Grading the Portland Trail Blazers 2017 NBA Draft Picks

With the 2017 NBA Draft now complete, here is how I graded the Trail Blazers’ selections. Keep in mind that this is only a preliminary guess based on the footage I’ve watched of both players, as you cannot truly give a grade until at least a few years have passed.

10. Gonzaga F/C Zach Collins

Portland traded the 15th and 20th overall selections to the Sacramento Kings in order to move up five spots to select Gonzaga freshman big man Zach Collins. Collins was a bench player in his only season with the Bulldogs, but was hyper productive when on the court. In just 17.2 minutes per game, the freshman put up 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest, while shooting 67.2% from the field, 47.6% from three and 74.3% from the foul line.

While Collins will need to add bulk (he’s just 230 pounds at 7’0″) in order to help maintain position for rebounds and anchoring defensively, he has above-average athleticism for a big man. Offensively, Collins has shown a decent low-post offensive repertoire, though at this stage he is still a bit loose with the basketball (1.5 TO/game in those 17.2 minutes/contest). Collins also has shown a reliable jump shot, though I would advise caution on his ability to hit the NBA 3-pointer right away, as he attempted just 0.5 threes per game at Gonzaga.

The Trail Blazers are well-stocked at Collins’ best position, with Jusuf Nurkic firmly entrenched as the starter next year. They also have Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh on the roster, all of whom played some of their minutes at the ‘5’ last year. Neil Olshey is not done shaping the team’s roster for next season, but Collins will probably have a hard time cracking the playing rotation early in the season, especially if Ed Davis is still on the roster and healthy. With Terry Stotts’ affinity for playing small ball, I do believe Collins can be a very nice option as a ‘stretch-5’ for those lineups, as he has shown quick feet defensively, which pairs nicely with his floor spacing.

While there is a lot to like about Collins (athleticism, shooting stroke, per-minute production), I don’t believe the talent gap between him and some of the other frontcourt prospects was wide enough to justify trading the 15th and 20th overall picks to move up to select him. Also, I’m not sure that Collins really fits the team’s timeline, at least if the goal is to compete for a championship soon, as he has a long ways to go before being considered a finished product. Then again, Neil Olshey has a pretty good track record in the draft, as both CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard have both far exceeded the expectations of their draft slot.

Grade: B

26. Purdue PF Caleb Swanigan

The former Boilermaker is about as polished offensively as a big man can be coming out of college. Swanigan has shown a variety of solid post moves, and pairs that with a newly developed three-point shot. While the way the power forward position has evolved over the past 10 years makes players like Swanigan less prevalent in the modern NBA, having big man that can get buckets in a variety of ways is always a useful tool to have.

Defensively, Swanigan leaves a lot to be desired, as he averaged just 0.8 blocks and 0.4 steals over 32.5 minutes per game. At 6’8, he doesn’t have the requisite size to be an intimidator in the middle, and though he has an above-average wingspan for his height (7’3″), his lack of explosion prevents him from blocking a lot of shots.

Ultimately, if Swanigan can become an effective rotation player, the pick will have been worthwhile. As before with Collins, there were probably other players that could have been more helpful immediately than Swanigan (Oregon PF Jordan Bell), but he should be a rotation big in the next year or two for head coach Terry Stotts.

Grade: B-

Overall draft grade: B-

 

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