Portland Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard has made a number of sound personnel decisions while rebuilding the franchise from the post-Jail Blazers Era rubble, but his track record is not without tarnish.
The Darius Miles fiasco was embarassing at best, and the decision to draft Greg Oden over Kevin Durant is fast turning into Sam Bowie Redux with each passing game that reveals Durant as one of the NBA’s next truly great superstars.
(For the record, we’re not giving up on the gregarious big man just yet, but a third straight injury-riddled season would obviously cause the Blazers’ to seriously rethink their future in the middle and to perhaps downgrade Oden’s status from “potential cornerstone” to “depth with upside.”)
Spending a first-round pick on a point guard at this week’s NBA draft would be another questionable move we hope Pritchard doesn’t make. Why? Because we have a serious infatuation with the Blazers’ first-round PG pick from last year, 6-3 Jerryd Bayless, a guy who we think has the tools to be a high-impact starter at the professional level–and soon.
Drafted 11th overall last year by the Indiana Pacers, then shipped to Portland for Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack, and Josh McRoberts, the 20-year-old Bayless didn’t have the sort of breakout rookie season that many thought possible after he tore up the 2008 Las Vegas Summer League to the tune of nearly 30 points per on his way to being named Vegas’ MVP. Playing behind vagabond starter Steve Blake, Bayless struggled to get off Nate McMillan’s bench during the season’s early and late stages, logging most of his substantial playing time in January and February.
When given the minutes, though, we saw occasional flashes here and there of the Bayless who wowed crowds in Vegas. For example, on February 2 and 4 against the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks when Bayless logged 24 and 34 minutes, respectively, he posted combined per-game averages of 16.5 points on 72% shooting, 5 assists, 3 boards, and a steal. Back in March my ETB colleague Andrew Thell named Bayless as the Trail Blazer he most wanted to see more of over the team’s final month of the regular season:
The 2008 NBA Las Vegas Summer League MVP has game. His quickness is out of this world and the kid can finish, making him a scintillating slasher. He can also shoot the ball, and I don’t have a hard time seeing him average 20 points a game in the right situation. His quicks also mean Bayless can be a very good defender on the other end. And who doesn’t want to see a 6-3 dude who can flush it like this…
Rumors are that Portland might be eyeing a PG in Thursday’s NBA draft, and that Pritchard could be working the phones to try and move up to snag one of the position’s top prospects. It’s no surprise that the Blazers would be looking to upgrade on Blake; that they’d be looking to the draft as a means to potentially fill that void is what’s strange, especially since depth isn’t a concern at the moment with another young, raw, undeveloped, but talented point on the roster (for now) in Sergio Rodriguez.
Unless they’re looking to trade Bayless–and maybe that’s the plan–why would the Blazers pull the trigger on a PG in the first round? If Pritchard wants to indulge his annual draft-day sweet tooth and trade up, the more logical pick would be a big man, i.e. B.J. Mullens of Ohio State: not because we’re enamored with the seven-foot Mullens (hardly), but because right now I’m ready to call Oden a bigger question mark than Bayless. If Oden’s balky body were to continue limiting his games played and effectiveness, Mullens is a young kid who could provide more long-term value to the Blazers than a, say, Jrue Holiday or Eric Maynor.
Of course, who knows what the Blazers, or any other NBA team, are really working on behind the scenes at the moment. Maybe the Blazers are, in fact, confident that Bayless can be their guy and won’t be looking at unproven PG help on Thursday. Maybe they’re still talking to Memphis about Mike Conley Jr., and would be content to let him battle it out with Bayless (and I suppose Rodriguez) for PG minutes next season. Perhaps they’re serious about pursuing over-the-hill and future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd as a 1- to 2-year stop gap solution (not crazy about that idea, but it could work if Kidd is ready to accept a major paycut).
And, maybe, Oden isn’t a question mark at all, and will soon blossom into a healthy, dominant offensive and defensive force who does for the Blazers in the middle what Dwight Howard did for the Orlando Magic. Mmhmm.
I do know this, however: the Portland Trail Blazers would be foolish to give up on Jerryd Bayless before he’s even gotten started.
Jerryd Bayless Photo Credit: Icon SMI