PORTLAND, Ore. — The draft has come and gone. Free agency started nearly two weeks ago. For the second year in a row, the Trail Blazers are one of the most dominant teams ... in NBA summer league, at least. It's time to check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, KGW's Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on the Blazers' rookies, departures and additions in free agency, and summer-league performances. (Story continues below)
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1. We haven’t met since the draft. So to start off, what do you think about the moves the Blazers made on draft day?
Nate: If I had to give the Blazers a grade, I’d give them a C. I didn’t believe trading the pick or packaging the pick with a player in a trade was that realistic of an option. General manager Neil Olshey echoed that in his post-draft comments. Similarly, I had a hard time believing Portland could couple the 24th pick with one of their bad contracts. So, for where they were in the draft and the options that were available to them, I think the Blazers did an average job. They got a player, in Anfernee Simons, who may be a star someday, and they added a shooter, Gary Trent Jr., who may able to contribute in limited minutes next season. And all the Blazers had to give up were future second-round picks. Given the Blazers’ situation, that’s about as good as any reasonable fan could have expected going into the draft.
Jared: I'm happy with both of their draft choices. The Blazers didn't use their draft pick to acquire a veteran who could contribute right away, and there was some consternation about that among some Blazers fans. But those trades weren't out there. There wasn't a single NBA player traded on draft night. Without that kind of trade option available, Portland did well to maximize their late position in the draft. Anfernee Simons is an exciting selection because of his potential and because the unknown is intriguing. Simons didn't play college basketball, so there wasn't a lot to work with when trying to determine how good a prospect he was. But we do know he was ranked as one of the Top 10 high school basketball players in the country and initially committed to Louisville. That's a good pedigree. He's a high-reward pick at that stage in the draft. The Blazers made a smart move trading for Gary Trent Jr. once he slipped into the second round. One of the Blazers' offseason needs was outside shooting, and in drafting Simons and Trent Jr., they did a good job addressing that need.
Orlando: If you got your hopes up about a big move on draft day, you were probably disappointed. The Blazers stuck to the script with the 24th pick, selecting Anfernee Simons — the only player who worked out for Portland twice. Neil Olshey went with potential and a player who could develop into something special. The problem is the pick goes against the expectation that Rip City could land a player who could contribute right now and most importantly, when April and May rolls around. Simons could turn out to be the real deal, but it's going to take a while before we find out as he adapts to playing at a much higher level than what he faced at a prep school. That’s why I really like what Olshey and the front office did by trading into the second round to pick up Gary Trent Jr. He appears to be more NBA ready (playing for Duke in the ACC), he adds depth to the backcourt and could be a shooting threat.
2. The Blazers have also made noise in free agency, re-signing Jusuf Nurkic and letting Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, and Shabazz Napier go. They also brought in Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas. Do you think the Blazers are a better team today than they were when the season ended in April?
Jared: I do think they'll be a bit better next season. Ed Davis was a big loss because of his locker-room presence, offensive rebounding and defense. He was worth about four wins last season, according to ESPN's real plus-minus. How much his departure impacts the Blazers depends on Zach Collins' development. Collins should inherit most of Davis' minutes. If Collins improves in his second season as much as people expect, he should be able to replace Davis production. If he's healthy next season, Seth Curry is an upgrade over Shabazz Napier. Nik Stauskas replacing Pat Connaughton is a lateral move. I expect Jusuf Nurkic, who is still only 23 years old, to improve next season. Lillard and McCollum should be as good as last season or better. Two important question marks are Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. Will Aminu shoot as well as he did last season or will he take a step back? Will we see the Harkless from the second half of last season (excellent) or the first half (dismal)? Ultimately, the Blazers should be better because of continuity and expected internal development.
Orlando: Ed Davis will be missed, there’s no doubt about it. It was heartbroken-emoji worthy for Damian Lillard and most fans felt the same way. To let him walk was a bad look. Someone will have to make up for the toughness he brought to the court and in the locker room. Zach Collins seems like the next man up. Re-signing Jusuf Nurkic makes sense, especially on a four-year, $48 million deal. Nurkic had a solid second half to the season before fading in the playoffs. At 23 years old, coming off a season averaging 14 points and nine rebounds a game, the Blazers are hoping the best is yet to come for the Bosnian Beast. If Seth Curry returns to form, he fills the void of Shabazz Napier and gives the backcourt more of a scoring presence. The Blazers have clearly tried to address 3-point shooting needs this offseason and Nik Stauskas is one of those players. Barring any trades, the starting lineup stays the same. So it’s hard to say this team has gotten significantly better, but I don’t think it has taken a step back either. This team will ultimately be judged in the postseason.
Nate: No. We don’t know what Seth Curry will look like in his return from injury. If he’s the player he was in Dallas during the 2016-17 season, then the Blazers backcourt depth is certainly better. He could give the Blazers a consistent shooting threat off the bench that they desperately need. But like McCollum and Lillard, he’s an undersized guard who could be a liability defensively. The Blazers’ frontcourt is certainly not as strong as last season. The Ed Davis void is as big as any a bench player can leave behind. I’m still skeptical about Swanigan’s athleticism and size at the NBA level. And despite Zach Collins’ progress, I don’t expect him to have the same impact defensively that Davis had. Also, the Western Conference is even better than it was last year. There’s still time left in the offseason, but right now, I don’t see the Blazers winning 49 games or being a No. 3 seed again.
3. Summer League is in full swing and the Blazers are 3-0. What has stuck out to you from the guys playing on the Summer League team?
Orlando: Gotta be honest, I’m not watching nearly as much of the Summer League as I did last year. I want to see what these guys do in real games against NBA players. Wade Baldwin IV has once again proven he’s a pro and belongs in the league, while Gary Trent Jr. closed out pool play showing he might have been a steal in the second round. If there’s one player I’ll tune in to see during the last couple of games, it’s Anfernee Simons. I want to see how he handles those games, especially if the Blazers advance deep into the tournament.
Nate: I’ve been impressed with Gary Trent Jr. He’s been everything the Blazers hoped for out of a second-round pick. They drafted him to be a shooter and he’s done just that, averaging nearly 15 points per game and knocking down 38 percent of his 3-point attempts. Wade Baldwin has also continued to build on the strong play he showed during his brief playing time last season. He is the Blazers’ best defensive guard if they decide to keep him. On the other end, I’m concerned about Caleb Swanigan. He’s shooting just 29 percent from the field and still looks slow at times. I think the Blazers are hoping he can step in and take some of Ed Davis’ minutes but I don’t think he’s ready to be a regular rotation player.
Jared: Wade Baldwin has impressed me most, for sure. I didn't mention Baldwin in my answer to the question about whether the Blazers are an improved team, but I should have. I don't know why the Memphis Grizzlies gave up on Baldwin, a first-round pick, after just one season, but they may come to regret it. Baldwin's best asset is his defense. He has the length, athleticism and strength to make life difficult for opposing backcourt players in the NBA. We saw it last season in limited minutes and he's shown it in summer league. Baldwin also has an effective offensive game, with the ability to create shots for himself and others. I'm not sure about his outside shot, but I'm also not ready to call it a negative asset. Baldwin was a bad 3-point shooter his rookie season and during his time in the G-League last season, but he shot 42 percent from the 3-point line in two seasons at Vanderbilt. He has the potential to be a league-average 3-point shooter. Baldwin's contract with the Blazers next season becomes guaranteed if the team doesn't wave him by July 18. That guarantee seems like a no-brainer right now.
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MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
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