Blazers Prepare For Present And Future By Selecting Simons And Trent Jr.

by Casey Holdahl
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TUALTIN -- Ever since the Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey has stated on multiple occasions that, in order for the team to take the next step in their maturation, they’ll need to acquire veterans with postseason experience. So when the 2018 NBA Draft started up Thursday night, many assumed the team would try to use the 24th overall pick and one of their trade exceptions to acquire a veteran player, and according to Olshey they attempted to do just that.

“We were trying to look for teams where 24 would get us an impact rotation guy into the trade exception,” said Olshey. “As you saw, I think tonight wasn’t about existing players, tonight was about the draft… We were really aggressive leading up to the draft, but it’s got to be a very specific fit, it’s got to be a very specific guy in terms of skill set. And he’s got to be a guy we think we can make an impact. Tonight wasn’t the night to do that.”

Instead the night, at least from Portland’s perspective, was about acquiring young, high-ceiling talent. In order to achieve that, the Trail Blazers used the 24th pick to select 19 year old guard Anfernee Simons, who played last year at IMG Academy after decommitting to Louisville.

“At that point in the draft, we’re looking for the guy with the highest ceiling we could possibly find,” said Olshey of selecting Simons, who worked out twice at the Trail Blazers’ practice facility in the run up to the draft. “He’s really gifted. We felt like he was the most talented guy on the board. He’s got a really bright future. He works. He can dribble, he can pass, he can shoot, he’s a high-level athlete. We know he’s going to work. His skill-set translates. When the physical growth catches up to his natural God-given ability, he’ll be a really good player.”

That physical growth might take a little more time that for a typical rookie considering he hasn’t played against high-level competition relative to his peers in the 2018 draft class. Then again, the assumption last season was that Zach Collins, who came off the bench during his lone season at Gonzaga, would take at least a year to develop before working his way into the rotation at the end of his rookie season.

“We’re not going to hold Anfernee back, not unlike Zach,” said Olshey. “We though Zach was going to be up for a redshirt year last year, he was a futures talent play. He impressed Terry (Stotts) and the coaches enough to where they integrated him sooner than we thought, but from a front office standpoint we’re not compelling anybody to play these guys right away.”

There were players on the board who were more NBA ready than Simons when Portland made their pick, but Olshey’s goal entering the draft, at least once it became apparent that a suitable trade for a veteran wasn’t available, was to bring in a player with the high career arc, not necessarily the ability to contribute come opening night of the 2018-19 season.

“This was not a need pick, this was a pick as far as who had the highest ceiling,” said Olshey. “I think when you watch film on him, when you watch him play live, when you saw him in the gym here, there are things that he can do that can’t be replicated by a lot of guys in this draft. He just needs to get physically strong enough to do it against NBA competition and to do it more consistently.”

While Simons might take a bit more time to get to the point where he’s comfortable dealing with the speed and physical play in the NBA, Portland made a trade to acquire Duke freshman Gary Trent Jr., whose size (6-6, 210 pounds) and the ability to shoot from deep that should translate to the pro game sooner rather than later.

“One of the things with Gary, his pedigree in terms of Team USA, playing at Duke, he was a McDonalds All-American, he’s physically capable of playing in the NBA right away,” said Olshey. “His skill set translates. Big time shooter, physical defender but he’s going to have to get quicker in terms of guarding twos… We’re all looking for shooting at this is a guy we think can step in right away and fill a void… I don’t think we’re going to need to feel as patient with Gary based on the body of work he brings to the table as we will be with Anfernee.”

Both Simons and Trent Jr. are expected to join Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Jake Layman and Wade Baldwin IV on Portland’s Las Vegas Summer League team, so the team will have a better sense of how prepared both players are to contribute in 2018-19. But even if both Simons and Trent Jr. spend their rookie seasons watching from the bench, Olshey said they’re still satisfied with the way the draft played out and are already looking to add talent through trades and free agency.

“The draft is about acquiring talent, long-term talent,” said Olshey. “Eventually when that talent blossoms, you hope that those players become assets and then you can make a decision… I think when you looked at what happened tonight, guys flipped picks, people moved up, people moved down. Tonight was about the draft for pretty much every team in the league. Now we’ll shift our focus, we have roster spots available, we didn’t invade any of our tools in terms of trade exceptions or taxplayer midlevels and we’ll be aggressive going out into the market. But tonight was not about getting guys who can step in right away and I don’t want to think that’s going to supersede us trying to go build the bench and build the rotation with veteran, playoff tested players. Tonight was about the draft.”