The first step: Blazers introduce draft picks, talk approach to team building
The Portland Trail Blazers introduced their newest roster additions in No. 7 and 57 draft picks Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker on Saturday morning, June 25, at its practice facility in Tualatin.
Sharpe comes to the Rose City from Kentucky, where he reclassified from his 2022 high school class to join the Wildcats back in January. However, he never played a second and instead said he sat out the second half of the season to keep his body prepared as a high draft choice was expected for the 19-year-old.
Walker comes from Colorado, the alma mater of Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, and follows in the footsteps of his dad Samaki, who played in the NBA for 10 years and was the ninth overall pick by Dallas in the 1996 draft.
Both bring plenty of talent to Portland right away, but the biggest difference in the room was the sense of excitement from Billups, GM Joe Cronin and the two youngsters.
"Look what comes out of that, two young talented guys and two really good people," Billups said. "That's one of the things we're hanging our hat on around here, is we want talented guys … but good people, good kids, good young adults. I'm happy about that."
Sharpe, who will wear No. 17, was compared to current Blazers guard Anfernee Simons by Billups in terms of his calm and quiet demeanor.
Sharpe is from Canada, where he said he started playing basketball in ninth grade before moving to prep academies in the U.S. And yes, he dabbled in hockey a little bit as well.
On the basketball court, Billups said he wanted to test Sharpe's demeanor during the workout the new Blazer had earlier in June in Portland.
Billups said other guys in the workout were more loud and can rattle players, but the Blazers' leading man didn't see any flinching from Sharpe along with the impressive offensive and defensive talent displayed.
"For me, I just wanted to see how competitive he was," Billups said. "I left there so impressed. He stayed composed the entire time, he had this really quiet confidence about him that I really loved … I was impressed with his feet defensively."
Cronin and Billups both said Sharpe was always the guy they targeted at No. 7 leading up to the draft as they sweated out the nerves of waiting in the war room to see if Sharpe would stay on the board.
Speaking of that war room, it was one that included owner Jody Allen, who Billups praised on Saturday as providing plenty of energy and competition to get the most out of the draft. Billups also praised Cronin for his calm manner, despite it being the rookie GM's first time as the lead guy.
As for Walker, a 6-foot-9 forward, he said he believes his defense is what can get him onto the NBA floor next season as a rookie. Walker last year led Colorado in scoring with 14.6 points per game, as well as rebounding at 9.4 a night.
Walker averaged nearly a steal and a block each game as well, projecting him strongly as a 3-and-D type player that Portland could seemingly use more of on the roster. Walker said himself he's not worried about the number associated with his pick, and rather is happy on the good fit he seems to have with the Blazers.
Plus, it helps when your future coach is watching your school play more than any other team.
"I was happy when he even came to Colorado … I know his father Samaki and I played against him for years so obviously (Jabari) comes from great stock," Billups said. "I think he has a pro game because of his shooting, plays with a very high motor, has a real knack for defensive rebounding and he's just talented. He can pass, he can score a bit, he has a good understanding of the game, so I was happy he was there at that spot."
Last season, Billups came to the team preaching a new emphasis on defense and a new space filled with accountability. Those same sentiments were echoed Saturday, this time also through the team's GM.
Cronin and Billups both spoke of focusing on players' mentality and effort, in the draft or in trades, when it comes to adding them to the team. Cronin added they are looking to garner more talent as well to help fill out the roster.
Portland has reportedly added Jerami Grant from the Pistons, who is also viewed with that same kind of approach to the game. The Blazers want guys who are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to win.
"Our emphasis this offseason is going to be consistent across our different vehicles … it's twofold," Cronin said. "It's the right mentality, the right demeanor, the competitive nature, the toughness, the grit, the defensive minded approach. You're going to see that consistently across our acquisitions."
The next step for Sharpe and Walker will be the NBA Summer League set to begin in 12 days when Portland plays one of the two opening games at 9 p.m. July 7 in Las Vegas.
Greg Brown III, Brandon Williams, Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson and Didi Louzada are also expected to join them in Vegas, according to the Rose Garden Report's Sean Highkin.
Hearing that in addition to the two rookies, all of the Blazersâ€™ young guys are likely to play at Summer League in Vegas â€” Greg Brown III, Brandon Williams, Trendon Watford, Keon Johnson, Didi Louzada. Steve Hetzel will coach the team.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 25, 2022
Portland will have four placement games and then will be boosted into a tournament bracket to crown the Summer League champ. It's not a lot of time on the surface, but Billups believes the new guys can jump on it quickly as Portland isn't looking to be back in the lottery next season.
"These guys seem to me that they learn very quickly, and that's important for a team like ours," Billups said. "Most of the guys that have been drafted in Shaedon's range are going to a team that will probably be there again next year by way of rebuilding. That's not what we're doing here."
That's music to the ears of Blazers fans who hope this era of management in Rip City has a more concrete plan. Cronin said the goal is a championship, not just winning a series or two and calling it a success.
Cronin said Thursday, June 24, following the draft that the team isn't done looking for improvements, and even admitted he believes they're not good enough yet.
But with a couple young talents in the building, as quiet as both Sharpe and Walker might be at the podium, Portland is hoping the Blazers' play will speak for itself come October.
"We're not content making the playoffs year to year and maybe winning a round or two," Cronin said. "Our goal is to push this to the limit and this is a really good start."
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