March is a special time of year for basketball fans—mostly college basketball fans. I myself don’t follow the college game. It’s hopelessly corrupt, the coaches are domineering (look at how poorly John Beilein did in Cleveland at the NBA level this year), the fans are too willing to pump billions of dollars into the NCAA’s pockets, and the quality of play compared to any professional league in the world is atrocious.
The only thing I like about the game is the players themselves, and what the best of them could offer NBA teams once they enter the Association. Out of curiosity, I took a look at a few of those players who may be on the board whenever the Portland Trail Blazers make their pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ first-round pick is projected to be in the late lottery, so I’ll highlight guys that the draft experts rank around there, but things can still very much change. If the Blazers make the postseason, their position won’t change drastically—they might miss out on their choice of a 3-and-D wing or big man, but there should still be some decent ones at 15 or 16.
If the Blazers get “lucky” (this draft class is pretty fallow in terms of slam-dunk star material) and get a top-three pick in the lottery drawing in May, that will be the time to decide between James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards. When that bridge is crossed, we’ll get to it.
In the meantime, let’s get to know some of the (presumptive) members of the Class of 2020. Wing players and bigs only; the backcourt rotation is all set for the near future. All stats are as of Tuesday.
Devin Vassell, Wing, Sophomore, Florida State
Stats: 28 GP, 28.9 MPG, 13 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 49/43/73 shooting splits, 67 steals/blocks
Vassell is the prospect most closely linked to the Blazers, and it’s easy to see why. He’s six-foot-seven, can shoot the three-pointer at a great rate, projects to be a plus defender, and Portland is the lottery team (other than Golden State) that doesn’t really need to take a flier on an 18-year-old with potential and wait four years for said potential to blossom.
Vassell as a floor-spacing, ball-moving, role-playing rookie is valuable enough to spend the 12th or 14th pick on for the Blazers, and not just because guys at his height or taller with 3-and-D skills are at a premium. Rodney Hood is making progress after his Achilles rupture earlier this season, but even when healthy he was a player on the fringes of the league. Trevor Ariza is getting old and might be a cap casualty if the Allen Family is feeling cheap. Nassir Little is still learning how to shoot and rein in his hyperactivity, and he is shorter than the other men.
Portland is capped out as long as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both on nine-figure contracts. They’ve needed a player who combined shooting and size on the wing for years; this kid could be the answer.
A cheap talent like Vassell could be a nice piece, but if Lillard’s work habits rub off on him and he ever adds an off-the-dribble element to his game, he could edge the Blazers’ championship window just a little bit open—as Lillard edges into his 30s.
Saddiq Bey, Forward, Sophomore, Villanova
Stats: 29 GP, 34 MPG, 16 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 47/45/79 shooting splits
Bey has really come along under Jay Wright’s tutelage at Villanova, shooting up the draft boards in the process; it wouldn’t surprise me to see him picked before Portland is on the clock, rate he’s going. Not only has his release on the jump shot become quicker and more compact, it’s also become much more accurate and reliable (the usual caveats about the shorter college line apply, but it’s worth noting that Bey is shooting almost 80% from the line, a good indicator of shooting ability).
Bey can also play either forward position, so teams that want a small-ball 4 will keep a close eye on him. At six-foot-eight and a solid 215 pounds, he has the size and versatility modern teams crave at the forward. His off-the-dribble game is nonexistent, and Villanova’s system deflates his rebounding stats somewhat. He’s farther along in shoring up his deficiencies than most thought he’d be, however.
If Bey has a good postseason, he’s got an outside shot at being in the top 10 this year.
Obi Toppin, Big, Sophomore, Dayton
Stats: 29 GP, 19.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 65 steals/blocks, 63/38/69 shooting splits, 70% from two-point range
The good news is that Toppin (that’s a badass name, by the way) is dominating the Atlantic 10. At six-foot-nine and 220 pounds, he’s a power forward able to do whatever he wants to.
The bad news is that he’s already 22 (which accounts for some of that domination), has a defined floor as an undersized stretch big (if this guy is a projected lottery pick, you know this is a weak draft), and is a pretty poor defender. Think a shorter Kelly Olynyk.
For most teams, the defense might be a concern. Portland has been spending 50-odd games covering for Carmelo Anthony on defense—Toppin can’t be worse than Old Melo, especially if he busts his butt on that side of the court. If Melo decides to leave/retire, Toppin might be a serviceable backup to Zach Collins. He’d at least give the coaching staff another big body to throw out there after the injury plague that decimated the Portland front line this season, and if he can score efficiently, we might have something here.
Patrick Williams, Forward, Freshman, Florida State
Stats: 27 GP, 22.4 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 46/34/87 shooting splits
The project of the group I’ve reviewed today, Williams brings ideal wing/forward hybrid size (six-foot-eight, 225 pounds), can defend three positions (maybe four if he gets strong enough to battle centers), and is still only 18 years old. His sterling free-throw numbers show some nascent shooting skill waiting to be tapped, and he already understands how to play a role as an energy guy; he comes off the bench for Florida State, and that experience will prove to be very valuable in the big leagues. He won’t come in as the Hot S#% Stud from Big School X and get relegated to the deep bench, struggle, and form a bad attitude. He’s got an idea of how to get playing time.
That said, Williams has more potential than that. It will just take years to realize that potential—time Lillard and the Blazers may not have. By the time Williams is a finished product, Lillard will be well past his prime.
Williams would still be worth taking a flier on, but he might coincide with the Anfernee Simons timeline more than Lillard’s. If Neil Olshey ever decides to hit the reset button, he could do worse than a core of Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Little, and Williams.
A reminder: we don’t know exactly at which slot the Blazers will select their next rookie yet. Once we do know—either after the Blazers make the playoffs, or after the Draft Lottery—I will update this piece, and hopefully have some more info on the prospects for you all.