The Damian Lillard era is underway in Portland.
The two-time All-Star is unquestionably the centerpiece of the Trail Blazers. In fact, general manager Neil Olshey has even said that Portland will only target players who complement Lillard’s skill set and are on the same career arc as the 25-year-old point guard.
Portland’s front office has been extremely active this summer. Gone are veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez, replaced by younger players like Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless among others. Lillard is the lone returning starter for the Blazers, and he’s ready to carry the franchise on his shoulders.
Like the Blazers, Lillard has been incredibly busy this offseason as well. He signed a five-year, $120 million extension to stay with the Blazers long-term. He traveled across the globe promoting his signature adidas shoes. He dropped five rap tracks under his stage name Dame Dolla. He ran his annual Lillard Camp in Oregon. Not to mention, he’s put in extensive work with his trainer to improve his game.
With so much going on, Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy recently caught up with Lillard to discuss the Blazers’ additions, LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to join the San Antonio Spurs, Lillard’s contract extension, Portland’s expectations for next season and, of course, Dame Dolla’s success in the rap game. Here is the full Q&A:
Basketball Insiders: The Blazers have been very active this summer, adding Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson and Maurice Harkless among others. What do you think of the new additions and how they’ll fit alongside you?
Damian Lillard: “I like all of them. I’ve always been a huge fan of Moe Harkless. I really like Ed Davis. Overall, put all of them together, and I love the size and length and athleticism that they offer. Obviously all of them are younger, which means we can all grow and get better together. We’ll have time to get more familiar with each other and get comfortable with each other, so I like that part of it.”
Basketball Insiders: Ed Davis recently told me that one of the main reasons he wanted to join the Blazers was to play with you. Have you ever recruited free agents and is that something you’re open to doing in the future?
Damian Lillard: “I have never recruited anyone. I’ve spoken to guys with games that I like to see if they wanted to be in a different place and things like that – guys I thought would fit with our team. That was that, but I’ve never gone out and recruited people. I’ve always felt like people will go where they want to be, where they feel most wanted, where they can most benefit and benefit the team, so I let people make their own decisions. It’s kind of up to the player. If you go out there and you recruit somebody and, I guess, butter them up and they come and it’s not what you made them believe it to be then that can be bad, so you got to let people feel it out for themselves and work it out that way.”
Basketball Insiders: You signed a five-year extension with Portland this summer – congratulations, by the way. Lately, a lot of players have been signing shorter deals so that they can hit free agency again sooner. Why did you want to lock in the longest deal possible with the Blazers?
Damian Lillard: “First of all, as much as you want to have the greatest financial situation possible, I don’t play the game for money. I’m not trying to have a plan like, ‘Oh, I can make this much money and I can do this and this.’ I know right now I qualified for what I signed for and I know that I’m playing where I want to be playing at, and I know that the team I’m playing for wants me here. I think both sides just committed to another. It wasn’t about free agency and all those things like that. I don’t play that game.”
Basketball Insiders: I know Blazers fans were thrilled when you signed that deal. If all goes as planned, can you see yourself finishing your career in Portland?
Damian Lillard: “Definitely. I mean, I love it here. I love living here. I love the people here. This is just my kind of place. After growing up where I grew up, you just want to be in a nice, peaceful place. You want to be somewhere where people respect you and somewhere that you have built something. And I feel like I’ve built something great in my first three years here and I will continue to build on it. I consider this a second home. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll be here.”
Basketball Insiders: During Summer League, Neil Olshey said that he expects you guys to play more of an up-tempo style since you have a lot of young athletes on the roster. Are you excited about that?
Damian Lillard: “I am. I think playing faster is going to be the best thing for our team. We have a lot of really athletic guys that can really run. It’s not like we can play the same way [as last year] because we don’t have the same personnel. So I really like that idea of playing a faster game because of where we’re at. It’s something we can really take advantage of, and it’s something that we can do well. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Basketball Insiders: Because the roster features so many young players, some people are writing you guys off entering next season. Does that motivate you and do you think this group will surprise people?
Damian Lillard: “I do think we can definitely surprise people. I’m not sure why they would expect anything. We have myself, who’s been doubted. This is not my first time being doubted and second-guessed. And then we have a lot of young guys who are going to be put in certain roles and situations that they haven’t been in the past. Their responsibility is going to change. I think things like that is why we’ve been second-guessed or written off, but I think we’ll be fine.”
Basketball Insiders: With so many of last year’s veterans gone, are you looking forward to taking on an increased role next season?
Damian Lillard: “Definitely. I mean, the way I see it, anytime you get an opportunity to rise, grow and face a challenge, I’m all for that. This will be my first time being in that position in the NBA. It kind of reminds me of my sophomore year in college. I played my freshman year with a lot of good players and the MVP of the league and then everybody left. A new group of guys came in and I ended up being the leader right away. I did what I had to do. I just embraced the situation and took it for what it was. People have no expectations for us, so I mean that takes the pressure off. We’re just going to see what happens.”
Basketball Insiders: How much of an adjustment will it be not having guys like LaMarcus, Wesley, Nic and Robin around on and off the court? I know you were close with some of those guys.
Damian Lillard: “I mean, it’s definitely going to be an adjustment because you take a four-time All-Star out of the picture, you take a small forward who can do everything out of the picture, you take a shooting guard who is a lights out shooter and great defender out of the picture you take out a center who is as low maintenance as they come, who just wants to rebound, protect the paint and just cares about the team wining. You take guys like that away and of course everything changes. But like I said, the position we’re in, it’s all a part of growth. We just got to embrace that. Embrace the fact that the challenge is in front of us and this is what we’re faced with. We just got to step up to it like men and if it does work out, great; if it doesn’t go perfect, then that’s what it is. We just got to be ready to embrace the challenge.”
Basketball Insiders: Were you surprised to see LaMarcus leave to go to the Spurs?
Damian Lillard: “No, it didn’t surprise me. He spent nine years of his career in Portland. Last year we went to the second round, and this past year we lost in the first round and he’s at that point in his career where he’s thinking about a championship. Not that we couldn’t win it, but it’s not uncommon for a guy at his age to make changes for themselves and for what they want for their careers, so I wasn’t surprised by it at all.”
Basketball Insiders: What aspects of your game have you been working to improve this offseason?
Damian Lillard: “I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. Just working on different spots, different types of shots in different spots. I’m working on my balance, my core, ball-handling, my passing, things like that – a lot of stuff that’s going to allow me to make things easier for myself. Like you said, all the threats that I’ve had around me these first three seasons [have left] so now I’ll get a lot more attention on the offensive end. I have to be able to do other things, whether that’s getting to a certain spot on the floor, making the play to pass the ball out and sprint to another spot for an open shot instead passing the ball out, standing out and watching. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff like that.”
Basketball Insiders: Let’s talk about your rapping. First of all, you are ridiculously talented. Are you putting out an album and is there a timetable for that to drop?
Damian Lillard: “Well, I plan on putting out a short album. I want to do it way before the season is even creeping up on us; I want to get something done early. But it’s already done. If I do put something out, it’s not something that I need to do now, it’s already done. I recorded a lot stuff. But the crazy thing is, I don’t spent a lot of time doing it. I have things that I do. I work out twice a day, I get my lift in, I hang out with my family and I’ve just been relaxing a lot. But some nights, I decide to go the studio and do some music just to give myself some balance, to put my mind in a different place and kind of put my emotions out there a little bit. I don’t spend a lot of time doing it, so it’s been kind of funny to see people like, ‘Oh he better get in the gym!’
Basketball Insiders: I hate people who say stuff like that, like you guys are supposed to live in the gym.
Damian Lillard: “This is how I can break that down to you. So, they want us as professionals to be humble, right? They like for us to be humble and not act like we’re this and that, but at the same time you need to treat us like a normal person. Put it like this, for my mom growing up, she had two jobs. You praise the average person for working two jobs. But the fact that I have like a second career, possibly, people want to say just focus on [basketball]. So it’s kind of like you’re automatically making me not a normal person. You’re almost, in a way, taking my normalcy away by saying just focus on one thing, when you praise the average person for having a second job. That just doesn’t make sense!”
Basketball Insiders: Finally, I want to ask you about Lillard Camp. You go all out for this – working directly with the kids, bringing in talented coaches and even taking all of the campers to a movie theater to see Ant-Man! What made you want to do this camp and take it to that level?
Damian Lillard: “People pay their money to come get a great camp, and for their kids to learn something. I just want to give people what they signed up for and [what they paid for]. I just want to have that presence [at the camp] because making an impact on the kids is everything, man.”
The X-Factors: Portland
Spencer Davies continues Basketball Insiders’ “X-Factor” series by looking at potential game-changers for the Portland Trail Blazers when the NBA returns.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
That’s probably an appropriate way to characterize the steam that’s been picking up over the last week regarding the eventual return of the NBA. What the plan exactly will be is yet to be determined, but there are potential scenarios surfacing left and right. And with the NHL officially having a resumption blueprint set in stone, we’re probably not too far away from learning The Association’s fate.
In an effort to prepare ourselves for that day, Basketball Insiders has begun an x-factor series for each team around the current playoff picture. Basically, “if this happens…” or “what if this player is healthy?” type of scenarios are what we’re looking at. Ben Nadeau kicked us off Tuesday with Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Today, we’re going to look at the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in a similar situation out in the Western Conference.
Scratching and clawing for that final seed to make the postseason for the seventh straight season, the Blazers have work to do at 29-37. They’re going to need help in the standings race with several other squads surrounding them chasing after the same thing. Along with the Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, Portland is 3.5 games back of the West’s eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Even the San Antonio Spurs are hanging by a thread with their playoff streak in jeopardy with a four-game hole in the standings.
We can technically call this our first dependent situation. There is going to be a ton of schedule watching around these five teams. It’s all contingent on the NBA’s decision about how to go about a return — a 72-game benchmark, a play-in tournament, straight to the postseason, etc. Who’s going to have an easier schedule? Who’s going to have more games to play and increase their chances?
For example, the Blazers could have six games left to play to make up that gap on the Grizzlies, a team that was next up on their list in a pivotal head-to-head scenario. The Spurs, however, would have nine games to try and right the ship — by far the highest amount of contests in comparison to the four others they’re fighting against. None of this is concrete because we don’t know what solution the league is going to agree upon; that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t come to mind as a hypothetical.
Then, there’s that Damian Lillard guy. You know, the dude that is Portland’s franchise. The man that went on a mid-January to early February eight-game run where he absurdly averaged over 45 points, 9.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, while nailing 53 percent of both his field goals and three-balls. He averaged 40 minutes in this stretch, quite literally putting the team on his back to keep pace with the surging Grizzlies.
Lillard’s publicly come out and said flat-out that if the league elects to go with the benchmark idea, he wouldn’t participate. He’d gladly support his teammates and join them, just not on the court for games. Speaking with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the All-Star point guard expressed his desire for a tournament-style setup where there are playoff implications on the line. Suiting up to satisfy certain criteria with no incentive isn’t his preferred method of return. He wants to compete and, considering the effect of rustiness and other unknowns that could play a factor in these hypothetical matchups, Lillard would love for Portland to be the group that knocks others out unexpectedly.
Let’s not forget that the Blazers could have two starting-caliber players back that would’ve made their return from injury at some point this past March, either. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have their own specific capabilities that can dramatically improve what the team’s been missing since the beginning of the year.
Nurkic is an outstanding interior presence that brings physicality and finishing ability, as well as a big body to secure rebounds and dare opponents to come into the paint. This is no knock on Hassan Whiteside, who has arguably had the best season of his career as a blocking and boarding machine. It’s more about the lack of depth behind him, which is where Nurkic can step right in without Portland losing its reliability at the five. It’s been a revolving door at backup center for the Blazers, which has allowed the opposition to attack at will and get easy buckets. Nurkic’s return will shut that right off, as well as give the second unit a reliable scoring option.
Collins, his frontcourt partner, was supposed to have a breakout campaign in store for the league. Instead, the athletic third-year big man suffered a dislocated left shoulder just three games into the season. While it has sidelined him since then, he was targeting March as a return target. Obviously, with the league suspending operations, that didn’t happen as planned. But with the calendar turning to June in less than a week, and with his optimism shining through his rehab, it’s probably OK to assume Collins is close to being in the clear for a comeback.
Collins brings things to the table that neither Nurkic nor Whiteside does — an ability to stretch the floor being the most obvious skill that stands out. He can knock down triples at a decent rate and, more importantly, create space for Lillard and CJ McCollum to operate. The 6-foot-11 power forward has quicker foot speed than the other bigs Portland has, too.
Though the Blazers should be plenty excited about Nurkic and Collins’ impending return, they also have to be realistic about how much those two will play. We already mentioned Collins’ shoulder dislocation, but Nurkic hasn’t been on the floor since Mar. 25 of last year. Terry Stotts and his coaching staff will have to pay close attention to each of their minutes. How that whole situation is handled will be crucial to ensure there’s no long-term damage done for any party.
Just like the rest of their competition, the Blazers will have to also monitor how their older veterans handle ramping things back up again. Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza are both in their mid-30s and have taken on a heavy minute load. They are starters who average over 30 minutes per game that just abruptly stopped playing for months. It isn’t going to be easy on anybody, but the younger players can probably recover and restart easier than those seasoned vets.
Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons are likely to come out of this hiatus with the most energy out of anybody simply because they’re the youngest guys on the team. We all know how hungry the dynamic duo of Lillard and McCollum is going to be. It’s exciting to think about.
All we can do now is wait to find out what the next steps are toward a restart.
Luckily for us, that news might not be too far away.
The X-Factors: New Orleans
Ben Nadeau kicks off a new Basketball Insiders series by examining potential game-changers for when the NBA resumes play.
Basketball is back, baby.
Well, sorta. OK, actually, not really. But they’re talking about it. Finally.
Beyond that, they’re apparently making true, meaningful progress. And although the NBA is circling through potential scenarios — bubble games, re-seeding, ignoring conferences, etc. — there’s a very real chance that this shindig gets underway by mid-July.
To celebrate the re-arrival of actual talk and analysis, Basketball Insiders is kicking off its newest series — this time, one that focuses on a real-life hypothetical. The idea of an x-factor is inherently goofy, typically leading to sentences like: “Well, if Player Z hits 43 percent of his three-pointers, they’ll be tough to beat.” And, yeah, duh.
Given the sport-wide break, there are some perfectly valid questions to be asked. For example, with an extra two months off, where does Victor Oladipo’s health stand? If he’s fully healthy, the Indiana Pacers are going to be a whirlwind of a problem for their higher-seeded first-round matchup. Could the return of Jonathan Isaac to the Orlando Magic ensure their postseason place? And, finally, Kevin Durant – a decision that looms large over every other potential proceeding.
But that’s not why we’ve gathered at this particular URL right now – that would be to discuss the New Orleans Pelicans, a franchise that currently finds itself 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Naturally, any chance for success depends on the NBA ratifying a plan that behooves the Pelicans’ hopes. Whether that’s a return to the regular season or a totally-invented play-in series, it doesn’t matter as New Orleans needs some help outside of their own good fortunes.
Should they get the opportunity to control their own fate, there’d be plenty to research and anoint as a Holier Than Thou X-Factor. We could talk about J.J. Redick’s 45.2 percent mark from three-point range or how his 110 postseason games are 28 more than the rest of the roster combined.
Maybe there’d be a paragraph or two on Brandon Ingram’s steady ascent to stardom. Ingram’s post-Los Angeles quest to become a sure-fire No. 1 option has been a compelling narrative, but can he do it when the games matter most? Lonzo Ball, the playmaking point guard, knocked down 21 of his 36 attempts from deep over the final four Pelicans games — if that were a permanent level of consistency for the pass-first general, then that would change everything, too.
And Jrue Holiday, the remaining cornerstone following the departure of Anthony Davis, would get his first chance to anoint himself as a hero in the football-heavy city. Surely, if the Pelicans are to sneak into the altered postseason — and, dare we say it, make some noise — those would be important conditions to quantify.
Still, for all the positives, negatives and worthy storylines out there for New Orleans, not a single one matters as much as Zion Williamson does.
Since the 19-year-old phenom debuted on Jan. 22, the Pelicans went 11-9. It’s not a spectacular showing, but one dragged down by losses to the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers twice. Generally speaking, however, Williamson wasted no time acclimating to the NBA and the numbers speak for themselves: 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting.
The highlights include the 35 points he hung on the Lakers and six other occasions of 25 or more in just 19 games. Moreover, Williamson has only scored under 20 points on three occasions and shot worse than 50 percent twice — once 8-for-18 (44) in the other showing versus Los Angeles and a tough 5-for-19 effort (26.3) against the league-leading Bucks. Of course, if they hobbled into the postseason, they’d have to play those very same Lakers over and over again.
Alas, the so-called chosen one will have his fair share of questions when the season resumes. Remember that 4-for-4 explosion against the San Antonio Spurs in his career debut? Well, he’s just 2-for-9 otherwise, often going entire games without even hoisting from long range. Williamson wasn’t supposed to enter professional basketball as a three-point marksman, but that epic – and believe us, we don’t use that word lightly – introduction might have skewed the outlook.
At Duke, Williamson went just 24-for-71 (33.8 percent) from deep and it’ll be a weak link that follows him – just as it does Ben Simmons – for the time being. Free throws weren’t expected to be a major, glaring issue either as he hit on 64 percent in college and, well, he’s right around the same mark currently. If you ignore 1-for-6 and 3-for-8 showings during a couple of double-digit victories versus the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, that number looks even better too.
But enough about the few cons – of which Williamson has certainly made a focus during his quarantine workouts – what’s the ceiling? And how much should we be pulling for a postseason debut here? In a crazy campaign like this, the added bonus of Williamson-made magic might be a thread worth pulling for – even at the rejection of a Ja Morant-led foray instead.
Needless to say, if the resumed regular scenario arrives and the Pelicans have just five or so attempts to make up a 3.5 game deficit in the standings, Williamson probably wouldn’t play at all. It’s also certainly possible that the rookie was just shaking off the rust before — just ask the aforementioned Oladipo. After taking an entire year to recover from a brutal ruptured tendon, the former All-Star only averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 39.1 percent shooting, all would-be career-lows.
Bet your bottom dollar, however, that with an extra 60 days of training at full speed under his belt, Oladipo will be closer to 100 percent than ever – a much-needed boost to an already well-rounded Pacers side. Could a trained-up Williamson provide the same type of edge? Upon his debut, one of the few worries that lingered – aside from re-injury – was about his perceived stamina and fatigue. Getting dropped into high-intensity workouts against adults twice your age is no joke, but try it after three months of rehab following a preseason meniscus tear.
With that context, the fact that Williams averaged 20-plus points on nearly 30 minutes per game is a superhero-level accomplishment.
At 37.2 percent, the Pelicans are the NBA’s fourth-best three-point shooting franchise – so even if Williamson doesn’t come back ready to unleash from deep, his team will be. On top of that, New Orleans’ 116.2 points per game are tied for fourth-best, too. Between Williamson, Holiday, Ball, Ingram and Redick, scoring appears to be the least of their issues headed into a restarted season.
But the defensive rating of 111.6 is a cause for concern, the second-worst standing of any team still within arm’s reach of the postseason (Portland, 113.6). Williamson has posted an encouraging mark of 103.1 on that end through 19 games, which also happens to be the highest mark of anybody employed by New Orleans right now.
In fact, Williamson’s multi-position defense and overall athleticism have already left quite the footprint. Since his debut in January, the Pelicans have posted a defensive rating of 109.2 – good enough for the No. 8 spot across the entire league. The Williamson Effect is here to stay and it’ll only improve as the roster meshes and the rookie acclimates even further – that seems to be a foregone conclusion.
If you thought Williamson was impressive coming off a serious injury with no stamina, his elevated play – whether in assumed individual efficiencies or overall team impact – could push the Pelicans into new territory. Elsewhere, there are aspects of New Orleans that deserve attention but none are as postseason-transforming as the second return of Williamson – let us just hope that the NBA provides a stage for the show.
Looking Back At The Draft: The No. 12 Picks
David Yapkowitz assesses the 12th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.
The further you get into the NBA draft, the harder it is to categorize hits and misses. There aren’t many expectations with later draft picks, especially in the second round. If a player ends up panning out, then great. If they don’t, it’s no big financial loss for the team and they can easily cut ties. When you’re still in the lottery, however, you probably expect a little more than just an average player. Superstars are never guaranteed, especially with late lottery selections. But you probably would expect to have a quality rotation player if not probable starter with a late lottery pick.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re continuing our look back at the draft, pick by pick, with each of the No. 12 picks going back the last 10 drafts. Let’s see how those picks have panned out.
Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder – 2013
The OKC Thunder didn’t have a lottery pick in the 2013 draft, but they acquired it from the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade. With Adams, the Thunder certainly hit the mark. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo (who 13 other teams in addition to the Thunder passed on) and Rudy Gobert are players picked after Adams who have fared better.
Adams has become one of the best defensive players and rebounders in the league as well as a great screen setter and roll man in the pick and roll. He plays his role to perfection and is a starting-caliber center. He may not have hit All-Star status, but he is a legit starter and with a lottery pick, that’s probably what you would expect.
Gerald Henderson – Charlotte Bobcats – 2009
I’m going with a hit on this one. Henderson played nearly all of his eight-year career with the Bobcats with the exception of his final two years with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. He was unfortunately forced into early retirement due to nagging injury issues.
But for the eight years he was in the NBA, he was a capable scorer and mostly a starting-caliber wing player. As mentioned, with a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you should expect. Henderson averaged double-digits in scoring for most of his career and he shot in the mid-’40s from the field. If not for injuries, he probably would have played in the NBA for a few more years.
Xavier Henry – Memphis Grizzlies – 2010
Going back to the last ten drafts, Henry is the only player picked No. 12 that I would consider to be a miss thus far. He had some hype coming out of Kansas and was expected to be a first-round pick and NBA contributor. He didn’t play much as a rookie with the Grizzlies and was traded to the New Orleans Hornets.
He showed some brief flashes with the Hornets but never really was able to sustain any sort of consistent success. He got hurt during his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers and that pretty much ended his NBA career after five years. He’s had a couple of G League appearances since then but didn’t really show that he was ready for an NBA return.
The Middle of the Road
Taurean Prince – Atlanta Hawks – 2016
Again, for a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you expect your selection to develop into. Prince is here under the middle of the road rather than hits because it’s still too early in his career to determine if he is truly a full-time starter.
With the Hawks, he certainly looked the part. After a so-so rookie year, he stepped up in a big way, becoming a scorer and deadly three-point shooter with solid defensive capabilities. When he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer, he was considered to be a big pick up. This season, although he started in 61 of the 64 games he suited up in Brooklyn, his shooting suffered and he wasn’t as effective as he had been in Atlanta. There is still time for him to be considered a hit though.
Jeremy Lamb – Houston Rockets – 2012
Lamb is another player who had some high expectations coming out of college but got off to a rocky start in the NBA. He showed some flashes in Oklahoma City but was wildly inconsistent. But like many players, a change of scenery seemed to be all he needed.
He broke out when he arrived in Charlotte, becoming a solid bench scoring threat and becoming more of a regular in the starting lineup as the years went on.
He rightfully earned himself a solid payday from the Indiana Pacers and he started 42 of the 46 games he played in. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury in February. The Pacers are hoping he can bounce back from that.
Luke Kennard – Detroit Pistons – 2017
Another player that is still a little early to categorize. For now, he appears to be a middle of the ground type player. This is only his third year in the NBA, and he’s shown improvement each year. This season was a breakout year for him.
Since coming to the league, he’s been a very good three-point shooter. This season he was knocking down 39.9 percent of his attempts. His scoring has gone up every season and this year he had broken through to double-digits. He has some injury concerns, and he was actually out when the NBA suspended the season. But if he can bounce back healthy, then he certainly looks like a solid pick at No. 12.
The Role Players
Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz – 2015
In a league where the game is changing and traditional big men aren’t as common as they used to be, Lyles fits right in. Lyles seemingly was another case of a player who needed a change of scenery to find his niche. He wasn’t able to stick in either Utah or Denver, and it wasn’t until this season, his first in San Antonio, that he looked like a capable role player.
Lyles became a regular starter for the Spurs, and again, that’s what you want from a lottery pick. He isn’t included in the hits yet because this is the first season out of his five that he’s shown this. He doesn’t have a big enough sample size. He shot a career-best 38.7 percent from three and if he keeps this up, he’ll be a good pick albeit a late bloomer.
Alec Burks – Utah Jazz – 2011
Burks once looked like he was going to become more than just a solid NBA player. He might have had borderline All-Star potential. At least a starting-caliber shooting guard. But unfortunately for him, his career was seemingly derailed by early injuries.
He has since bounced back though. He’s reinvented himself as a scoring threat off the bench. He put up a career-high 16.1 points per game with the Golden State Warriors in the first half of the season. On a playoff team though, he’s a second unit player and that’s exactly what the 76ers were hoping for when they traded for him. He only had 11 games in Philly before the season was halted, but he’s done well to change his game and be effective despite major injuries.
Too Early to Tell
Dario Saric – Orlando Magic – 2014
I’m introducing a new category here, the too early to tell group. These players either don’t have a big enough sample size, or they have had circumstances that may have hindered their abilities. Saric falls into the latter part of that. He’s been a solid starting stretch-four when he’s gotten consistent playing time. But he struggled to adapt to being thrown around in different roles and inconsistent minutes with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He’s a pending restricted free agent who might not figure to be in the Suns future plans. Quite a few teams should consider throwing an offer his way.
Miles Bridges – Charlotte Bobcats – 2018
It’s a bit too early to make any major assessments on Bridges. This is only his second year in the NBA, a season that has been cut short. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie and had a pretty solid year with some aspects he could certainly improve upon. He looked much improved this season albeit some areas he could still work on.
He became a regular starting small forward for the Bobcats this season. He upped his scoring and rebounding and he’s often asked to guard multiple positions. He’s young and has a lot of room to improve. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet placing him in one of the above categories so that’s why he’s too early to tell. The future does look good for him though.
The later you go in the draft, the fewer expectations you put on the player you drafted. Franchise level players are not common, there are only a handful in the league. But at least with first-rounders, and especially a lottery pick, you’d expect to get at least a quality rotation player.
Judging by the production of the all the No. 12 picks for the past ten years, it’s safe to say that they all have, or look like they will pan out in some capacity. Only one of them is a sure-fire miss.