Portland Trail Blazers 2024 NBA Draft Preview – Part 1 – What Intrigues Me Most About “Weak” Draft

The Bird’s-eye view of this draft seems to be the only thing on which there is consensus, as it is widely viewed as weak, bad even.  But what does this really mean?

For simplicity’s sake, I think this question is best answered when peering through Sam Vecenie’s looking glass, he of The Athletic fame.  More specifically, through the lens of his Prospect Bible Tiers, more commonly known as his NBA Draft Guide.

  • Tier 1: Projectable All-NBA Upside
  • Tier 2: Projectable All-Star Upside
  • Tier 3: High-Leverage Starters
  • Tier 4: Starter/All-Star Tool Swings
  • Tier 5: Rotation Players and Upside Swings
  • Tier 6: Second-Round Guarantee Swings
  • Etc. (Tier 7: Priority Two-Ways), Etc. (Tier 8: Two-Ways, Stashes, Exhibit 10s)

His Draft Guide this year should be forthcoming, but he’s already provided his Bird’s-eye (Big Board) view:

“I do not have a Tier One or Tier Two player in this class. I’m not even sure how many Tier Three players I will have by the end of the process.”

What’s important in a draft such as this then, is determining which players have All-Star Tools (Tier 4), which, frankly is much harder to project than sure-fire (Tier 1 & 2) All-Star upside.  You generally know it when you see it and there usually is much more consensus regarding such prospects.

To illustrate just how fraught with difficulty such tool projecting is in a ‘bad’ draft, we’re going to revisit the 2013 NBA Draft, however painful this may be.  (If it proves too painful, feel free to skip ahead.)  This should prove quite instructive considering it was dean-panned as being especially ‘bad’.  And it hasn’t aged very well either, with just a few exceptions.

You needn’t worry though, we will only be reviewing the Top-10, not all 60.

For context and dramatic effect, we’ll hit on just a few touchpoints from then and now: Pick & Team Draft Grades (then), Player Comps (then), Where’s Waldo? (now), Not-So-Hot Takes (now), and Player Tier-ing (career spanning), as inspired by Vecenie’s Tiers above. 

This smattering of info is being brought to us by Bleacher Report (Grant Hughes), USA Today (Adi Joseph), ESPN (& Chad Ford), NBADraft.net (& Adam Ganeles & Jacob Stallard), along with an assist from Wikipedia.

[Grade Key:  BR – Bleacher Report;  US – USA Today;  Net – NBADraft.net]

  1. Anthony Bennett (Pick Grades – BR: B-, US: B-); Cleveland Cavaliers (Draft Grades – ESPN: B+, Net: B+)
  2. Victor Oladipo (Pick Grades – BR: A, US: B); Orlando Magic (Draft Grades – ESPN: A-, Net: B)
    • Comp:  Tony Allen
    • Where’s Waldo? – played for the Heat in the 2023 NBA playoffs till tearing his left patellar tendonunderwent surgery; traded 1st to the Thunderthen to the Rockets, but did not play this past season
    • Not-So-Hot-Take: There is no arguing with this selection despite Oladipo being injury-prone.  Pre-injuries, he was unquestionably an ascending player: All-Rookie First Team (2014); All-Star, All-NBA 3rd Team, All-NBA Defensive 1st Team, & Most Improved Player (2018); All-Star (2019)
    • Player Tier:  2, All-Star
  3. Otto Porter (Pick Grades – BR: A-, US: A-); Washington Wizards (Draft Grades – ESPN: A, Net: C+)
  4. Cody Zeller (Pick Grades – BR: C-, US: B, ESPN: C, Net: B); Charlotte Bobcats (Draft Grades: N/A – Zeller was the Bobcats only selection)
    • Comp:  LaMarcus Aldridge
    • Where’s Waldo? – averaged 7.4 minutes for the Pelicans across 43 games this past season, did not play in the playoffs
    • Not-So-Hot-Take: Shabby; a LaMarcus Aldridge archetype he is not, but was an All-Rookie 2nd Team selection.  Peaked in 2019-2020 (see Research Notes)
    • Player Tier:  5, Fringe Rotation Player (career average of 20.9 mins/gm)
  5. Alex Len (Pick Grades – BR: B-, US: B-); Phoenix Suns (Draft Grades – ESPN: B-, Net: A)
    • Comp:  Jonas Valanciunas/Zydrunas Ilgauskas
    • Where’s Waldo? – averaged 9.3 mins for the Kings across 48 games this past season, played minimal mins in two Play-In games
    • Not-So-Hot-Take:  Shabby; started career high 46 gms in 2015-16, averaging 9.0 pts, 7.6 reb, 1.2 ast, 0.8 blk, & 0.5 stl.  This or his last season in Phoenix (2017-18) being his peak (see Research Notes)
    • Player Tier:  6, more Upside Swing than Rotation Player, but Roster Worthy (sub 20 min/gm career average: 17.7)
  6. Nerlens Noel [Pick Grades – BR: A+, US: C- (because of trade)]; New Orleans Pelicans, traded to Philadelphia 76ers (Draft Grades – ESPN: A+, Net: B+)
    • Comp:  Larry Sanders/Dikembe Mutombo
    • Where’s Waldo? – last played, but barely (11.5 mins per) for Pistons & Nets in 2022-23 across a total of only 17 gms
    • Not-So-Hot-Take:  Shabby; All-Rookie 1st team (2015), peaked as a Sophomore (2015-16), & then it was pretty much all downhill from there (see Research Notes).  1st pick of “The” Process
    • Player Tier:  5, Rotation Player (career average of 22 mins/gm)
  7. Ben McLemore (Pick Grades – BR: B+, US: A); Sacramento Kings (Draft Grades – ESPN: A-, Net: A)
    • Comp:  Ray Allen
    • Where’s Waldo? – last NBA stint was here in Rip City in 2021-22.  Has played overseas since
    • Not-So-Hot-Take:  Shabby; also peaked as a Sophomore (2014-15) but stuck on an NBA roster for seven more seasons, 9 total (see Research Notes)
    • Player Tier:  5, Rotation Player (career average of 22.5 mins/gm)
  8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Pick Grades – BR: B, US: B), Detroit Pistons (Draft Grades – ESPN: B, Net: A-)
    • Comp:  Kerry Kittles
    • Where’s Waldo? – started all 76 gms he played in for the Nuggets this season & all 12 of their playoff gms, lost to the T-Wolves in the West Semis after winning the championship last yr
    • Not-So-Hot-Take:  Not—Too—Shabby; with career averages of 1.7 3pm & 1.1 stl, KCP is the epitome of a 3-and-D specialist, which is in increasingly high demand in today’s NBA; there is also real beauty in his steady play (see Research Notes)
    • Player Tier:  3, High-Leveraged Starter [started in over 80% of gms with 4 different teams (see Research Notes – Player Tier Note) 
  9. Trey Burke (Pick Grades – BR: B, US: A); Minnesota Timberwolves, traded to Utah Jazz (Draft Grades – ESPN: B+, Net: B+)
  10. CJ McCollum (Pick Grade – BR: A-, US: B+), Portland Trail Blazers (Draft Grades – ESPN: A, Net: B+)
    • Comp:  Stephen Curry/Juan Dixon
    • Where’s Waldo? – still playing at a very high level, but for the Pelicans
    • Not-So-Hot-Take:  Shabby—Chic; an apt comp if we’re talking about a player that falls somewhere between Juan Dixon & Stephen Curry, but definitely closer to Curry than Dixon on this player spectrum
    • Player Tier:  High-Leveraged Starter/Fringe All-Star (All-Star caliber production)

Feels great to end on such a high note, doesn’t it!?

If Portland ends up drafting even one player this year the caliber of CJ, from amongst their four picks in the Top-40, then they’re cooking with gas!

If the comparisons of the upcoming draft to 2013 have merit, these Top-10 from 2013 certainly hint at what a crapshoot this draft could be.  These picks and Vecenie’s Bird’s-eye view of this draft would seem to indicate the Trail Blazers will largely be picking from a pool of players with High-Leveraged Starter potential, at best, with perhaps an All-Star or two sprinkled in.

If this Top-10 is any indication, were talking about a batting average of .300, as only 3 of the 10 are/were high-leveraged starters or All-Stars.  If you got your sights set higher (All-Star or bust), the odds are even worse, 1 in 10.  If all you hope to gain is a starter then the odds only improve slightly, 4 in 10.

In any draft, historically speaking, the odds grow longer the deeper you get, since the ‘best’ players are typically picked sooner [Top-5, Top-10, Lottery (1-14)]than later (late 1st & into the 2nd).  When the overall talent pool is thought to be watered down, weak (2024), or bad (2013), a crapshoot is a very fitting moniker.

Where some see very long odds, others see opportunity.  Count Joe Cronin among the latter crowd as he’s viewing this draft as an ‘intriguing opportunity’.

I too am intrigued!  By what you ask?

Since he said it so very well, I’ll even let Sam Vecenie speak for me:

By the law of averages, multiple players will be All-Stars from this draft, even with it being a below-average one, and it’ll be because they improved something in their game substantially”, which really speaks to how crucially important it will be for Cronin and his Cronies to determine which players have All-Star tools.

Victor Oladipo was an All-Star, after all, but Giannis Antetokounmpo, picked 15th in 2013, is All-NBA, and Rudy Gobert, picked 27th, is a 4-Time DPOY.

It may be 3-5 years before we know, to afford these players the time to substantially improve something in their game, to build upon the All-Star tool foundations they may have, but there just might be an All-NBA/All-World performer in this draft too.  Or a future DPOY.  Minimally, there will be 2-3 All-Stars.

Who are the Giannises, Goberts, or Oladipos in this draft?  This is what I’m most intrigued by.

And to the Blazers I say happy hunting! 

Research Notes – if you want to nerd out

Not-So-Hot Takes (cont. – the nitty gritty):

  • Cody Zeller – career-high averages in pts (11.1) & reb (7.1) in 2019-20.  His career high in ast (2.1) came the season prior (2018-19), blk (0.9) & stl (1.0) in 2016-17
  • Alex Len – his reb (7.6), ast (1.2), & stl (0.5) numbers from 2015-16 were or matched career highs.  His career high in blk (1.5) came the season prior (2014-15) & pts (11.1) in 2018-19.  He roughly duplicated his averages from the 2015-16 season in his last year in Phoenix (2017-18: 8.5 pts, 7.5 reb, 1.2 ast, 0.9 blk, & 0.4 stl), but across only 13 starts
  • Nerlens Noel – Sophomore season (2015-16) averages of 11.1 pts, 8.1 reb, 1.8 ast, 1.8 stl, & 1.5 blk, all were or matched career highs, except blk (2.2), which occurred in 2020-21.
  • Ben McLemore – virtually career-high averages across the board in 2014-15: 12.1 pts, 2.9 reb (which he matched as a rookie), 1.7 ast, & 0.9 stl.  He made more 3s (2.5) in 2019-20 with the Rockets but averaged only 1.6 3pm for his career.  So, I’ll go out on a limb & say he was no Ray Allen (again with the sarcasm?)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – besides his rookie season, he’s never averaged fewer than 9.3 pts, 1.3 3pm, & 0.8 stl, but no more than 14.5 pts, 2.1 3pm, & 1.5 stl.  Just “Steady, as [He] Goes” (as per Jack White & The Raconteurs)
    • Player Tier Note – he has been entrenched as a starter other than his rookie year & his 2nd (2018-19) & 3rd (2019-20) seasons with the Lakers.  Started 41 of 80 (51.25%) as a Rook & 49 of 151 (32.45%) between these 2 seasons for the Lake Show.
  • Trey Burke – with the exception of steals, he could only match, never exceed, his production as a rookie: 12.8 pts, 5.7 ast, 3 reb, 1.6 3pm, & 0.6 stl.  Matched his point (12.8) & exceeded his steals production as a sophomore (0.9 stl) & again for the Knicks in 2017-18 (0.7 stl), but across only 36 gms in NY.
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About Jason Poulsen 19 Articles
As a former collegiate basketball player, with a great deal of emphasis on the former, my passion for the game has since led me on quite the journey. Writing for the Oregon Sports News, along with the effort I’m putting in to finally get a long ago developed proprietary basketball performance analytical tool off the ground, represent full circle moments. There have been a multitude of stops & roles along the way, the pertinent ones being Assistant to Director of Basketball Operations, Basketball Operations Assistant, NBA Draft Statistical Analyst, & Sports Writer, & the less pertinent – Store Manager, Lids Sports Group. I suppose one hasn’t really lived unless they’ve worked in retail or so I’ve told myself.

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