Back in the lottery
Portland has a few places on the roster that it needs to address. Starting center will be a problem if JJ Hickson leaves, backup point guard will be vacant if Eric Maynor signs elsewhere and the entire second unit needs talent to help compensate for inexperience.
In all likelihood, the Blazers will land a pick between 10 and 14. In this year’s class, you’re not going to find a star at that point, but there are a few players who will help fill the needs of this re-tooling organization.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. Nerlens Noel becoming a Trail Blazer is a long shot. Portland would have to enter the top 3 via the lottery, and it would likely have to obtain the No. 1 or No. 2 spot.
Then again, the Blazers have leapfrogged the pack before, showing anything can happen in the midst of a rebuild.
If Portland is fortunate enough to land a top-3 spot, Noel has to be the guy on its radar. Few early selections are going to accept a bench role, and Noel could step right in and become the starting center. It’s possible he ends up being more of a power forward in the NBA, as his 215-pound frame needs to bulk up, but at 6’11”, the guy knows how to defend the rim.
The biggest red flag with Noel is the fact that he is recovering from a torn ACL. Do the Blazers really want to take a chance on a top-tier big man with a bad knee? That answer is up for debate. But if this team is willing to take a chance, Noel could be its guy if the ping pong balls go its way.
Cody Zeller was once considered a top-5 pick, but with his physique coming into question, he could fall somewhere between 10 and 13 when June’s draft finally rolls around.
Zeller is a skilled big man standing 6’11”, 210 pounds. Like Noel, he fills a position that Portland needs, and he had a solid 2012-13 season. He improved his points per game to 16.5, his rebounds to 8.1 and his blocks to 1.3.
His perimeter game needs improvement, but he knows how to create out of the high elbow, which would be similar to what JJ Hickson has done during his one-year contract.
Like Meyers Leonard, Zeller would have a steep learning curve when it comes to banging against bigger bodies. He needs to add that to his game, but he’d be a project worth taking on with his skill set around the rim.
In 2012, the Trail Blazers took a risk in drafting a player who saw his stock quickly rise. That player ended up being Damian Lillard, and needless to say, things have worked out just fine.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could find himself in a similar situation. There’s no indication that he’s going to be an instant star the way Damian Lillard has been, but the opportunity to take someone who few saw coming could be there for Portland.
Caldwell-Pope is a deadly three-point shooter who would help provide talent at the backup 2-guard position. Not only did he shoot better than 37 percent from deep range, but he has good mechanics and a consistent release. That kind of ability can translate to the NBA, which will help him find a role even if his playmaking abilities take time to improve.
It goes without saying that Rip City no longer needs a starting point guard. The backup spot, however, is in question, as Nolan Smith is good as gone and Eric Maynor could also find himself elsewhere.
Michael Carter-Williams isn’t going to help the perimeter shooting, but he is a floor general who averaged more than seven assists per game in his sophomore season. He’s dealt with extreme inconsistency as a collegiate athlete, but he’d be a solid gamble behind Lillard with his size, athleticism and ball-handling skills.
Another backcourt option is C.J. McCollum. He is the better scorer, but having seen Lillard play off the ball, it’s questionable as to whether or not McCollum’s shooting ability outweighs his inability to collect assists.
The chances of landing Alex Len in the draft aren’t high for Portland. The center out of Maryland isn’t a top-tier player, meaning if Portland landed in the top 3, he’d be overlooked. However, he’s considered a top-10 selection – prior to pre-draft workouts – meaning the Blazers will miss out on him if they stand pat in the late lottery.
That being said, the Blazers have been known to swing draft-day deals here and there, and Len would be worth a look if they can get themselves into the six-to-10 range.
Len stands 7’1”, and he has the athleticism to play in transition. He has the skills to excel on the perimeter, he can pass out of the high post and he proved he can be a factor on both the boards and the defensive block.
As impressive as he’s shown he can be, his inconsistencies were obvious when facing stronger low-post players. This guy should remind fans a lot of Meyers Leonard, and the question becomes whether or not Portland wants to take on a project player with so many similarities to its current young center.