With the 2011 NBA Draft over and the majority of the draft-based trades finished, it's time to assess the choices of the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that entered the draft with one burning question: Who will be the point guard of the future?
The Blazers had picks No. 21, and No. 51 and used them as well as they could, while also pulling off what is, in my opinion, the best draft day trade of the year. The team selected Duke's Nolan Smith, a senior combo guard who anchored the Blue Devils' backcourt after Kyrie Irving's injury and Ohio State's Jon Diebler, a 6'6" sharpshooting senior two-guard from Ohio State.
While many speculated that Portland were going to at least one of these picks to acquire a forward or center like Morehead State's Kenneth Faried and were perplexed by the high pick of Smith at No. 21, this move actually sets Portland up perfectly as they try to move from just a playoff team to an elite Western Conference powerhouse.
Now, let's take an in-depth look into the Blazers' draft day decisions...
With the 51st pick in a fairly average draft class, a team isn't exactly looking for an impact player as much as they're looking for someone with a defined role who can provide something to the team and OSU's Jon Diebler can certainly do that.
Diebler shot 50.2 percent from beyond the arc and 50.7 percent overall while also demonstrating an improved ability to put the ball on the floor this season. By picking Diebler the Blazers made it clear that they wanted a new three-point specialist and that Rudy Fernandez was on his way out of Rip City (which we'll discuss later).
Given Rudy's slump and poor attitude this past season, the Blazers needed someone who can consistently space the floor and knock down shots, not much else will be expected of Diebler. He's not going to rebound, he's not really going to be called up to make plays, he's going to be a catch-and-shoot player, which is exactly what Portland needs.
If Diebler can play a few minutes a night and shoot a solid percentage without being a complete liability in other aspects of the game besides just shooting, he's worth developing and could well become a Kyle Korver type role-player.
The Blazers could have tried to move up to the high second round and pick up a center like Jeremy Tyler, Keith Benson or Jordan Williams but Diebler is a safe pick who can likely contribute as much as any latter second round pick in the draft.
I also think OSU's other senior product, David Lighty, would've been a solid choice here, he's coming in with the same level of experience and he's less one-dimensional than Diebler, but maybe they'll pursue him in free agency.
Many mock drafts had the Blazers taking Kenneth Faried at this spot, and while Faried would be an immediate contributor with his uncanny rebounding ability and defensive intensity, the drafting of Nolan Smith gives Portland solid guard depth and a player with an incredibly high basketball IQ.
Smith wasn't picked to be the team's long term point guard solution but he joins the franchise as one of the most experienced players of this year's draft class and as a proven winner. He's a decent shooter and can help stretch out a defense with his three point shooting.
Though Smith isn't starting material as of right now, he can easily provide 20 or so quality minutes off the bench and can play either guard position, despite being a bit of an undersized off-guard at the professional level.
One of the reasons I think Smith is a really nice addition is his on-ball defense, and paired with Wes Matthews the Blazers would have one of the best defensive backcourt in the league. He's one of the better defensive guards in the draft and while he's not the most athletic prospect, he's quick enough that more explosive guards won't be able to just blow by him.
Because Smith spent the majority of his college career as a shooting guard he's far more adept at moving without the ball than a lot of other guards in the draft and can get to his spots and doesn't need to take a lot of touches away from the Blazers' more established players. His decision making on the court is excellent, and he's not the kind of guard who shoots with reckless abandon.
He needs to work on his pure point guard game and protecting the ball better, but he can still grow as a player especially working with a consummate point guard like Raymond Felton.
Obviously getting some more frontcourt depth with a player like Faried or even JaJuan Johnson would've been nice, but there are some affordable, quality free agent forwards like Carl Landry who the team could sign to a modest deal to bolster the rotation.
Ultimately, I think Nolan Smith will be a valuable rotation player in his rookie year and while he'll probably never be a star in this league he's exactly the kind of intelligent, highly driven guy that the Blazers need coming off their bench.
Portland receives: Raymond Felton, Targuy Ngombo (No. 57 pick of the Mavericks).
Denver receives: Andre Miller, Jordan Hamilton (No. 26 pick of the Mavericks), second-round pick from the Blazers.
Dallas receives: Rudy Fernandez, Petteri Koponen (No. 30 pick of the Blazers in 2007)
Now, I've been touting Raymond Felton as an excellent fit for the Blazers for a while now, so when I saw that this trade was confirmed I was ecstatic. While Felton isn't a superstar, he's the perfect point guard for Portland. He's an excellent passer, a consistent perimeter shooter, an excellent penetrator and can run the fast break extremelt well.
Felton makes the Blazers a more athletic team and allows them to play more uptempo and less in the halfcourt, which sometimes caused long scoring droughts. Felton was excellent in his starting role for the Knicks and demonstrated great chemistry with Amar'e Stoudemire, who has a similar offensive playing style to LaMarcus Aldridge and the two could very well develop a nice two-man game.
While Felton isn't quite as crafty as Andre Miller, he's only 26 and his court vision and ability to read defenses could still improve.
Now I know a lot of Blazer fans were pulling for the team to pursue Chris Paul, but the reality is it would've been very costly to make that trade and they would have likely lost a valuable piece like Nicolas Batum or Wes Matthews. Though the team loses some veteran presence in this trade, they hold on to Marcus Camby for at least another season and gain an established player in Felton.
Though Rudy Fernandez was a fan favorite in Portland and certainly contributed at times, it became evident by the end of last season that his time with the Blazers was over. He publicly expressed his desire to leave the franchise, then reneged on that, then said it again, all while playing incredibly uninspired basketball.
Hopefully Jon Diebler can become the team's go-to three point specialist, since Rudy's shooting slump really hurt the team's spacing and offensive execution.
Should everything work out, Portland has found a quality starting point guard for the next 6-7 years and didn't have to break up the team's young core to acquire him.
Thanks for reading!
What are your thoughts about the picks, should they have taken a big man with one of them or were Smith and Diebler the right selections? Is Raymond Felton the answer at the point or should they have gone after someone else?