The Portland Trail Blazers enter the NBA Draft a year into the Damian Lillard Era, and, despite a 33-49 record in 2012-2013 there is plenty of reason to be excited for the future. Equipped with the tenth overall selection, GM Neil Olshey could go in many different directions and not be in the wrong, but in order to pick the right guy it is important to first analyze the current roster and how potential selections fit in.
The Blazers should be set at point guard for a while–like the next 15 years. Unanimous Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard is the present and future of the franchise, and if Portland is smart they will re-sign Eric Maynor as the backup. Maynor, 26, was traded to Portland by division rival Oklahoma City for a trade exception, and flourished, averaging 7 points and 4 assists in 21 minutes per game. The Thunder gave up Maynor, who missed most of the 2011-2012 season after tearing his ACL, as a salary dump, not because he lacked talent. He proved to an unselfish point guard who could adequately give Lillard a rest as well as play alongside him, which head coach Terry Stotts did fairly often.
With this tandem ideally in place, the Blazers can focus on getting more production out of the shooting guard position. Wesley Matthews’ numbers were down last season, and though he should still be in the fold the team needs depth and more sure-fire production alongside Lillard. They can target Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. The latter of the two, who jumped onto the national stage in the NCAA Tournament, is making the most noise and is projected to be selected in the 6-10 range. Whether eggs should be put in his basket depends on if the Blazers think his position needs the most help. Considering the team could use a power forward as a backup to LaMarcus Aldridge as well as a small forward behind Nicolas Batum, this is where it gets tricky. And this is why Portland’s placement in the lottery is particularly intriguing.
An argument can be made that the team needs a third proven star alongside Aldridge and Lillard, not solely depth, but I am not an advocate of that. When a team like the Blazers, built Aldridge and a blossoming star in Lillard, needs depth at every position except point guard, including center, shoring up those areas is what needs to be the priority. There is little wrong with the starting lineup; the bench is what is of concern. It was among the worst in the league last season, with not much to hang their hat on in terms of consistency or even an inconsistent spark. A major renovation might be necessary, and that starts with getting someone with the 10th pick or trading up for someone who they believe can come in and give the team a lift for 20-25 minutes a night.
Portland has been projected to take a center with the 10th pick, with the most popular choice being Maryland’s Alex Len, but given the team’s history with centers (we don’t need to get into that), this may not be very wise. Besides, it would be best for the team to continue to groom last year’s first round selection Meyers Leonard, whom they seem to be very high on. And the way to do this is to get a veteran to serve as a mentor. Who might this be? I don’t know, but it’s more a matter of the front office focusing on that strategy and thrown around some names than looking to the draft for another young center. Reports have surfaces that the Blazers might just be interested in a couple of soon-to-be restricted free-agent centers who have yet to enter their prime, San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter and Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic. If the front office isn’t entirely sold on Leonard as the center of the future, they could throw money at either of these two with hopes neither team matches. The price would likely be steep; Minnesota is expected to match most anything that tempts Pekovic, and despite Splitter’s postseason struggles I find a hard time thinking the team doesn’t still see him as Tim Duncan’s eventual replacement. It might be in Portland’s best interest to sign a veteran who comes much cheaper and doesn’t function as a road block to Leonard’s development.
Having erased the possibility of selecting a center in the draft scenario, focus can rightfully be placed back on shooting guard, small forward and power forward. While selecting a scoring savant on the wing may be the most popular choice, the team has to consider placing even more importance on getting Aldridge help on the frontline. This means assistance at power forward, and that means UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. There’s a big problem with this, though: like McCollum in recent mock drafts he is projected to be picked long before Portland’s name is called at 10; DraftExpress.com has him going 7th to the Kings–a team that has seemingly taken power forwards in each of the last eight drafts. This brings up the question: does Portland try to trade up?