The Portland Trail Blazers are in the early stages of a franchise rebuild centered around young potential superstars Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons. All three ascending guards were first-round picks. But as Portland is quickly discovering, that's not the only way to acquire talent. Second-round picks can be just as valuable.
It only took a few weeks for Toumani Camara, the 52nd pick in the 2023 draft, to earn a starting role for head coach Chauncey Billups. Jabari Walker, the 57th pick in the 2022 draft, has become an integral part of this year's rotation as part of a bench crew that's ruining opponents.
It appears unearthing second-round gems might be becoming a trend for the Trail Blazers, because there's another one currently plying his trade with Portland's G League affiliate, the Rip City Remix, who looks like he's next in line.
Rayan Rupert is on his way to becoming the Blazers' next second-round success
Rayan Rupert was Portland's lone selection in the second round of last June's draft. He was considered a first-round prospect throughout the pre-draft process, but slipped to No. 43 where the Blazers gladly scooped him up.
Rupert's main calling card was, and still is his all-NBA caliber defense. The French teenager was considered a project, but as an athletic 6-foot-6 wing with a 7-3 wingspan and a hunger to guard, he was deemed to be a worthwhile project. His physical traits and knack for being in the right place at the right time draw comparisons to a longer but far more raw Matisse Thybulle.
The lack of a scoring punch or outside shot was what held Rupert back from being a top-20 pick. He averaged fewer than 7 points per game with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL and barely cracked the 31 percent mark from three. If he ever found an outside stroke, the 19-year-old had the potential to be a Tony Allen-type perimeter defender with a far higher upside.
As it turns out, Rupert's offensive game is developing quicker than expected.
In 15 games with the Remix this season, he's averaging 13.7 points and is hitting 44.3 percent of his 4.1 3-point attempts per night. For good measure, he's contributing 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game to go along with nearly 1 steal.
Rupert is evolving into the kind of offensive player he'll need to be at the NBA level. He's using his athleticism to get to the rim and is shooting 57 percent inside the restricted area. He's already becoming a sniper on corner threes (60 percent from the left, 83 percent from the right). He's hit 16 of his 45 above-the-break triples as well, a respectable 36 percent.
Portland didn't have its own G League affiliate last season. If it did, there's a better-than-good chance Walker would have spent significant time there rather than get off the bench for 11 minutes a night in the NBA. Rupert is on a different path, but his trajectory is similar.
Once it becomes all-out tank season in Portland, Rupert deserves a chance with the Blazers. If his 3-point shot follows him from the Remix, he should have a role in 2024-25 similar to what Walker has this year or perhaps closer to what Camara has carved out for himself after going from second-round afterthought to starter.