Portland’s Late Season Struggles Almost Ensure Draft Pick. But is That a Good Thing?

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On Wednesday night, the Trail Blazers started a total of three rookies as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum continued to nurse injuries.  With two of Portland’s best players out and the team riding a six-game losing streak, the Blazers have finally initiated “tanking mode.”  Get ready for the Nolan Smith and Luke Babbitt show!

You have to hand it to them, the fact that they were able to play relevant NBA basketball well into March shows this team is close to reestablishing itself as a playoff team.  Minus J.J. Hickson who won’t be back unless he’s willing to take far less money and come off the bench, the Blazers’ foursome: Aldridge, Batum, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews is a talented and competitive nucleus that the franchise and fan base should be encouraged about.  But it was the over-reliance on them that ultimately doomed the team’s season.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers
Photo: blazersedge

Besides Aldridge and Batum, Matthews has dealt with an array of injuries and even young spark plug Lillard has had a shoulder problem over the past week.  With all four of them being near the top in minutes played, it was inevitable that the talented starters would breakdown at some point.  But as the offseason nears and we move closer to the draft, the top-12 protected pick it looks like Portland will end up keeping (barely, they’re projected to get the 12th pick) will either produce a much-needed contributor off the bench or a bust who will be out of the league in three years.

Here’s a list of the last ten No. 12 picks in the draft:

  • 2012: Jeremy Lamb
  • 2011: Alec Burks
  • 2010: Xavier Henry
  • 2009: Gerald Henderson
  • 2008: Jason Thompson
  • 2007: Thaddeus Young
  • 2006: Hilton Armstrong
  • 2005: Yaroslav Korolev
  • 2004: Robert Swift
  • 2003: Nick Collison

Please, please, contain your enthusiasm (insert sarcasm).  Of these ten guys, only Thaddeus Young has turned out to be pretty good.  Henderson and Thompson have shown flashes (albeit on bad teams), Collison has had a productive career as a hard-nosed defender and rebounder and it’s too early to tell on Lamb and Burks.

From what I’ve concluded, the No. 12 pick like a lot of picks ends up being a total crap shoot. Kwame Brown went number one (he’s currently on his seventh team averaging 1.9 PPG) and future hall-of-famer Tony Parker wasn’t selected until number 28 by the Spurs.  A team can only do so much homework on a guy.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of being lucky.

The early word on this year’s draft isn’t particularly glowing so the chances of Portland landing a significant piece for the bench isn’t positive.  The team has several needs (center, wing player, a ton of low-post defenders) so they can either hold onto the pick or package it in a deal to land an established player.

According to nbadraft.net’s mock draft, Portland is projected to select Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse.  Here’s what they list as a weakness for Carter-Williams:  “Ceiling is considerable, but so is his basement, has star potential but also appears to be a guy that could end up playing the majority of his career overseas.”  Yeah, that sounds about right for a guy predicted to go No. 12 in the draft.

Damian Lillard 2
Photo: The Oregonian

Having a low draft pick for a young team is usually a good thing.  But that’s if the team is several years away.  Portland isn’t.  Aldridge is entering his prime, Batum is turning a corner from solid wing player to potential All Star and Lillard is already on the verge of becoming an elite point guard and closer in late-game situations.

They’ve already developed the young talent, now they need proven commodities to shore up the thinnest bench in the league.  The chances of a first-round pick becoming that solution, as you’ve seen from that list earlier, aren’t very good.

But hurray for having another lottery pick….  I think.

Greg Oden receives mixed response in return to Portland

Greg Oden, former No. 1 draft pick and often-injured center for the Blazers returned to Portland on Wednesday for the team’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Portland waived Oden last March following his third microfracture knee surgery.  It was the last straw after five injury-plauged seasons in the Rose City for Oden.  His return to the Rose Garden, most likely to support former Ohio State teammate and current Memphis guard Mike Conley, was his first appearance since 2010.

Oden was greeted with mostly cheers — and a few boos — when he was shown on the video scoreboard in the first quarter.  Oden offered a peace sign in response.

The mixture of cheers and boos is about right for a response for the polarizing figure that is Greg Oden.  Those who showed support probably did so because they were happy to see him in good spirits and on the road to yet another recovery from injury.

Before he crumpled to the floor trying to block a shot from Aaron Brooks in December 2009 (the last time he was on an NBA court) and breaking his left patella, Oden was playing better than anyone on the team.  Yes, that included Aldridge and Brandon Roy.  The center was showing much improvement on the offensive end and his already outstanding rebounding and defense prowess were drastically affecting how teams played the Blazers.

Those who chose to boo Oden probably did so because he was supposed to be the final piece to a championship contender and instead became a punch line.

Oden
Photo: The Oregonian

But to call him a bust wouldn’t be accurate.  If Oden had played the majority of his five season in Portland, didn’t perform well and ended up getting traded or released, then he would have joined names like Michael Olowokandi, Pervis Ellison and the already mentioned Kwame Brown as former No. 1 picks who didn’t live up to their potential.

But we don’t know Oden’s potential because he hasn’t been allowed to fulfill it yet.  In May 2012, Oden announced his intention to sit out the 2012-13 season to focus on rehabbing his injuries.  In January 2013, it was reported that several teams, including Miami and Cleveland, were interested in signing Oden for next season.  If that ends up happening and he goes on to have a productive NBA career, then Portland fans shouldn’t feel anger or resentment but rather happiness and good-will for the big man.

We all wanted to see Oden succeed.  Now if he does, it will have to be in another uniform.  That’s fine by me because after all the adversity this young man has gone through, he deserves another shot at proving everyone wrong.  The somewhat conflicted response from the Portland crowd on Wednesday tells me they understand this.  Hopefully one day soon he can come back healthy and perform at a level somewhere close to what he was beginning to show before that injury in 2009.  By then the fans should know whether to boo him or not.

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