PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers, after weeks of rumors that they were going to trade the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft, opted instead to keep the pick Thursday night and draft Kentucky guard Shaedon Sharpe.
Sharpe is one of the biggest mysteries in the draft. He was the top-ranked high school player in the Class of 2022 before he reclassified and enrolled at Kentucky in January. But Sharpe didn't play a single minute for the Wildcats.
There was hope, perhaps even expectation, that Sharpe would return to Kentucky for the 2022-23 season. But Sharpe declared for the draft and ended up as a Top 10 pick. Sharpe's college coach didn't mince words about Sharpe's talent level.
"The kid comes back, he's the No. 1 draft pick," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said in February. "In my mind, he's the No. 1 pick (in 2023). How can I know what the No. 1 draft pick looks like? Because I've had four! He can be the No. 1 pick."
After Sharpe was drafted by the Blazers, he talked about what it was like to hear his name called.
"It was the best feeling ever, hearing [NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver] call your name in the NBA draft, it's so surreal," he said. "From a young age, I put in the work, really worked hard, dreamed about it and now it's here. Just trying to live in the moment, but like I said before, I can't wait to get to Portland and get started."
So who is Sharpe? He's 19 years old, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with a long 6-11 1/2-inch wingspan. According to NBA scouts and draft pundits, Sharpe is athletic, explosive and a great shooter and scorer.
"He's a monster shot creator with terrific athleticism," NBA draft expert Sam Vecenie of The Athletic wrote after the Blazers made the selection. "He finishes at the rim and drives transition play."
But Vecenie also said there are some questions that surround Sharpe.
"Sharpe has never played basketball beyond the high school and EYBL levels, meaning we haven’t seen him play against older collegiate or professional players," Vecenie said. "We’ve also never seen him in a situation that isn’t entirely built around and catered to him since he burst onto the scene. How will he react when he’s one part of a whole, as opposed to the No. 1 guy? Still, it’s almost impossible to find players who can create shots like Sharpe and make pull-ups at a high level as teenagers."
Another question is how Sharpe will fit in with the Blazers. He's a shooting guard, not a small forward, and Portland will have Damian Lillard and likely Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart on next season's roster, who are all expected to play heavy minutes at the guard positions.
Despite those concerns, NBA executive John Hollinger, now an NBA analyst for The Athletic, said Sharpe was the right choice for Portland.
"Sharpe is the right choice here ... both in terms of fit (a shooter next to Damian Lillard and newly arrived Jerami Grant) and All-Star upside," Hollinger wrote. "One feels better about Portland making the right long-term choice here rather than sacrificing everything just to chase the 8th seed."
Finally, new Trail Blazers assistant general manager Mike Schmitz, who was a draft expert at ESPN for years before he was hired by Portland, wrote this about Sharpe on ESPN.com in late May, in an article comparing him to the draft's Top 3 of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith.
"No player currently projected in the draft's top three is as smooth with the ball in his hands as [Shaedon] Sharpe. In a league that covets perimeter shot-creators more than ever, the 18-year-old Sharpe offers an element that [Chet] Holmgren and [Jabari] Smith don't — the ability to make pull-up 3s with range, create space out of isolations, and get all the way to the rim for explosive finishes. Smith does two out of the three but hasn't quite shown the ability to break down his man for consistent paint touches and rim attacks. We're still learning more about Holmgren as a primary creator. [Paolo] Banchero is a tremendous ball handler and creator at 6-10, 255 pounds, but Sharpe — while playing a much different position — is an even better shooter from beyond the arc with the ability to get his shot out of a variety of different moves.
"Although not quite as powerful at 198 pounds, Sharpe has the skill set to eventually function like Anthony Edwards does for Minnesota as a three-level, pick-and-roll scorer who can also make enough reads to moonlight as the primary ball handler for stretches. Sharpe's passing potential is one of the things that stood out to me most during a Kentucky practice this season. With that said, there are real questions about whether or not Sharpe has the motor and aggression to consistently hunt the type of shots that Edwards — never short on confidence — does, as Sharpe is often compared to Andrew Wiggins in terms of his consistency and approach. But in terms of the potential as a pick-and-roll scorer with passing upside, Sharpe is in a class of his own."
The Blazers traded the 46th overall pick in the second round to the Denver Nuggets, who selected French center Ismael Kamagate. The Nuggets sent a 2024 second-round pick to the Blazers to complete the trade.
With the 57th pick, the second-to-last pick in the draft, the Blazers selected Colorado sophomore forward Jabari Walker. The 19-year-old averaged 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds last season and was named to the All-Pac-12 first team. Walker has great size, standing 6-8 with a 6-11 wingspan and an 8-9 standing reach. He's young and a project, but his potential is as a two-way player who was a lockdown defender in college who shot nearly 40% from 3 over his two seasons at Colorado.