Even though the Portland Trail Blazers do not currently own a draft pick in this year’s NBA draft, we are told they are going to be aggressive on draft day. Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey made magic happen last year when he built a lineup that withstood losing 4 of 5 starters to make the second round of the playoffs.
As the Blazers look to build upon that success, they are searching for some talent that might take them to the next level.
Below we take a look at five prospects the Blazers could trade into the draft to select.
Thon Maker – Athletic Institute (Canada)
Thon Maker is a 19-year-old, 7-foot-1-inch power forward who possesses the prototype “big man” skill set that has become popular in the recent years. He has the height to stay competitive on the boards, the grit to be scrappy on defense, and possesses a silky touch to drain some jumpers on offense.
Maker separates himself from the rest of the 2016 draft class under one clear distinction: He has never attended a college class, nor has he played Euro/Asia ball. The NBA rule states that a player must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school to be eligible. Maker, who turned 19 in February, graduated from Orangeville District Secondary School while playing basketball for Canada’s Athlete Institute last year, making him NBA eligible.
While he shows a lot of upside, there are some reasons as to why he’s being projected at anywhere from the 22 to the 35 spot in the draft. His lack of college basketball experience means that he’s a major piece of work. While playing for an academy that competes in one of the most competitive high school basketball leagues in the world is great, it’s just not college-level basketball.
Maker already possesses a strong all-around game for a 7-footer which I expect to become even more well-rounded as he develops. With that said, if you’ve ever seen a project big man in the NBA, this is him. Often, those top-10 pick 7-footers are considered projects; this is one that is found, by some analysts, in the first 10 picks of the second round. Weighing in at only 216 pounds, he has some work to do in the gym. Lucky for those interested in this project player, Maker has made it clear that he’ll be quite the gym rat.
“When I’m on an NBA team I’m going to get my apartment five to ten mins walking distance to the practice facility. I’m going to live in the gym. I’m just ready to go to work every day.”
While the Trail Blazers already have a project big in Noah Vonleh, I don’t think you can pass up Maker this late in the draft. Maker would be a nice low-risk, high-reward move for Portland to get themselves in position to pick up this multi-talented 7-foot Sudanese shooter.
Brice Johnson- (North Carolina)
Johnson was a cornerstone of a UNC team that made a deep run into this year’s March Madness. On paper, you see an athletic power forward who put up efficient numbers and led North Carolina with 17pts an 10.5 boards per game. The main reason Johnson isn’t getting more attention, is because he enters the draft as a senior, and his ceiling is perceived as lower than the some of the other bigs in this draft.
Standing a tad undersized at 6’9″. This guy is a flat-out athlete. He won two high school state championships in the high jump and has used that athleticism to garner high rebound and block numbers throughout his collegiate career. Coming in at just shy of 210 pounds, Johnson needs to add some weight to bang down low with NBA post players.
Johnson is projected as a mid-to-late first round pick and could be a nice steal as a lower pick. He could come in and immediately be a high energy role player using his athleticism to grab offensive rebounds and put backs.
With better defensive IQ, he could be an effective shot blocker and rim protector. He is working on becoming a more consistent mid-range shooter, but with a polished inside game and natural rebounding abilities, this guy could step in and immediately contribute in a position where the Blazers lack depth.
Gary Payton II – Oregon State
While he’s known locally as the leader of the Oregon State Beavers’ men’s basketball team, he’s nationally known as the son of Seattle Supersonics great and basketball Hall of Famer, Gary Payton. Payton II, though finding his place on Oregon State as an athletic defender, can’t be expected to be quite the all-time great defender that his father was. With that said, I can’t imagine that he’ll have trouble finding his place in the NBA as a defensive specialist.
During a 5-on-5 session at the NBA Combine, he showed off his expected defensive skills but it was his display of some comfort on offense that caught some attention. The 23-year-old drove the lane with aggression and dished the ball out with a precise accuracy. One of his biggest offensive highlights during this scrimmage came when he found himself throwing down a nasty two-foot takeoff tomahawk jam. I wasn’t kidding when I said that this kid is athletic.
Getting into position to pick up Payton II shouldn’t be an issue for the Trail Blazers if he catches Olshey’s eye, as he is projected to go 51st in the 2016 NBA Draft according to DraftExpress.com.
Despite his scoring struggles on the offensive end of the ball, Payton II could be considered a good fit for Portland, who features one of the most explosive offensive backcourts in the league. A common knock on the backcourt of Portland is their lack of defensive ability. Moving into a position to add Gary Payton II, a 6’3″ combo-guard and defensive specialist with a wingspan of 6’8″, should do the trick for Portland’s defensive backcourt woes.
Caris LeVert – Michagan
LeVert is a 6’7″ combo guard enters the draft after a senior year that highlighted signs of promise, but also injury concerns for his future. After breaking his foot his junior year, he was forced to miss more time in his senior year due to a mysterious leg injury.
When he has been healthy, LeVert has flashed a well-rounded skillset. LeVert is a dependable outside shooter and has the playmaking skills to really make a difference in a high-octane offense such as Portland’s. His ability to play anywhere from the 1-3 makes him an interesting prospect as he has shown great passing abilities averaging just shy of 5 assists per game his senior year.
His length allows him to guard multiple positions, though his small frame might hinder him from matching up with a bigger 3.
LeVert is projected to go mid-second round. His injury history and his lack of aggression on the offensive end has dropped his draft stock. Even though he proposes some risk, he could be a nice find for a team who is looking for a versatile role player.
Domantas Sabonis – Gonzaga
That last name rings a bell doesn’t it? That’s right, son of Blazer legend Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas elevated his game his sophomore season and emerged as one of the more promising big men of the draft.
Standing at 6’10″ with a strong 240 frame, Baby Sabas is a gritty low post prospect who is an excellent rebounder and has a very high IQ (would we expect any less?). He has shown he can play at either the 4 or the 5 by constantly outworking opponents. Domantas has intangibles that are seldom found in big men. His great footwork, IQ and feel for the game allowed him to become an extremely efficient scorer averaging 1.1pts per possession in his sophomore year.
Domantas has risen on many draft boards potentially becoming a lottery pick. If the Blazers want to go after this big man and keep the Sabonis name in the household, they might have to give a main piece. Sabonis would offer immediate low post scoring and rebounding, and should enjoy a long career as a very solid post player. He won’t be a great asset on the defensive end, but with his skill set and a legendary last name he has everything going for him to become an instant fan favorite.
Co-Written with the help of David Myers (@davidtmyers24 on Twitter)