Will the Portland Trail Blazers be able to fight their way into NBA Playoff contention next season?
Portland finished with a 33-49 record last season, good enough for fifth in the Northwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference.
The Blazers ended the 2022 NBA Draft with guard Shaedon Sharpe, guard Gabriele Procida and forward Jabari Walker. Sharpe had a decent rookie year for Portland, finishing the season with averages of 9.9 points, three rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in 80 games played and 15 starts.
Walker played in 56 games for the Trail Blazers, including an April matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies that saw him score 16 points and grab six rebounds.
Who could the Trail Blazers look out for at the No. 23 pick? Will they be able to find a player with the potential to break the rotation later in the first round?
Whitehead, a former 5-star recruit out of Newark, N.J., scored 8.3 points, grabbed 2.4 rebounds and hit at a 42.9% clip from the 3-point arc, good enough to lead the team in percentage from long range. Whitehead chose the Blue Devils over offers from Florida State, Kansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Memphis, Oklahoma State and Rutgers, according to 247Sports.
Whitehead earned praise from Duke head coach Jon Scheyer, who finished his first season with the Blue Devils and helped guide them to a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s just putting the value on himself that he’s more than just a scorer,” Scheyer said in February, via On3. “The way he shot the ball? He does that in practice too. That’s not just a fluke. He’s a legit, really good shooter.”
Whitehead could be a solid shooting option for the Blazers off the bench and help boost a team that already ranked in the top half in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
Lewis, a 6-foot-7-inch forward out of Pepperdine, averaged 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest in 31 games played for the Waves last season. His quick first step, Pepperdine Basketball Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said, is just one skill that makes Lewis a unique player.
“You have to get up on him because he can really shoot the ball,” Romar said in January, via the Pepperdine Graphic. “But then, he’s so quick with that first step he’s (past) you. Now, he’s using his athleticism where he gets to the rim, and he’s up there above everyone.”
Should the team choose not to exercise the club option of forward Kevin Knox, Lewis would be a solid scoring option for a Blazers bench that finished with an offensive rating of 54.5, good enough for 20th in the NBA.
Lively, a former 5-star recruit out of Bellefonte, Pa., initially committed to a 2022 recruiting class that featured Whitehead and two other 5-star recruits in centers Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell.
He ended the 2022-23 campaign with averages of 5.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in 34 games and 27 starts, highlighted by a 12-rebound performance against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles in the first round the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
“Dereck has changed our whole team,” Scheyer said in March, via On3. “It’s not just the last nine games. I think, really, probably halfway through the season? He hit another gear of understanding, one, how good he can be. But, also, just the impact he can make in college. Because he’s going to.
“As his career goes along? He’s going to continue to add things to his game and be such a difference maker. But his ability to protect the rim, to move his feet, to defend on the perimeter? It’s a huge skill for us. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Lively announced his intent to enter his name into the 2023 NBA Draft in April after one season with the Blue Devils.
Lively could give the Trail Blazers a reliable option at the backup center spot and help boost the rebounding of a Blazers squad that ranked 28th in the NBA with 40.5 rebounds per game.
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