The Trail Blazers continued what they hope will be a transformative offseason by selecting two players -- one at the top of the first round and the other near the end of the second -- during Thursday’s night’s NBA Draft at Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.
Portland’s first order of business Thursday night was selecting Shaedon Sharpe, a 6-6, 200 pound guard out of Kentucky, with the seventh overall pick.
“From a young age, I’ve always dreamed of playing in the NBA,” said Sharpe in his post-draft press conference. “My dream came true, so I’m just really excited. But I can’t wait to get to Portland and get started.”
After re-classifying in order to enter college a year early, Sharpe declared for the 2022 Draft despite not playing in his first and only season at Kentucky. He did average 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists at the 2021 Nike Elite Youth Basketball League and helped the Canadian National Team win silver at the 2019 FIBA U16 America’s Championship, but those were about the last opportunities teams had to scout Sharpe other than in practices at Kentucky.
“Shaedon is an incredible talent and we’re really excited about his future,” said Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin. “A unique situation with Shaedon where he didn’t play college basketball, so wasn’t seen or evaluated nearly as much as a lot of these other guys. But we were lucky enough to have a pretty good foundation built on Shaedon through our past viewings, specifically some of the new people we hired who had seen him quite a bit.”
So even though he was the highest rated player in his previous high school class, the 19 year-old guard, who was born in Ontario, Canada and finished up his high school career in Arizona, entered the draft process as something of a mystery.
“It was difficult because you can’t have a perfect career, so there were some ups and downs,” said Sharpe. “But going from high school to college, not playing your college season and then straight to the NBA, it’s quite a journey. But every step of the way I just fought and had fun with it.”
But the Trail Blazers must have seen and heard enough from Sharpe during his workout on June 15 at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin to feel comfortable selecting the Canadian with the seventh overall pick.
“Also had Shaedon here for a three-on-three workout where he was really impressive,” said Cronin. “These workouts aren’t just the court time where you get to evaluate these players, you also get to spend a lot of time with them as people and learn about them and what motivates them and what drives them and what they’re about. That was a good experience for us to just get to know him better as somebody who was more of an unknown going into this draft process.”
Tabbed as a “NBA-ready shooter” with “elite combination of size, length, fluidity and scoring ability,” Sharpe will have the luxury of easing into a rotation that already features the likes of Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart and Keon Johnson.
“I’m really excited to come to Portland... they’ve got a lot of great guys that can really play,” said Sharpe. “I just can’t wait to really learn from Damian Lillard. He’s a great guard himself, been in this league for mad time. So I just can’t wait to really learn from him.”
While there was considerable speculation that the Trail Blazers were angling to trade the seventh pick in order to bring back a veteran player, but as the pre-draft process played out, Cronin and his staff came to the conclusion that Sharpe’s potential was worth far more than what teams were offering in exchange.
“I had just worked the phones so diligently, really from post-combine on. Just tons of trade discussions, tons of pick swap ideas or swap plus a player idea or the pick for a player outright ideas,” said Cronin. “As the process went on, (we) became more and more enamored with pick seven where in my trade discussions, most of them became ‘You’ve got to wow us to have us even think about moving this pick. And it ended up that nobody wowed us.”
After trading the 42nd pick to Denver, reportedly for a future second round pick, the Trail Blazers made the penultimate pick of the 2022 Draft, selecting 6-9 Colorado forward Jabari Walker with the 57 pick.
“A player that is really intriguing to us because of his mix of youth, size, length, shooting, upside,” said Cronin of Walker, who is the son of Samaki Walker, who played 10 season in the NBA. “A two-year guy at Colorado and showed some flashes that we thought were really appealing and we’re excited to get him here and develop him and hopefully he can contribute as well.”
Walker averaged 14.6 points on 46 percent shooting from the field, 45 percent shooting from three and 78 percent from the line, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists last season, earning All-Pac 12 First Team honors.
Both Sharpe and Walker are expected to play for Portland at the 2022 Summer League in Las Vegas.
With the draft now in the rearview, Cronin and his staff now turn their attention to trades and free agency as they attempt to retool the roster around Damian Lillard, a process that started at the 2022 trade deadline. While Cronin said he was “really happy” with how the draft went, the larger task is still very much a work in progress.
“We’re trying to be really aggressive. We know we’re not good enough,” said Cronin. “We want to keep trying to get better so it’s continuing to address these needs. The draft is a big trade day but it’s not the end-all as far as trades go... Free agency is just around the corner, July 1. So we’ll continue working trade lines, looking for upgrades and when the time comes, also enter the free agent market, look to fill some specific needs. At the same time, we have numerous free agents that we have to address that are going to be really big points of emphasis, so getting their deals done as well.”