This Tuesday’s draft lottery is almost certain to become the opening phrase for the next chapter in Portland Trail Blazers history. The Oregon franchise has the sixth-best odds, a 9% chance, of being the first pick. They have a 37.2% chance of making it into the top four. Conversely, they have an 8.6% chance of finishing sixth, 29.8% seventh, 20.5% eighth and a 3.8% chance of finishing 9th or 10th. Their final position will not be known until Tuesday evening, but that does not prevent us from talking about it.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve divided the Blazers’ fortunes into four categories. Landing picks one, two or three, that’s what we all hope for. That would open up all sorts of possibilities. The second tier is just the pick of four, giving the Blazers a shot at a player switching franchises, but with less immediate hope of resolving existing roster balance issues. The third tier combines the sixth and seventh picks while the fourth tier includes picks eight through ten.
As discussed, there are four standout players at the top of this draft; big men Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren, Paola Banchero and guard Jaden Ivey. But with Portland already on guard with Damian Lillard and likely Anfernee Simons, Ivey is becoming less popular.
Between the ages of six and 10 it’s anyone’s guess who’s still on the board, but still exciting prospects include Keegan Murray, Shaedon Sharpe, Jeremy Sochan, Benedict Mathurin, AJ Griffin, Tari Eason and Australia’s Dyson Daniels.
That said, we all know that owning a high draft pick doesn’t necessarily mean the pick gets saved. High level trades are always an option. If the Blazers land a top-four pick, we could speculate deals for Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis or, maybe, just maybe, Zion Williamson. Conversely, if the Blazers go from six to ten, they’re likely looking at players like OG Anunoby and John Collins…players who would undoubtedly improve the roster, but not to the extent of those mentioned above.
For now, we’re going to assume the Blazers are still in a position to face the Detroit Pistons for Jerami Grant this summer — though they missed out on the New Orleans Pelicans pick this year. In this hypothetical trade, Portland sends the Milwaukee Bucks first-rounder, it’s 2022 second-round pick (36) and Keon Johnson.
Let’s also assume the Blazers bring back restricted free agent Simons and unrestricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic this summer.
The standard package
General manager Joe Cronin has said outwardly and frequently that this team is still building around Damian Lillard. For those still unconvinced, the fact that Lillard is in Chicago representing Portland in Tuesday’s lottery should be enough.
Asked about his intentions for the pick during his post-season exit interview, Cronin said:
“The preference is to maximize that choice, but we do,” Cronin said.
In order to achieve the above, Portland needs players who can contribute as soon as possible. While the top of the draft is filled with talent, there may only be a handful of names that can help Cronin and Lillard achieve that goal.
Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero are the two names that will likely contribute right away. Holmgren is brimming with talent but not sure how to put everything in place in 2022-23, Ivey too may need time to acclimate to NBA level.
The mid-lottery names may still be able to contribute, but nowhere near the level of Auburn and Duke’s respective big men. So let’s play some of that (this is my view and in no way based on rumors or any other knowledge).
First Tier – Use Choice
Let’s say Portland scores the second pick and for argument’s sake snags Smith Jr. (after the better team takes Holmgren). I’m not going to lie, Smith Jr. is the guy I want, someone who could help the Blazers right away while offering ridiculously high upside. He would instantly be Portland’s best forward since LaMarcus Aldridge left and it’s not close.
Swapping a rotation of Lillard, Simons, Grant, Nurkic, Smith Jr., Nassir Little, Josh Hart and Justise Winslow with more room and upside to improve on is a good start.
Disclaimer: In some of these formations, you’ll notice Grant positioning himself as a small forward. He’s a power forward but there may be nights when the current Piston can keep all three.
Starting composition possible: Lillard, Simons, Grant, Smith Jr., Nurkic
First Tier – Redeem Choice
If the Utah Jazz decide to restart and Donovan Mitchell goes to Danny Ainge to demand a trade with the Miami Heat, options begin to open up for Portland. The Blazers would have the potential to facilitate a move. In this hypothetical scenario, Portland would send pick number three and Eric Bledsoe to the Jazz, with Mitchell going to Miami and Butler landing in Portland, fitting nicely into that small, vacant starting forward spot.
Starting composition possible: Lillard, Simons, Butler, Grant, Nurkic
Second level – Trade back
Let’s say Smith, Holmgren and Banchero are out of the picture with Portland in fourth. Ivey is there, but the Blazers feel they can bring more talent to positions that need it by trading down. Picking up the phone at Monte McNair at the Sacramento Kings, Cronin offers the fourth pick for Harrison Barnes and the seventh pick, where the Blazers can still grab an upside prospect, let’s go with AJ Griffin.
Although no longer able to keep up with the smaller forwards, Barnes has a championship pedigree with ability on both sides of the ball as a power forward.
Starting composition possible: Lillard, Simons, Griffin, Grant, Nurkic (Barnes off bench)
Second Tier – Redeem Choice
Brad Stevens calls Cronin and explains that Jaylen Brown wants a change of scenery after the Boston Celtics were unceremoniously expelled from the Eastern Conference Semifinals in seven games, thanks to a Milwaukee Bucks without Khris Middleton. He says Brown is keen on playing with Damian Lillard and if the Blazers are willing to part ways with fourth pick Nassir Little and Eric Bledsoe, that’s a done deal.
Starting composition possible: Lillard, Simons, Brown, Grant, Nurkique
Third Tier – Use Choice
The Blazers decide there’s still value to be had with the seventh pick, and somehow Keegan Murray is still on the board. The Iowa forward is one of Cronin’s favorites and is ready to make a difference to a Portland team that needs a young forward with two-way talent.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Murray, Grant, Nurkique
Third Tier – Redeem Choice
At the seventh pick, the Blazers are at a crossroads. Cronin calls Masai Ujiri and says the seventh pick is theirs if they’re willing to ship OG Anunoby to Portland, which at $17.3 million fits nicely into the $20 million trade exception of the Blazers.
One of the many players the Blazers should have selected on draft night 2017, Anunoby gives Portland an elite defenseman, offensive point scorer and legitimate offensive threat against the three. It might be more realistic than you think as the frontcourt is packed in Canada, thanks to stellar play from reigning Rookie of the Year Scotty Barnes Jr.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Anunoby, Grant and Nurkic.
Fourth Level – Use Choice
The Blazers get the eighth pick, snagging fellow countryman Dyson Daniels who’s probably big enough to play the small forward position, providing versatility and advantage on both sides.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Daniels, Grant and Nurkic.
Fourth Tier – Redeem Choice
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk calls Cronin and asks if a deal involving Portland’s ninth pick and John Collins is working. Cronin is already filling out the paperwork before the conversation ends, adding Bledsoe’s name to make sure the money works. Although Collins – another name that should have been taken by Portland in 2017 – isn’t the defensive-minded power forward you’d hope, he could still work alongside Grant and Nurkic.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons Grant, Collins and Nurkic.
A lot is at stake on Tuesday. Picking at the top will almost certainly guarantee game-changing talent. But each subsequent pick shuts down the possibilities for a desperate Portland franchise to bounce back in the standings after last season’s remarkable mini-tank.
Portland want the first pick, not only giving them the chance to sign difference-making talent, but also attract competitors willing to drop All-Star-level talent that can help the Blazers win now.
I’m both nervous and excited for Tuesday — it will be Wednesday for me — because that will really decide what happens to this franchise over the next few years.
Again, here are the scenarios:
The first three
Six or Seventh
eight to tenth
In each scenario, you can use or trade the choice. What are your hopes for all or part? Comments below!