If you want to go down a checklist of things the Trail Blazers could have sought in the 2017 draft that would make their team better, it might go this way:
- Outside shooting in the front court.
- Rim protection.
- Overall defensive improvement.
- More players who can pass.
And after the draft, you might just be able to put a checkmark next to all those categories.
Portland traded two first-round picks for Gonzaga center/forward Zach Collins at No. 10 and then selected Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan at No. 26.
Collins, a seven-footer, doesn't lack for confidence, calmly telling the Portland media via conference call, "I don't see why I can't be rookie of the year."
Neil Olshey, Portland's director of basketball operations, called him "a franchise-level building block" and pushed Collins as a rim-protector, one-on-one defender, pick-and-roll defender and gritty competitor. "We got lucky he got to 10," Olshey said.
Swanigan, a 6-9 forward who can pass and make threes, is known for what is now his rags-to-riches story of attending 15 different schools and living in homeless shelters before getting his weight under control and his life together. "An incredible kid... a great story," Olshey said.
If social media is any indication (and it's not always) the Blazer fan base came away from draft night with a degree of disappointment. There was no blockbuster trade involving Jimmy Butler or Paul George and no drafting of any of the available Oregon Ducks.
But Olshey is sticking to the plan he's had since taking over this roster. "At the end of the day, we have to do what's right, long-term," he said.
The Blazers have built around Damian Lillard and his career arc. The idea is to accumulate players around Lillard's age or younger, then grow them together and be ready as a team for a championship run when Lillard reaches his peak. Collins is still 19 and Swanigan turned 20 just a couple of months ago so both will need development time.
But front-court players who can make threes, pass and defend always have a shot at playing time. Collins, I would expect, has a real shot at earning rotation minutes as a rookie. Swanigan is one of those players who doesn't quite fit a position but is what Olshey called "a basketball player" -- and the league is shifting more and more to players who don't necessarily fit a stereotype.
How will it work out? Nobody really knows... but it's going to be fun to watch.