With each practice, Trail Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe becomes less of a mystery.
Even though he practiced but didn’t play during his lone season at Kentucky, Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin and his staff were confident that they knew enough to take Sharpe, a 6-6 guard who grew up in Canada and played his prep ball in Arizona, with the seventh overall pick of the 2022 Draft, Portland’s highest selection since selecting Damian Lillard with the sixth pick of the 2012 Draft.
However, a minor shoulder injury sustained in the first few minutes of his Summer League debut sidelined Sharpe for the duration of Portland’s run in Las Vegas, robbing the curious, be they fans or his new teammates and coaches, of their first real opportunity to see Sharpe in game action.
After a few weeks of rehab, Sharpe was cleared to participate in basketball activities, so most of his teammates at least got to see what he was capable of during informal workouts at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin before the start of the 2022-23 campaign. But now that training camp is well underway, Sharpe has had an opportunity to show what he’s capable of in a structured setting, and by all accounts, it’s been a great start.
“First couple days was pretty solid,” said Sharpe. “Got to know the sets and everything, got to compete. First days in the books, it’s been pretty good. The info that they give us, offense and defense, I feel like I pick up things pretty easy. I’ve just go to go through it one or two times and I should be good.”
Even those who spend years playing at the highest levels of the college ranks have to adjust to the speed of the NBA game, so it’s not only natural, but expected that a player who had seen almost no game action in well over a year would need a bit of time to acclimate. That process is already well underway after the first few days of training camp on the campus of UC Santa Barbara, and will continue throughout the preseason and likely into the regular season, though Sharpe says he’s already noticing improvement.
“Speed at first was fast, but now that we’ve gone five-on-five a couple times, it’s starting to slow down and everything,” said the 19 year old rookie. “Just getting used to the sets, where to be on the court, it’s just slowed down.”
Though Sharpe’s natural ability has allowed him to make plays at camp even as he’s getting accustomed to the NBA game. It’s easy to visualize (with the help of a few highlight clips) the athleticism and ease with which he moves on the court from an offensive perspective, though he’s used those talents on the other end of the court as well.
“I think (Sharpe) is one of those guys who is going to be able to use his athleticism on both ends of the floor,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “He’s really long, he’s an incredible shot-blocker already, he’s never out of a play. He goes and meets guys up at the square, it’s unbelievable the instincts that he has on that end.”
“I watched him workout a couple times when he was injured. Super talented, he pretty much has it all,” said Anfernee Simons. “He had a good scrimmage today, especially the last game, he was making some plays. I think as soon as it comes together for him and things start to slow down, I think he’s going to be a problem, for sure.”
Sharpe, by way of playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard -- who recently called the rookie an “all-world talent" -- Simons, Josh Hart and Gary Payton II, will have the luxury of learning what it takes to be a guard in the NBA without the same level of pressure that Top 10 picks often encounter in their first season. But the fledgeling days of getting to learning about the “mystery man” of the 2022 Draft have been successful, both for Sharpe and his teammates.
“I like to attack the rim, force the defense to really guard up and play defense, try to draw some fouls and also get my teammates involved. And on defense, just help my teammates however I can, whether that’s being help, shrink the court and switch one through five,” said Sharpe. “They’re getting to know how I play and how I like to play, where I like the ball. Same with me to them. Knowing where they like to play, how they play and where they want the ball at times on the court.”