but didn’t play.
He was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2022 class, reclassified to attend Kentucky, yet only practiced with the team. As a result, Sharpe was a coveted NBA draft prospect, yet a relatively unknown player compared to other lottery selections.
The Blazers took a flyer on Sharpe’s potential and athleticism, selecting him with pick No. 7 in the 2022 NBA Draft. So far, the risk has certainly paid off.
The case for Sharpe
He had a productive rookie season in Portland, averaging 9.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists on 47/36/71 shooting splits in 22.2 minutes per game.
One of the most promising stretches of the season for Sharpe was toward the end when the Blazers decided to shut Lillard down. As a result, Sharpe received an increase in playing time and capitalized on it. Sharpe recorded 15 games as a starter last season, and during that time, he averaged 18.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists with similar efficiency.
Because Sharpe reclassified, he’s still only 20 years old and will be on the cusp of entering his prime five years from now. However, the tantalizing talent, athleticism and potential he displayed toward the end of last season make a great case for him to be the Blazers’ best player.
The case against Sharpe
Similar to Henderson, Sharpe must improve his shooting, playmaking and defense. Both are incredibly athletic guards (arguably the most explosive in the league) with enough talent to give them all-star-level potential.
Offensively, Sharpe is a good but not elite 3-point shooter at this point in his career. He isn’t a playmaker and doesn’t get teammates involved very often, as evidenced by his 1.2 assists per game last season.
He’ll need to improve his 3-point shooting in order to become a three-level scoring threat. If he isn’t going to be a great playmaker, then Sharpe will have to find ways to continue to improve what he is best at, which is being a crafty, slashing scorer.
Defensively, Sharpe was a negative. He had a defensive RAPTOR rating of -2.7 last season. The good news is that he has the physical tools to be a solid wing defender at 6-6 with his quickness. Now it’s just a matter of gradually improving through experience.
The case of Henderson versus Sharpe may boil down to who can improve their weaknesses the most. We already know they will be solid, if not elite, scorers in the league. But who can truly impact winning outside of scoring through their decision-making and defense?