The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame has inducted and honored 152 players and counting. Of that number, just six have played for the Portland Trail Blazers and four were actually drafted by the team.
Long story short, the Trail Blazers do not have the best of luck when it comes to drafting players. But you knew that. And if you didn't, welcome to Portland, newcomer. And buckle up, even in the great years, the road can at times get bumpy.
Portland has spent 43 years in the league and 36 since their lone championship. 2003 marks the last time the team had a Hall Of Fame caliber player on its roster and there were even two: Scottie Pippen and Arvydas Sabonis. The team has missed the playoffs the last two years and has not won a playoff series in 13 seasons. Currently, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to make the case that the team has a potential HOF player on the roster. Damian Lillard looks promising but objectively, it is year one.
It sounds negative, but it's not all bad news. The Portland Trail Blazers are a team that is rebuilding. This isn't the first time, and it sure is not going to be the last.
The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, which happen to be two of the three teams remaining in the playoffs, were built in the same manner in which the Portland Trail Blazers are being built now: organically, through the draft. They rebuilt, kept moving forward, and have not had to look back.
Both teams are built around “old-school” offenses that prefer to feed the ball into the post and generate scoring either directly out of the bigs or by outlet passes to the wing players. This half-court, slowed down style of play, when executed correctly, puts pressure on the opponent to feel as though they have to play quickly and score even quicker when they do have the ball in order to create the illusion of more possessions. Portland is in the process of being built in the same way, but is just missing about three pieces.
They need a dominant big man, who can create his own shot and play defense. They need a shooting guard or small forward that can be the offensive catalyst and play defense. And they need a second big who can play second fiddle to the anchor and provide points, rebounding, and defense. All of this works well if you have a deep bench of reserve players and a point guard who knows how to pass as well as he can shoot, and when to pull the trigger on either without being told.
The team has a second fiddle big in LaMarcus Aldridge, an offensive catalyst and elite defender in Nicolas Batum, and a do it all point guard in Damian Lillard.
Now, they need a true big man to anchor the defense and keep the opposition honest with a good inside game. After that, you need a shooting guard that doesn't need the ball at all times and will play defense. Finally, you need a bench of eager yet modest role players who can hit shots and fill in on defense.
While not by any stretch of the imagination an extremely deep draft, there are plenty of prospects that can help Portland now. Perhaps not win right now, but help none the less. While last year's first round selections are looking something like a mixed bag as Lillard is phenomenal but Meyers Leonard leaves plenty of questions looming.
If this team is another star or at least a handful of quality reserves away from truly competing, and they are, then do not push to get things done too quickly. It is technically year two of three and signs of hope are already here.
You will be tempted to make the call as GM over the coming weeks. To tell your friends who will help now and why. Leave that to Neil Olshey. The man hasn't done a bang-up job so far. I didn't buy into Lillard right away and the guy continues to astonish everyone. I haven't and may never buy into Leonard as a starting center but who knows, NBA careers are born and reborn every day. If Leonard is not the real deal, there is always a Kevin Duckworth or Sabonis looming out there somewhere.
Enjoy the draft Portland, and let the suits figure the mess out. Free agency is much easier to dissect from an armchair; the players have already played at the NBA level. As for the draft, much of it is a roll of the dice where the rewards are trophies and the opposite is a decade of grimacing over a guy like Kwame Brown.
Keep calm and keep the faith.