Talking Portland Trail Blazers Draft Strategy

Portland has the unenviable task of cleaning up the fallen chimney of the 2011-12 NBA season and rebuilding their team brick-by-brick over the next three years. A big part of that will be Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey and his ability to select the right players in the lottery section of the draft, a task that — now more than ever — needs to be perfect. Hardwood Paroxysm’s Sean Highkin and I discussed the Trail Blazers drafting habits, chances, and strategy over e-mail.

Subject: Blazers Drafting Habits
From: AYoungSabonis.com
Date: Oct 18, 2012
To: Sean Highkin

I’ve been thinking about the Blazers draft strategy lately and wondering whether it’s realistic to see the Blazers under Neil Olshey as more successful than Kevin Pritchard. Prich had an embarrassment of riches, stockpiling and even “stealing” guys like Rudy Fernandez for the change in Paul Allen’s couch.

Now we’re looking at Olshey coming in a month before the NBA draft and picking two pretty good players – Damian Lillard, who makes the Blazers scouts look great, and Meyers Leonard who, save for Zeller, may be the best pick that also filled a need the Blazers could get.

In recent memory, Olshey has had a good record drafting for the Clippers as well. Eric Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan… other than Aminu and Thornton, that’s pretty good. What do you think of Olshey’s first draft as Trail Blazers GM?

 

Subject: RE: Blazers Drafting Habits
From: Sean Highkin
Date: Oct 18, 2012
To: AYoungSabonis.com

We should probably back up a second and talk about this whole notion that Kevin Pritchard was a draft-day genius during his time in Portland. The Roy and Aldridge trades in 2006 were his masterpiece, and the Oden pick obviously made sense at the time, even if hindsight has made it look like Bowie-over-Jordan. But the only other good pick he made in his five drafts as Blazers GM was Nicolas Batum at No. 25 in 2008. The rest of his drafting track record in Portland is littered with Luke Babbitts, Sergio Rodriguezes, and Armon Johnsons. More than being nostalgic for Pritchard, I wish Rich Cho had been given the chance to conduct a draft before Paul Allen cut him loose too.

I have no complaints about what Olshey did on draft day. Lillard was was the obvious pick at No. 6, and everything I’ve seen from him since then backs that up. Like you, I kind of thought he’d go with Tyler Zeller at 11. And while I think he’s looked better than Leonard at Summer League and during the preseason, I’m pretty high on what Meyers could become eventually, and I can’t fault Olshey for drafting a 7-1 guy with his athleticism and mobility.

But what isn’t being talked about is that Olshey is setting the Blazers up to be able to do the same sort of asset-stockpiling they did under Pritchard. He very quietly picked up a future second-round picks and two Greek prospects this summer in the sign-and-trade that sent Raymond Felton to the Knicks. He corralled another second-rounder for facilitating the Rockets’ trade of Courtney Lee to the Celtics. Like Pritchard’s acquisition of Rudy Fernandez, he didn’t give up much, if anything, to get these picks and players. And whether or not any of the pan out for the Blazers is irrelevant.—they’re just more chips he can use in future trades.

 

Subject: RE: RE: Blazers Drafting Habits
From: AYoungSabonis.com
Date: Oct 18, 2012
To: Sean Highkin

I have to agree with you about Pritch. Like a lot of us, I felt like the Blazers were actually one of the most infuriating teams to watch come draft day and I felt like a lot of the straight-up draft choices were, as you said, head scratchers. I think the feeling for many Portland fans was that Pritchard was a draft day wizard, but that’s certainly not my opinion. In the last two drafts as GM for the Trail Blazers he took Victor Claver (four picks later was Taj Gibson), Dante Cunningham, Patty Mills, and Jerryd Bayliss (although he picked up Nic Batum).

I suppose the thing I’m wondering about Olshey’s strategy is twofold. He’s obviously going to keep Claver and Freeland stateside, but Claver may end up in the D-League. Typically Portland has had foreign prospects stashed and we never get to see them (Hi Petteri!) here in the northwest. I personally hope this strategy ends. Second, the issue Portland ended up with in the middle part of the decade was a revolving door of wing players that all needed more minutes, or at least wanted them (Hi Rudy! Hi Travis!)

I feel like the Blazers don’t need to physically gather prospects and sit them on the bench and leave it to poor Terry Stotts to find minutes and roles for them. I’d rather see the Blazers gather picks and prospects and cash them in for a high pick or one valuable player you know you can put in a set position and give minutes to.

Looking forward, we’re looking at Olshey drafting front-line players barring some awful year from Wesley Matthews and/or Nic Batum, right?

 

Subject: RE: RE: RE: Blazers Drafting Habits
From: Sean Highkin
Date: Oct 21, 2012
To: AYoungSabonis.com

I think that’s Olshey’s game plan. The more assets you have, the easier it is to get in the mix if an impact player comes available on the trade market. That’s not to say they won’t be looking to use their picks, though, especially considering how bad they’ll be the next couple of years. In order to be a title contender, you need a superstar, and there are two ways to get one: By being the Lakers and magically falling into one via an incredibly lopsided trade, and through the draft. The Blazers aren’t going to get the player who propels them to contention by trading assets. If they get their Anthony Davis/Kyrie Irving/Blake Griffin, it will be by being terrible in the near term and contending for the top spot in the draft lottery. The extra assets and picks they accumulate will be used to add proven talent once to augment a Damian Lillard/Shabazz Muhammad core.

Dane Carbaugh

Editor of aYoungSabonis.com. Playbook Breakdowns on BlazersEdge. Newsdesk writer for SB Nation NBA. Follow me at @DaneCarbaugh
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