Over the past two weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers have used a slew of trades, signings and draft picks to rebuild their roster heading into the 2022-23 NBA season. If you haven’t paid close attention to it, you could be forgiven for missing some details. Even if you did, it’s time to take a deep breath, recap, and reset.
Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, we’ll be breaking down Portland’s moves so far this summer, looking at each in detail, bringing you up to date and revealing the importance of each trade.
In this article, we take a look at some semi-surprising picks, 2022 NBA draft rookies Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker.
The transaction: The Blazers take on high school grad and Kentucky roster orbiter Shaedon Sharpe with the 7th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, then select Colorado Buffaloes forward Jabari Walker with the 57th overall pick.
What it costs: Those two draft picks. Portland owned every entry in the draft.
NBA reaction: Anywhere on Sharpe, based on pre-existing opinions of him. Some wonder if he’s the next incarnation of the superstar shooter, a throwback to the 1990s and 2000s. Others think the hype is overblown.
No one has overreacted to Walker’s drafting, although Blazer’s Edge staff insiders consider him a good pick.
Statistics : Nothing obvious at the moment.
What Portland Won
Sharpe’s potential lies in the eye of the beholder. We know he’s athletic and could become an offensive powerhouse. He hasn’t played competitive NBA, or anything close to it. He is, in essence, a high school draftee. Where will he fall on the Jermaine O’Neal—Travis Outlaw—Kwame Brown scale? Portland may have won a future All-Star. They may also have signed up for a long and frustrating learning curve with a nebulous end.
Sharpe will have some advantages with the Blazers. They just did something similar with Anfernee Simons. He has evolved quite well. Simons, and to a lesser extent Damian Lillard, provide as good a role model for a goalkeeper as one could wish for. Their talent also gives Sharpe time to develop. It’s not like he has to save the franchise, at least not now.
Also keep in mind that 7th picks are, by nature, speculative. You would expect a contributing player when drafted at this level, but there is no guarantee when or in what capacity that will happen. It’s not uncommon for 7th picks to fade into obscurity. If the Blazers think Sharpe has a good shot at fame, they actually used a pretty reasonable asset to get him back.
The question is not whether the 7th pick could have been used to get a player in the 2022 draft class better than Sharpe, it’s whether the pick could have been more profitable for the Blazers in trade. , given the NBA’s economy and their current needs. Strip away the potential trade implications, and few would object to Sharpe’s selection, even if it’s a reach.
The Blazers made a small difference with the choice of Sharpe. Most analysts expected them to use this asset to follow through on their summer commitment to get veteran help for Lillard, expressed through other acquisitions.
They weren’t going to pass up this opportunity for any player. It feels like they had targeted Sharpe if he was still available in 7th place. Obviously, based on their assessment, its future potential outweighs any help they could reasonably have gotten with this choice in trade. Given that speculative names included OG Anunoby (with another player going to Toronto from Portland) and John Collins, we can assume the Blazers have a high opinion of Sharpe.
However, all teams that select 7th in the draft have a high opinion of the players they select. This does not guarantee that Sharpe will succeed.
Sharpe is expected to play a position occupied by Simons and Josh Hart ahead of him, with Keon Johnson at his side. Shooting Guard is the highest-trafficked position on the list. The story is no better if he slips forward small. First of all, can he defend this position? Second, can he defend it better than Hart, Nassir Little and the new Gary Payton II?
There is more to this story than meets the eye. The Blazers gave no indication they were looking to trade anyone around or ahead of Sharpe in the rotation. This may mean that they expect it to take a few years to develop. It’s good… planned, even. But it also qualifies this as a movement for the future more than the present.
The Blazers are smart about maintaining their talent pool. It’s one of the aspects that stalled under former president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. The danger is that they spend a few years developing Sharpe, then realize he’s not quite it, and they end up back where they started, just two years later. Another danger: Sharpe IS all of that, but can’t develop due to lack of minutes and shots ahead of him as Portland’s priorities are set on winning now rather than building the next iteration.
If Sharpe is as good as his supporters hope, he may be able to turn things around, whether they like it or not. It’s not impossible to imagine his star rising as Lillard sets, and the two working in tandem to become the Next Big Duo. No one knows where that leaves Simons, Hart and Johnson, but if the Blazers believe Sharpe can do it, they absolutely did the right thing by executing and keeping that pick.
Sharpe could also be part of the next generation with Simons and company if Lillard ends up moving on. In this way, it offers time flexibility that a veteran acquisition could not. That he does so on a rookie-scale contract should also free up some financial leeway that wouldn’t be present with Collins, Anunoby or their ilk.
For these reasons, it was a wise move IF Sharpe got away with it. Otherwise, the Blazers will see this as a potentially wasted opportunity, especially if they get stuck in the first or second round of the playoffs, as has been typical for most of Lillard’s tenure.
PS Selected 57th, Jabari Walker wouldn’t normally be considered a player in the rotation. If he’s on the team and sees the ground, that’s enough justification to take him. Otherwise, there is no harm.
Keeping a veteran for lots of reasons… but which ones apply?