With a desperate need for a steady force at the center position, the Portland Trail Blazers must have an eye on all big men in the 2012 NBA Draft.
With the No. 6 pick, Portland will be left deliberating over two imposing forces: Andre Drummond and Jared Sullinger. There should be no question—Portland has to pick Drummond.
This year’s top two post prospects—Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson—are likely to be taken in the top three picks. Neither will slide to Portland at the No. 6 spot.
After those two, there is a significant drop-off.
The next two prospects are Drummond and Sullinger. The two big men present draft-day decision-makers with an interesting dilemma. Sullinger appears to be more of a sure thing. His ceiling is limited, but he has shown a proficient amount of skill on the low block.
Drummond, on the other hand, is rawer than Rocky’s glass of eggs. His upside is close to limitless, but there is a huge question mark as to whether he reaches that potential.
Physically and athletically, Drummond is the more impressive of the two. That is why Portland must gamble on him if he is still on the board when the Blazers make the sixth pick.
At 6’9” and 265 pounds, Sullinger is better suited to be a power forward in the NBA. Drummond has an inch (two, depending on the website) and a few pounds on Sullinger, as well as more athleticism. That will help him defend against bigger NBA centers.
That’s not to say Drummond will come into Portland and immediately be a difference-maker. In fact, it’s likely that Sullinger will have a better rookie year than Drummond.
If you were Neil Olshey, who would you take with the No. 6 pick?
Drummond will take his lumps and it could be a few years down the road before he turns into an elite-caliber big man. But, as was the case with Andrew Bynum, he will eventually emerge into a top-tier talent.
Having a young veteran like LaMarcus Aldridge to take Drummond under his wing will pay big time dividends. Aldridge took steps toward becoming a more vocal leader in Portland this year. With an undeveloped but overly athletic rookie center on the team, Aldridge will need to up that role even more.
Aldridge’s presence off the court will help Drummond. On the court, it will be even more.
Whereas Sullinger will be able to come into the NBA and score at a solid clip immediately, that might be more difficult for Drummond. Sullinger has a more polished low-post game. That will help him as a rookie.
Drummond needs to develop his back-to-the-basket moves. But with a premier scorer on the roster like Aldridge, Drummond won’t be counted on for his scoring or looked to as the primary option. That will give his game time to develop naturally.
In the meantime, he can throw down the occasional tip-dunk or lob pass. His athleticism will carry him on the defensive end. And when he gets in foul trouble, as a young shot blocker no doubt will do, longtime vet Joel Przybilla can eat up some minutes.
Picking Drummond comes with a lot of risk. For Blazer fans who have seen too many top picks squandered on big men whose careers floundered, the idea of basing a pick on potential is frightening.
But shuddering immediate expectations in exchange for long-term return is what this team needs right now.
Drummond has the ability to become one of the top big men in the NBA. It will take some time, but after a generation without a top-notch center, he is worth the wait.