PORTLAND, Ore. -- If recent history is an indicator, the highest of Portland's three first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft offers the Blazers a low-risk, high-reward opportunity.
In the past six seasons, the 15th overall selection has produced two of the most dynamic young superstars in the NBA in Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Teams selecting with the 15th pick in the past decade have gained a quality player more often than not, including the Trail Blazers' own Maurice Harkless, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic at that spot in 2012, and former Blazers center Robin Lopez, selected 15th in 2008 by the Phoenix Suns.
PLAYERS DRAFTED 15TH, PAST 10 YEARS
2016: Juan Hernangomez, PF
62 games, 13.6 minutes, 4.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 40.7 3P% in rookie season
- 2015: Kelly Oubre Jr., SF
79 games, 20.3 minutes, 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds in second season
- 2014: Adreian Payne, PF
13.3 minutes, 4.0 points, 3.0 rebounds in first three seasons
- 2013: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF
35.6 minutes, 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.6 steals in 2016-17 season
- 2012: Maurice Harkless, SF
28.9 minutes, 10.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals in 2016-17 season
- 2011: Kawhi Leonard, SF
33.4 minutes, 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals in 2016-17 season
- 2010: Larry Sanders, C
19.5 minutes, 6.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks in six seasons
- 2009: Austin Daye, SF
14.1 minutes, 5.2 points, 2.6 rebounds in six seasons
- 2008: Robin Lopez, C
28.0 minutes, 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks in 2016-17 season
- 2007: Rodney Stuckey, SG
27.5 minutes, 12.6 points, 3.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds in 10 seasons
The list above contains two superstar players (Leonard and Antetokounmpo), four starting-caliber players (Harkless, Lopez, Stuckey, Sanders) and several rotation players. The biggest surprise, however, is how the Bucks and Spurs were able to come away with franchise players with the 15th overall selection.
In 2013, Antetokounmpo, who averaged 22.9 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, fell to the Bucks mostly because he was a bit of a mystery. He played in a low-level professional basketball league and there wasn't a lot of film on him. The Bucks did their homework, took a bit of a gamble, and were rewarded for it.
So unknown was Antetokounmpo that ESPN gave the Bucks an incomplete in their draft grades and said Antetokounmpo would probably have to play in the NBA's developmental league for a couple years.
2017 NBA DRAFT
Thursday, June 22
TV: 4 p.m., ESPN
Two years earlier, the Spurs, afraid of a potential $7-9 million price tag for their upcoming free agent guard George Hill, made him available in trade to move up near the lottery of the 2011 NBA draft. They finally found a taker in Indiana and the deal was struck: Hill for the Pacers' first-round pick, the 15th selection.
Leonard was one of the best players in college basketball as a sophomore at San Diego State, but his draft stock plateaued around the middle of the first round because scouts were concerned about his offense, particularly his jump shot and handle.
The response to the Spurs' trade and draft selection wasn't as muted as it was for the selection of Antetokounmpo. ESPN, which had Leonard ranked No. 7 on their draft board, called him "the steal of the draft at 15" and gave the Spurs an A- for their selection.
This year, even though the Blazers' first selection falls outside the lottery, there will be talented players for Portland to choose from if they keep their pick at No. 15.
Neil Olshey, the Blazers' general manager, has a history of drafting well. His draft record since he arrived in Portland isn't flawless, but it's impressive.
NEIL OLSHEY'S DRAFT SELECTIONS IN PORTLAND
Jake Layman, No. 47
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, No. 23 (traded for Mason Plumlee)
Pat Connaughton, No. 41
- 2014: No selections
CJ McCollum, No. 10
Allen Crabbe, No. 31
Jeff Withey, No. 39 (traded in Robin Lopez deal)
Grant Jarrett, No. 40 (traded to Thunder)
Marko Todorovic, No. 45 (not currently in the NBA)
Damian Lillard, No. 6
Meyers Leonard, No. 11
Will Barton, No. 40
Tyshawn Taylor, No. 41 (traded to Nets)
Will Olshey find a star, like Leonard or Antetokounmpo, with the 15th selection this year? There is precedent, so it's not an impossible dream, though those kind of home-run picks are the exception, not the rule.
At the very least, history indicates that if the Blazers keep the 15th pick in the draft this year, they have a good shot at drafting a player who, if not a star, can become a meaningful contributor in Portland.
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POTENTIAL NBA DRAFT SELECTIONS, 10-20 RANGE
- Zach Collins
Per-40 stats: 23.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.1 blocks
- Lauri Marrkanen
Per-40 stats: 20.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 42.3 3P%
- Harry Giles
Per-40 stats: 13.6 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks
- OG Anunoby
Per-40 stats: 17.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 2.1 blocks
- Jarrett Allen
Per-40 stats: 16.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
- Terrance Ferguson
Per-40 stats: 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds
- Ike Anigbogu
Per-40 stats: 14.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.7 blocks
- Justin Patton
Per-40 stats: 20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 67.6 FG%
- Tony Bradley
School: North Carolina
Per-40 stats: 19.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks
- Edrice Adebayo
Per-40 stats: 17.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW.
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