“I’m just going to be (focused on) basketball 100 percent from here on out until I get kicked out of the league or don’t make the league.” – Pat Connaughton.
It’s been a weird off-season for the Portland Trail Blazers, who currently have 11 new players on their roster. Of those 11, the weirdest of them all for many is rookie addition and former Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton.
Originally drafted by the Brooklyn Nets at 41st overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was traded to Portland, along with veteran center Mason Plumlee, in exchange for Steve Blake and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom Portland had drafted not long before at 23.
Connaughton’s skill set is an intriguing one, and we’re not just talking about basketball. One of the big questions surrounding Connaughton, and perhaps even hurting his draft stock, is what his plans were in regards to his athletic future. He was faced with a decision, one that he’s surely been thinking about for years. Was Connaughton going to follow his dream of playing in the National Basketball Association, or was he going to take control of the mound for the Baltimore Orioles, the Major League Baseball team that had drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB draft?
If there is one thing that is clear, it’s that Connaughton is a very talented multi-sport athlete. Another thing that had recently become clear? Connaughton has his focus set on a long-term NBA career.
“Until I don’t make an NBA roster, I’m looking to be an NBA basketball player.”
For now, he is on an NBA roster. Will he stay on it heading into the regular season? I have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t. To call Connaughton athletic is an incredibly inaccurate understatement. These numbers from the 2015 NBA Draft Combine speak for themselves.
Though his 96 MPH fastball has had baseball scouts drooling for years, Connaughton had something to prove at the NBA Draft Combine. Time and time again people have referred to him as a “deceptively athletic” player. Connaughton, who certainly didn’t like that term, was out to show that this shouldn’t be a ‘deceptive’ fact. Despite his fantastic showing at the combine, many NBA fans still don’t know of his athleticism and pass him up because of that. Just give him a few NBA games to play in and maybe an ‘oop or two… I’m sure people will catch on sooner or later.
The 6’5″ shooting guard was a big part of the Fighting Irish’s 2014-2015 season, leading them to their first ever ACC championship. He continued to push this team to new heights in the NCAA Tournament, eventually losing in March Madness heartbreaker against Kentucky. This season was one that should have truly pushed away any doubts about Connaughton’s desire to play in the NBA. He was advised to give up basketball going into his senior year at Notre Dame so that he could pursue and focus on an MLB career after being drafted in the 2014 MLB Draft. It is estimated that Connaughton would have made about one-million dollars, thanks to that Orioles contract, during his senior year at Notre Dame if he would have kicked hoops to the curb. Instead, he received a $400,000 signing bonus with the Orioles and, in the process, made a name for himself among NBA scouts & general managers.
Connaughton, who graduated earlier this spring with a degree in business, now joins a young, athletic Blazers team that will seemingly offer him many opportunities to prove the doubters wrong. This fast-paced style that Portland looks to move towards is a perfect fit for Connaughton, proof that he was much more than a complimentary side-piece to Plumlee in the trade with Brooklyn. What we ended up getting is an up-and-coming talented big man in Plumlee as well as an athletic freak of nature and a great shooter in Connaughton.
Even with all this upside, Connaughton is added to the list of potential boom-or-bust options that Portland has at their disposal. Having been signed to a 3-year contract, however, I have to believe that he’s here to stay under Neil Olshey’s up-and-down the court small-ball/shooter vision. Athletic ability by itself is enough to get you on an NBA roster for the most part. Ask Jamario Moon, Gerald Green, or Jeremy “The Human Pogo Stick” Evans about that. The minutes, however, will come as a product of overall development of the other aspects of one’s game. The one thing that Connaughton has over the previously mentioned players, aside from the newly developed Green, is a silky smooth shooting touch. Like I said, this looks like the perfect fit for the young Notre Dame alumni.
Connaughton, just like the other players who Olshey has corralled in, has a great ‘strive for greatness’-esque personality. He’s a headstrong 22-year-old college graduate who will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He has moved his potentially more dependable MLB pitching career into his back pocket, publicly stating that he would rather play basketball in the NBA. He has, in a way, tackled the popular question of money vs happiness. Not to say that Connaughton isn’t happy playing baseball, as he clearly loves the great American pastime, but he’s mentioned that his overall athletic skill set is one that is much more appreciated in basketball. With all that said, he isn’t a dummy with his finances either; he’s a business major after all.
Connaughton knows what’s best for him. The baseball vs basketball question has been the story of his young professional career. Every meeting, interview, or press conference with Connaughton involved always leads to that very question. Connaughton has made it clear that he will do whatever it takes to reach that next level in the NBA. However, he’s a smart young man and he sets reasonable goals, en rout of bigger ones. He has mentioned that overseas or D-League ball just aren’t going to do it for him as he has another professional opportunity waiting for him if he ever needs to fall back on it. In Connaughton’s words, it’s easier maintain a pitching form than the overall arsenal of skills needed for basketball. What Connaughton needed to keep his hoop dreams alive was a big opportunity to become a normal rotation guy with an NBA team. The Portland Trail Blazers, signing him to that 3-year deal, are bound to give him this opportunity. The people of Baltimore shake their heads at this, most likely losing their 4th round pitching prospect. Now I’m not saying that the New York Yankees convinced the Brooklyn Nets to send him here to keep him out of the Baltimore bullpen but…
Pat Connaughton’s explosive athletic ability, potentially challenged but not met by anyone else on the Trail Blazers, is what will get him his rotation minutes within this squad. His great personality, passion for the game, and driven attitude are what will help him develop into the player that Portland will look to keep for years on end.
Sorry Baltimore; Pat Connaughton is ours.