Without knowing the draft order just yet it’s pretty nuts to speculate about who the Blazers are going to pick, so let’s look at some of the guys we know are going to be available: those already in the NBA. The Blazers have to target both a point guard and some frontcourt help this offseason, at the very least. The point guard crop is incredibly slim in the draft, which is why I’d look to address that need through free agency or a trade. Surprisingly there are some pretty decent options who are likely expendable by their teams. I’m only looking at players who might be available, are on the right side of their prime, and should be able to come in and start immediately with a modicum of competence. Since the roster is in such a state of flux, I also consider it a pro if the player can play off the ball should the Blazers acquire a star wing in the near future. All stats from 2011/12.
Goran Dragic, Houston Rockets, Unrestricted Free Agent
25 years old / 111 ORTG / 21.8 Usage / 32.5 (Pomeroy) Assist Pct / 18.0 PER
Dragic is pretty clearly the most desirable point guard on the market, and should command a contract just shy of what Mike Conley Jr. received, at
9 million a year. After being largely a scoring point in his Phoenix days, Dragic vastly improved his ability to run the offense and make plays for others this year, and his excellent assist rate was no fluke. He’s already an above average starting point guard who could come in and run the offense without much of a learning curve. Dragic should also be a good long-term fit as a role player since he has experience playing off the ball some in Phoenix with Nash and hits three pointers at above 36% for his career on high volume. He also has good size and decent enough fundamentals to avoid being a defensive liability (though Houston was not a great defensive team, this was largely because of their lack of quality size).
The biggest concern for Dragic is that he’s due to slam into Plexiglas this season, since his 2011-12 numbers show huge improvements over any previous year. Given the keys to the offense though, there’s no reason he can’t be a very good starter at the point guard position for the Blazers. And though the price would be fairly high, at his age he’s unlikely to get worse and should be worth the contract over the next four years. So long as people don’t get too frustrated when he inevitably goes from 18.0 PER to 16.5 PER, instead of improving by three points a season.
Pros: available (due to Lowry), young, productive, pure point guard, off-ball ability.
Cons: Likely expensive, likely to underperform his 2011/12 production next year.
Jerryd Bayless, Toronto Raptors, Restricted Free Agent
23 years old / 110 ORTG / 24.3 Usage / 30.7 Ast% / 17.7 PER
Of course any mention of Bayless will bring back dim memories of the Bayless debates, so I hesitate to bring him up. That said, for a guy that everybody says washed out, that line is pretty good. The caveat here is he did it all in less than 800 minutes. He’s still not a pure point guard, getting most of his assists in the drive and kick variety, but again the assist percentage is encouraging. You wouldn’t expect him to come in and run the offense as well as someone like Dragic. But he’s already flashed his upside as a scorer in his first Portland stint, and he’s now 38% from 3 over the past two seasons (91/236), so he may be able to play off-ball in the right situation. At 23, he also probably has more room for growth than anybody else on the market.
The flipside is that Jerryd remains something of a project at this point, and a project that two teams have now given up on. The Blazers would be taking a gamble that he’s capable of learning how to play the point, given the opportunity. Additionally, though his effort level on defense is excellent, his tools and discipline are poor and he still fouls too much for a guard.
Pros: Explosive scorer, room to improve, probably cheaper than similarly productive players, could remain productive either off-ball or in a sixth man role.
Cons: Defense, point guard skills, Blazer fan PTSD.
Ramon Sessions, LA Lakers, Early Termination Option for 2012/13
25 Years Old / 108 ORTG / 21.6 USG / 35.5 AST% / 16.7 PER
Sessions has been a long-time figure in the Blazer point guard debate, perpetually being a backup or a starter on a team looking for a better point guard. Though that appeared to change when he was traded to the Lakers at this year’s trade deadline, the whole situation went bad for him as his high pick and roll skills were a terrible fit for the Lakers’ other personnel. This culminated with a disastrous playoffs where he posted an 8.5 PER and was benched in favor of Steve Blake for important stretches. With the Lakers roster in flux, he may look for a way out, or may get traded should he decline to exercise his ETO.
As a player, Sessions is a decent distributor who is generally able to make the right read and safe pass out of the pick and roll (2:1 A:TO). He gets in the lane when there is a lane and is OK at finishing there. Sessions’ game can largely be described as “decent” or “OK,” aside from his defense which is rather terrible. He’s a polished pick and roll player who would be ready to run the offense, but would be unlikely to ever become a star player. He’s also not an ideal fit if the Blazers acquire a ball-dominant wing since he is at his best with the ball in his hands.
Pros: Polished, pure point guard, good passer, known quantity.
Cons: No room for improvement, can’t play off-ball, horrible defense.
George Hill, Indiana Pacers, Restricted Free Agent
25 Years Old / 117 ORTG / 17.2 Usage / 18.8 AST% / 15.7 PER
As is fairly clear from the numbers, Hill is a much different sort of player. He’s much closer to the shooting guard side of the “combo” spectrum, and prefers to look for his own shot or play off ball, here he’s effective because he’s a strong three point shooter (37.6% career). At the same time, these are exactly the qualities that make him available: Indiana is a team that does not pass well, and should probably look to make Collison (a better passer and more natural playmaker) its clear #1 while focusing its financial resources on improving its shallow frontcourt.
For the Blazers, Hill would have to play alongside a ball-dominant wing such as Iguodala where he and Batum’s spot-up shooting would be fully utilized. Should the Blazers acquire a more “pure” point in the future, Hill’s skillset easily allows him to back-up both guard positions as he did in San Antonio.
Pros: Defined skills, outside shot, ability to fit in as a role player.
Cons: Instant impact (?), not a pure point guard, little room for improvement.
Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies, Under Contract
24 Years Old / 110 ORTG / 18.3 Usage / 29.8 AST% / 16.8 PER
After being ridiculed for signing Conley to a 5 year $45 million contract, the Memphis Grizzles were pleasantly surprised to see the guy they paid significantly above average money for begin to produce like a significantly above average point guard. He’s now just about worth the money. That said, the Grizzlies figure to be deep into the punitive luxury tax when it goes into effect, and will probably look to dump salary. While Rudy Gay should be the one they look to dump, he’s very expensive and not very good.
Conley is a solid point guard who’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and good from the outside. Though his production and efficiency aren’t eye popping, I’d be interested to see what he can do in an offense where he’s asked to shoulder a bit more of the load in pick and rolls instead of being the last option behind Randolph, Gay and Gasol. He’s certainly shown flashes of being able to handle that. Finally, he’s a good defender and one of the leading thieves in the game (3.5 Steal%).
Pros: Polished, can hit the 3, good passer, low turnovers, good defender, could assume more offensive responsibility?
Cons: Expensive (have to give up picks + pay him), scoring efficiency.
I think the first option here is clearly Dragic. He’s young, available, productive, and a pure point guard. If he’s not available or is too expensive, my choice would be to go after one of the combo guards (Hill or Bayless) and pair him with Iguodala. If Iguodala can’t be had, I’d still go for a combo guard and get a journeyman point like Ridnour to be his point guard “caddy” or sorts. These sorts of lineups can be fairly effective since the point of attack can change easily and confuse the defense. Additionally, teams pay a premium for pure points which is worthwhile in the case of Chris Paul, but not so much Sessions or Conley. So rather than go for a too-expensive guy in search of the point-guard Grail, I’ll take the value play for now and hope to smooth it out later.