Monday, June 28, 2010

Breaking Down The Draft

After the dust had settled, Portland ended up with four new players on their roster and had to say goodbye to a longtime friend. All in all, the 2010 NBA Draft was just like others in recent history, filled with speculation, trade rumors, and big moves to reshape the landscape of the Trail Blazers for the upcoming season.

The major splash of the night came about an hour into the draft when Portland came out of nowhere to snag Luke Babbitt, a 6-9 small forward out of Nevada. It wasn’t unexpected that the team moved up in the draft, which was the thought all along, rather the player who they ended up acquiring. Many rumors had Portland linked to a player such as Paul George, or big man Patrick Patterson, but Babbitt’s name came out of the blue. Maybe even more shocking than obtaining Babbitt was the player Portland sent away to the Wolves. Everything leading up to the draft had Rudy Fernandez as the bait which was to lure in a coveted spot higher in the draft, so when it was made clear Martell Webster was the one dealt, it came as a surprise. I had thought with his three remaining years, teams would shy away from his contract.

As sad as it is to see Webster leave, a change in scenery will do Webster wonders. While he thrived during the month of January, leading the NBA in 3-point field goals made (42); he did so as the starting wing, playing 35 minutes night due to the absence of Batum and Roy. Unfortunately, he won’t have those opportunities here in Portland with both of those guys coming back healthy. By trading Martell, the Trail Blazers lose one of their best perimeter defenders but felt the need for a pure scorer off the bench was higher on the priority list. Insert Babbitt.

With his ability to shoot either off the dribble or spotting up, Babbitt shouldn’t have a problem getting his shot off at the NBA level. When Luke gets his man in the triple threat position, game over. He uses the jab step better than any collegiate prospect in this year's class, which allows him to create additional space as well as keeping his defender off balance. Along with his prototypical small forward height, Babbitt defies the stereotype that ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ by measuring a maximum vertical leap of 37.5 inches, sixth best out of all draftees, and higher than other swingmen taken ahead of him such as Wesley Johnson (37), Al-Farouq Aminu (33.5), and Gordon Hayward (34.5). Taking all of this in, it seems like Luke should be able to come in right away and fill the void of scorer off the bench, vacated by Travis Outlaw. More important than any jab step or vertical leap is his attitude. While making the media rounds today, time and time again, Luke reiterated he wanted to earn everything himself; a breath of fresh air and undoubtedly will gain the admiration of the Trail Blazer fan base.

While this trade was being announced, it felt like a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light’. First Ryan Gomes was involved in the deal, then 10 minutes later he wasn’t, and then he was again. At this time, the team doesn’t know if they’ll waive his partially guaranteed contract, try to trade him to other teams looking to save a little money, or keep him on the roster. Management has until tomorrow to make the decision. Obviously, he’s a solid basketball player who’d be able to back up Nic at the 3 or play some power forward in spots given his toughness (5.7 career rpg). With that said, as it stands, our roster is already at 14 players and the team did just trade their bench defender for another small forward, would it be overload carrying Gomes as well?

After Portland got through wheeling and dealing, it was time to make their pick at #22. Reports earlier in the week leaked out they were targeting Memphis’ Elliot Williams, but after so many famous KP smokescreens put out in the past, this rumor was treated as such. But this was no diversion, Williams was a guy they had been eyeing for a long time and wasted no time selecting him as he was still on the draft board.

Elliot was widely regarded as not only the 2nd best shooting guard in this year’s draft but also the 2nd best athlete overall. Similar to Jerryd Bayless in the sense he is an attacking guard who rarely settles for the jump shot as evidence by averaging 7.5 trips to line his sophomore year at Memphis. With Jerryd Bayless proving himself as a point guard in last year’s playoffs against Phoenix and Webster’s departure, all of a sudden reserve minutes behind Roy are available. Given his natural athleticism and willingness to play defense, Coach McMillan has to be salivating at the chance to work with him in hopes of molding Elliot into a defender of the caliber of a Martell Webster. Really the only negative I can think of when it comes to Williams is the fact he won’t be able to play in next month’s Summer League due to banging knees with other draftee during a workout. No need to worry Trail Blazers fans, the injury is not serious. The team is just taking precautionary measures to ensure he has a healthy rookie campaign.

With their final pick at #34, acquired for #44 and cash consideration, the Trail Blazers stayed true to their philosophy of taking the best player available and grabbed Babbitt’s teammate at Nevada, Armon Johnson, a 6-3 point guard regarded as one of the toughest players in the class. At the time I was pulling for us to swap picks with the Kings who had selected a falling Hassan Whiteside or simply picking Solomon Alabi, both big, 7 ft. project centers who could pay big dividends in the future but with Whiteside’s character issues and Alabi testing positive for Hepatitis B, the red flags were too vivid to ignore.

Much as I do after every draft, I go onto YouTube and find video of the prospects and read up on all of the scouting reports. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to get excited about Armon and after meeting him in person for his press conference, that feeling was only compounded more so. Like Williams, Johnson is an athletic freak, measuring the 4th highest vertical at the combine (38.5 inches) and possessing an intimidating 6’8” wingspan, which has the talent capable of becoming one of the most suffocating defenders at the point guard spot, along the same lines as a young Greg Anthony.

In the end, if you're a Trail Blazers fan, I don't know how you can not be thrilled with the results of draft night. The biggest need of a pure scorer off the bench was filled by Babbitt, added another player who looks to attack the basket first, shoot from the perimeter second in Elliot Williams, and could find a diamond in the rough with Armon Johnson. Although the roster seems overcrowded now, these selections set the team up perfectly to make a consolidation trade.

Overall Grade: B+

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