The Top 5 Best and Worst Portland Trail Blazers Draft Picks Since 2000
The Portland Trail Blazers don’t have a single pick in this year’s draft.
Judging by their history on that front, this might actually be a good thing.
You could easily make the argument that no NBA team has endured more draft-day heartbreak than the Blazers. From Sam Bowie to Brandon Roy, Portland has taken more than its fair share of swings for the fences, ending, more often than should be deserved, in epic—and sometimes tragic—misses.
The team’s draft history isn’t all hellish heartbreak, however.
What follows are the Blazers’ five most memorable hits and misses since 2000—a span of time that includes perhaps the two most heartbreaking picks in franchise history.
Spoiler alert: Roy is not included on this list. The reason? His career—though sadly cut short—briefly boasted the trajectory of a surefire Hall of Famer.
That, we think, is worth something.
Good Pick (Sort Of): Tyrus Thomas (No. 4, 2006)
You’d have a hard time finding a more one-sided draft-day trade than what Portland managed to pull off in the 2006 draft, when it swapped No. 4 Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for No. 2 pick...LaMarcus Aldridge.
Eight years later, Aldridge is the de facto leader of one of the league’s most exciting up-and-coming teams—and one of its best power forwards to boot. On the heels of his third All-Star selection, Aldridge helped lead the Blazers to their first conference semifinals appearance since the 1999-2000 season.
Thomas, meanwhile, never lived up to his potential. After three-and-a-half subpar seasons with the Bulls, Thomas was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2013, the Bobcats used the league’s amnesty provision to waive Thomas, who sat out the entire 2013-14 season.
Here's Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer on Thomas' sad fall from grace in Chi-Town:
Thomas was a dominant defensive force for a Chicago Bulls team that made it to the second round, an energetic player that ran like mad and hustled without provocation. He was also yanked in and out of the rotation for misdeeds outside observers couldn’t spot, and a project player working under someone like Scott Skiles just wasn’t going to cut it. It’s nobody’s fault but Thomas’ own that he’s turned into a slug, barely moving off the ball when his greatest attribute is quickness and hops, but one could safely presume that Tyrus Thomas had one chance at sustaining that motor, and that Chicago lost him in that first season.
Now, at age 26 – seriously, the guy is only 26 – Thomas may be lost for good.
Coming out of college, both Aldridge and Thomas were seen as raw frontcourt talents with boundless upside. Give the Blazers credit for picking the right one.
Bad Pick: Greg Oden (No. 1, 2007)
It’s amazing how so many people you talk to now insist they knew Kevin Durant was bound to be a better NBA prospect than Greg Oden when the two entered the 2007 draft as the bona fide top two picks.
Hindsight may make the choice seem obvious, but at the time, Oden’s impossible skill set—a defensive monster with room to grow at the other end—was about as close to a sure thing as it got.
However, it didn't take long for Oden's injuries to spark a dire downward spiral, later chronicled in a fascinating interview with Grantland contributor and former Ohio State teammate Mark Titus:
For starters, Portland isn’t a great city to live in if you’re a young, African American male with a lot of money. But that’s especially true if you don’t have anybody to guide you. Since I was hurt the entire season, I was on my own a bunch and didn’t have veteran teammates around to help me adapt to the NBA lifestyle.
Seven years and a slew of knee injuries later, Oden has been reduced to fighting for his NBA life, most recently on a veteran’s minimum deal with the Miami Heat.
So many lottery picks end up doomed by deign of their own weaknesses—a lack of drive, passion, heart or brains. Oden, on the other hand, gives us a sad case of someone whose body simply betrayed him.
The only reason we’re including him on this list, in fact, is because of Durant. With the league well into its trend toward perimeter-oriented players, taking Oden—a classical paint-bound big if ever there was one—amounts to a move that was doomed to backfire. That the blowback had to claim Oden himself is the tragic part.
Good Pick: Damian Lillard (No. 6, 2012)
For proof that the basketball gods are bound to even the ledger sooner or later, look no further than Portland’s current starting point guard: the incomparable Damian Lillard.
Taken No. 6 in 2012, Lillard wasted little time proving his pro polish—honed over a stellar four-year career at Weber State. Lillard ran away with Rookie of the Year honors, then followed it up by helping lead the upstart Blazers to the Western Conference semifinals this season.
Twenty years from now we may well look back on the Class of 2012 as one of the more underrated in history. And Lillard—a prototypical 21st century scoring point guard in the best sense of the term—is bound to be a big reason why.
Bad Pick: Sebastian Telfair (No. 13, 2004)
Eight years after Kevin Garnett rekindled the NBA’s fascination with high school prodigies, Sebastian Telfair entered the 2004 draft as a supposed superstar-in-waiting—not to mention a player poised to put New York City basketball back on the map.
But Telfair’s game never translated to the next level, in part, perhaps, due to the water-bug guard’s diminutive size (he’s listed at a very generous 6'0"). Telfair would play only two seasons in Portland—averaging 8.3 points and 3.5 assists—before being traded to the Boston Celtics in 2006.
Nine seasons and seven teams after first being taken with the No. 13 pick, Telfair was out of the NBA, suiting up for Chinese team Tianjin Ronggang during the 2013-14 season.
The draft class of 2004 wasn't the most brim-loaded ever, but a cursory look at who was taken after Telfair shows just how much talent Portland missed out on: Kris Humphries, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Jameer Nelson, Kevin Martin and Trevor Ariza.
Good Pick: Zach Randolph (No. 19, 2001)
For as many draft-day gambles as the Blazers have taken, it’s nice to see one that ended up working out. Even if it took a few years.
After a solid freshman season at Michigan State, Zach Randolph entered the 2001 draft as something of an unknown quantity—less for his basketball ability than for what Portland may or may not be getting off the court. These were, after all, the Jail Blazers Randolph was joining.
After two wholly forgettable seasons, Randolph finally caught his stride (or whatever you call his lumbering style of jogging) during the 2003-04 campaign, putting up what would be the first of many 20-10 averages.
Since then, Randolph has solidified his status as one of the sturdiest, steadiest big men in the league, forever vindicating Portland’s rather risky roll of the dice.