Jun 29

Draft Just One Step in the Process

By mikebarrett
It isn't very often you see a draft go as planned more than what we saw on Thursday night, at least as far as the Trail Blazers were concerned.  I've told you for weeks the players Portland would be selecting with their two lottery picks would be Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. That's not to suggest I had any bulletproof inside information, but instead illustrates how smoothly things went for the Trail Blazers.

If you were after surprises and shocking developments, like we've seen at times in the past, this draft wasn't for you.  It was more about substance and less about symbolism.  That's just what the Blazers were after.  More ho-hum and less bang, if you will.  And that's not to imply the players Portland selected won't make plenty of noise, but as far as planning goes, this step in the process was knocked down with quiet comfort.

In the days leading up to the draft, I disagreed with those who were implying this was a make-or-break day for the Blazers.  It was certainly important, but no more important than signing the right free agents, or hiring the right coach.  The fact that the Blazers owned two lottery picks for the first time in franchise history didn't change the task at hand- simply acquiring the right players.

In fact, things went so well early in the first round, the Blazers probably had options they didn't think they'd have both at the sixth spot and the 11th spot.  What we heard after the draft ended was that they didn't bite on the temptation to change the plan, and instead stayed the course. Their exhaustive research, results of testing, and information from pre-draft workouts had led them to two players on the early wish list and that's where they stayed.

I know that we always want to immediately grade drafts, and put the teams in columns of winners and losers, but that's such a difficult thing to do.  It's probably easier when a team maneuvers to acquire additional picks, or trades up or down.  That you can grade, but simply taking the guys you had on your radar won't be able to be accurately measured for some time.

There was so much talk leading up to the draft about the old debate, do you take the best available player at a particular spot, or do you draft based on need?  It doesn't happen very often that you accomplish both, but I believe Portland did that. 

I also heard some talk leading up to the draft urging the Blazers to "take a chance" and not simply go the safe route.  Again, you could argue they accomplished a bit of both.  Lillard's stock has been on the rise since the college season ended and he found his spot on the national map growing in size, but in a draft every pick is a bit of a gamble.  Playing at Weber State, he stayed below the national radar to some extent, and his numbers have been called "inflated" due to the fact that he didn't play in the Big East or the ACC.  

There was also the matter of learning Lillard away from the court.  That is a huge part of analyzing potential draft picks.  When you're dealing with an investment like this you had better make sure he fits your culture.  Both Lillard and Leonard passed this part of the process with flying colors.  

In one of Portland's early pre-draft workouts, I got to watch Leonard perform in Tualatin and go up against North Carolina's Tyler Zeller, who, at the time, was projected to go well ahead of Leonard.  As many have mentioned, Zeller might be a bit more able to contribute right away, but it was pretty clear Leonard had the greater potential.  Leonard is 7'1 and has an impressive frame.  To me, at least physically, he resembles Brook Lopez when he came out of Stanford. But, he runs the floor better than Lopez, and is probably a better defender than Lopez was at the same time.  I know that's a lofty comparison, but that's who instantly came to my mind.  Leonard is also a very likable kid who has a great story that you'll be hearing more about. 

It should also be mentioned that Portland may have grabbed a bit of a sleeper in the second round, in Will Barton out of Memphis.  He was projected in many mock drafts to go in the 20s in the first round, but slipped to Portland's spot in the second round.  Barton was the Conference USA Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, and appears to have a pretty high ceiling. Damon Stoudamire, who is an assistant at Memphis, is a huge fan of Barton's and certainly feels like the Blazers got a steal.

The draft lottery, the hiring of a GM, the NBA Draft, things we had lined up like dominos, are all in the books.  Now, it's on to the next thing, and that happens to be free agency.  As Neil Olshey reminded us Thursday night, it's not like the Blazers have only been preparing for the draft.  They've also got a plan for this next phase.

We can only hope it goes as smoothly as the draft.


  1. Thanks for the inside info on Barton. I was paying more attention to the pre-draft talk this year than in seasons past, and the two lottery picks sound good to me. I'd like to think that the guys on Talkin' Ball, who seemed to be expressing real opinions rather than just falling in with the company program, didn't just get swept up in group-think, and really agreed with the choices on their merits. I have to say that the overviews of past drafts have reminded us that there were a few more mistakes along the way than the Oden tragedy we all remember, so I'm still a bit wary and eager to see some Summer League to get a real look at the players. It sounds like we all need to be careful not to get carried away with our expectations. These don't sound like guys who will dominate the leagure any time soon, but they do seem like they may be able to fill major roles in two or three years, which is all we can expect. Looking forward to stage two. Secure Batum, bring over Freeland and Claver, hire a coach, and pick up a free agent. Sounds like we still need a shooting guard; hope we can do better than last year with Jamaal.

    by Islander on 6/29/2012 11:41 AM
  2. A veteran point guard to back up the rook. We have plenty of 2's. Wes, Nic and Elliot needs floor time. A backup for Nic at the 3. Is Luke that guy?
    Rebounding was our biggest weakness last year. We have to find a way to keep LMA out of the 5 position. I believe he will finish his career at the center position but right now he is more effective at the 4.

    by Divotking on 6/29/2012 3:08 PM
  3. Thank you for the Blog Mike; We did OK in the draft. It has been said that there was very little difference in talent between 2 and 12. So basically we couldn't go wrong. Well except draft Rivers. Oh that was uncalled for buy I just couldn't resist.

    There will still a chance of of our picks going south, but I don't think it will be a major problem. I am looking forward to the season moving to the next step. Do you think we will resign JJ? Olshey didn't sound to sure last night.

    by Hg on 6/29/2012 3:29 PM
  4. Hey Mr. Barrett!

    I was right along with you on who we would pick and at what positions in the week prior to the draft. Not because of any special insight, just gut instinct. Earlier in the process, I believed it would be a big (probably Drummond) then a PG. I had a good feeling about Marshall, but as we got closer to the draft, and I paid a little more attention to who was doing what, I took the indicators combined with my intuition and predicted Damian at 6 and Leonard at 11.

    I spent some time looking at Lillard and did finally read up on him, along with watching the interviews and such. As far as character goes, there is no doubting he's a perfect fit. A few times this off-season, Wesley Matthews has been asked what the team needed and he's consistently had one answer: dogs. He wants players that hate losing and who will leave it all out there on the floor. To me, it's clear playing with a chip on the shoulder (as Wes does), is precisely what constitutes being a "dog". I'm not sure who's going to have the bigger chip between Wes, Damian, and from what I hear, Barton! THAT alone is fun to think about :)

    I know squat about Leonard other than that he's big, athletic, grew up in Illinois, and lost his dad when he was 6. Olshey seems very impressed with his ability to move and with his shooting touch, so I'm guessing he'll be a-okay. In my opinion, the Blazers, with the current core, were in far more need of a high-caliber PG than a C, so a project doesn't bother me much. Neither does the fact he is somewhat underrated, since that means our collective expectations will hopefully be lower. The last thing this fanbase needs is another Center upon which we hang all hopes, right?

    For me, the draft was a total Win. They drafted both need and talent, with some risk measured by careful study. The draft, when you look back on it, is a crapshoot, so if the Blazers come out of this with even one legit starter who "moves the needle" (Olshey's favorite saying I think), I don't know how it can be considered anything but a success. Two legit starters would have me believing the team was stealing Blessings meant for OKC :)

    Looking forward to FA rumors and especially seeing Batum's agent be baptized by fire :D

    by SisillaRiann on 6/29/2012 4:11 PM
  5. Barton has some pretty impressive highlights on youtube...
    As well as lillard.. ;)

    Really hope they fight to keep Hickson... Unless u get a Hibbard or G. Wallace back, I rly don't see any F.A.'s out there, who match his energy & talent level... sometimes going 4 a 'big name' or making moves just to be making them is a mistake............ ;
    Would love to see them possibly make a run at Kaman.. he played Really good last year for N. Orleans!!!
    Go Blaze ~

    by Drummer05 on 7/1/2012 6:19 AM
  6. Barton has some pretty impressive highlights on youtube...
    As well as lillard.. ;)

    Really hope they fight to keep Hickson... Unless u get a Hibbard or G. Wallace back, I rly don't see any F.A.'s out there, who match his energy & talent level... sometimes going 4 a 'big name' or making moves just to be making them is a mistake............ ;
    Would love to see them possibly make a run at Kaman.. he played Really good last year for N. Orleans!!!
    Go Blaze ~

    by Drummer05 on 7/1/2012 6:19 AM
  7. It looks like Batum is going to receive an offer from the Timberwolves from about 11-12 million a year. Seriously, what is David Kahn thinking? But again, this is David Kahn we're talking about. Meanwhile it seems as the Blazers are going to offer Roy Hibbert a max deal.

    by Shem on 7/1/2012 7:33 AM
  8. thanks for the analysis, MB. going to be a very busy off-season, but getting a gm and completing the draft are two important beginning steps.

    i had questions about Lillard and i would love for Leonard to be more nba-ready, but i think it was a good draft. despite whatever reservations i may have had about various prospects, i trust that our draft team knew what it was doing (in fact, i wrote my own blog emphasizing just that point).

    i don't know much about Will Barton, but what i've heard intrigues me. it should be interesting to see what he can bring to the team; that is, if he earns a roster spot through training camp.

    now it's on to free agency. given what we did in the draft, namely drafting our pgotf, i don't think this is the time to bring in someone like Nash to mentor him. i'd advocate bringing in a veteran backup for that role. that just makes much more sense to me.

    i know we've extended a max offer to Roy Hibbert and i think that's a good thing. even if the pacers match the offer, which i expect them to, i like the idea of swinging for the fences. i would love for Hibbert to become a blazer and i'm trying my hardest to not picture he and LaMarcus teaming up in the frontcourt. just don't want to get my hopes up.

    as far as Nicolas' offer from minnesota is concerned, my gut tells me he'll sign it, but my gut also tells me we'll match. it is a bit toxic, but we have enough options and resources to make it happen.

    the draft may be just one step, but i think it was a heck of a step at that.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 7/1/2012 12:44 PM
  9. should be noted, and i hadn't read deep enough into it prior to recently, minny has NOT offered Nicolas a contract, at least not that has been made public. the $45-$50 million was just a rumor thrown out there at this point. it's my understanding the wolves would have to waive a guy or two just to make room, and that they are pursuing some other free agents. i don't think minny will make an offer, which could bode well for us to retain Nicolas.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 7/5/2012 12:08 PM
  10. @Kassandra: that is my understanding too.
    We are sure getting lots of hope in the makings for our starting line-up next year.
    I like
    Wesley or E Williams

    by Hg on 7/5/2012 12:29 PM
  11. hey Hg, that's a good lineup. Leonard, Luke, Wesley/Ewill & Nolan as backups ... really like that. not to forget Kurt who can still come in and pound, but he won't have to do it as an undersized center, but at pf. my wish lineup wish list, given what we know now:

    Lillard - Nolan
    EWill - Wesley - Will
    Nicolas - Luke
    LaMarcus - Freeland - Kurt
    Hibbert - Meyers

    by my count, that leaves three roster spots left to fill. perhaps a backup pg, emergency center and third sf.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 7/5/2012 3:20 PM
  12. @Kassandra: I like that second five also. It was said on one of the post that Lillard can create and Matthews can't Ewill can create so he would be better for the second unit. until we know more about Nolan. I wasn't sure to include Freeland on the roster yet because I haven't heard much on him lately. I also hope we get Joel Przybilla

    by Hg on 7/5/2012 4:27 PM
  13. Claver may be that extra small forward. 6' 10", atheletic, good slasher and can shoot the outside shot consistantly.

    by Ancientone on 7/7/2012 9:58 AM
  14. Ancientone:
    My hopes also.

    by Hg on 7/7/2012 11:06 AM
  15. I can't believe so many of you are writing off JJ Hickson after what he gave the team last season. One of our problems since Pryz was hurt is the lack of an inside presence and JJ gave us that in spades. Hopefully Meyers Leonard will develop quickly into that type of player also, but I think we'd be stupid to not keep JJ.

    Our two starting forwards are both finesse type players which means we need some rugged backups at those spots. Finesse only gets a team so far in the NBA. Gotta have strength and attitude as well to get to the top.

    by dgpdx on 7/9/2012 10:23 PM
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