A lot of good nuggets came out of Portland Trail Blazers Media Day that should help give us an idea of what the franchise is hoping to accomplish in its inaugural post-Damian Lillard season. How good can Scoot Henderson be? What are the expectations for Deandre Ayton? How big of a jump can Shaedon Sharpe make? Is Malcolm Brogdon staying or going? Here’s the latest Blazers news.
Chauncey Billups sees Deandre Ayton as a top-5 NBA center
As the centerpiece of the Lillard trade, Deandre Ayton was a constant topic of conversation at media day, and it seems like Portland has high hopes for its new starting big.
Head coach Chauncey Billups, for instance, believes Ayton is one of the best centers in the entire NBA:
"Sometimes it’s just time for a change. I think that was probably what happened with him (in Phoenix). For me, I’m really excited about DA. He’s already a top-five center in the league and there are so many levels he can get to. We’ve got to help him reach his potential. That’s my responsibility as a coach.Blazers’ head coach Chauncey Billups on Deandre Ayton"
A top-five center seems lofty. Well, there’s two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers’ big man Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, Domantas Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings, the Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner… Is Ayton in that group?
On the right night, he is. Ask Phoenix Suns fans where he ranks on the wrong night, though, when he’s playing soft and isn’t engaged.
Ayton has all the physical tools to be one of the premier centers in the league. He’s versatile enough defensively to step out onto the perimeter and hedge guards, and he’s skilled enough offensively to score in the post and extend his range out to at least 15 feet.
He’s averaging 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds for his career. He’s “a walking double-double,” as some people like to put it.
Billups said it best – it’s his and the Blazers’ coaching staff’s responsibility to help the 25-year-old reach his potential. If they can, he’ll be DominAyton in Portland for awhile.
Is Malcolm Brogdon staying in Portland and adding to a crowded young backcourt?
The Trail Blazers acquired Jrue Holiday from the Milwaukee Bucks as part of the Lillard trade, and within days, flipped him to the Boston Celtics for a package that featured Robert Williams III and Malcolm Brogdon.
As a 30-year-old guard in a backcourt that features franchise building blocks Scoot Henderson, Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, it would seem like Brogdon would take the Holiday route and move on to a contending team.
Not so fast, though, according to Billups and Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin. The 2016-17 Rookie of the Year could be sticking around.
"“He’s just a grown-up. And we have all these young pups who are very young in the league, and you need some grown-ups around them who can help them, show them … and Malcolm is the perfect guy.”Billups on Malcolm Brogdon"
Cronin is of the same mind.
"We want to have Malcolm come here and be a part of this. He can bring some good on-court intangibles for us and also as a veteran, which is something we’re going to need. We have a very young roster. I want to make sure there’s enough veteran leadership around these guys.Blazers’ GM Joe Cronin on Brogdon"
It looks like Brogdon is here to stay – at least for now – and it’ll be up to Billups to find the right combination of minutes for the veteran combo guard and his “young pups.”
Shaedon Sharpe is good with any role this season
Other than Ayton’s new nickname for himself, one of the pleasant surprises to come out of media day was second-year pro Shaedon Sharpe’s apparent willingness to play any role Billups needs.
Based on the way Sharpe finished last season, he deserves at least a chance to crack the starting lineup. That’ll be difficult with Scoot and Simons seemingly entrenched as the backcourt starters, but Shaedon also said he’s open to playing any position, which could mean getting minutes at small forward.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, for real,” Sharpe said simply.
Portland’s rotation is looking deeper by the minute (or maybe by the trade). Henderson, Simons, Matisse Thybulle, Jerami Grant, Williams III, Ayton and Brogdon will all get legitimate minutes. Add someone as talented as Sharpe to that group and it’s not just the future that looks bright.
Do the Trail Blazers have enough talent to make some noise in the Western Conference as soon as this season?