Blazers get younger -- really younger
Not only did the Trail Blazers hold on to their first-round NBA draft pick on Thursday, they traded back into the fray.
The Blazers selected combo guard Anfernee Simons out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with the 24th pick.
About 90 minutes later, Portland general manager Neil Olshey sent two future second-round picks and cash considerations to the Sacramento Kings for the rights to the 37th pick. Portland then selected Duke guard Gary Trent Jr., son of former Blazers forward Gary Trent.
Going into Thursday night, some suggested Portland would trade out of the draft. Olshey said in his exit interview on April 29 he felt the team's first-round playoff exit showed it needs a more experienced bench.
Some of Portland's favorite draft targets came off the board earlier than expected. Oregon's Troy Brown Jr. went to Washington at No. 15, Donte DiVincenzo was selected by Minnesota two picks later and Georgia Tech guard Josh Okegie came off the board at No. 20.
But Olshey did not trade up in the draft. He also left his $13 million trade exception, which was garnered in trade with Brooklyn in July that sent Allen Crabbe to the Nets, untouched.
Instead, he took two 19 year-old guards who both play with a score-first mentality.
"Our job is not to play it safe," Olshey said. "Our job is to go get the guy that has the talent, if he pans out, you're not going to get him in a trade or as a free agent."
Olshey did not deny the possibility he will look to add an impact player in free agency, which begins on July 1, but said Thursday was about the draft and nothing else.
The Blazers' front office apparently was sold on Simons after he completed his second pre-draft workout on Tuesday.
At 6-4, he projects as a guard who can score at the rim and from the perimeter. Simons also can play above the rim. He has a 6-7 wingspan and posted a 41 1/2-inch vertical jump at the NBA draft combine. Simons averaged 22.4 points per game and shot at a 45 percent clip from 3-point range while at IMG.
"I think when he gets on the floor, it'll initially be more off the ball," Olshey said, "which is clearly a luxury we have when you have guys like (Damian Lillard), CJ (McCollum) and Evan Turner. His learning curve is going to be steeper."
Simons, who was rated as the ninth-best recruit in ESPN's 2017 Top 100 list, de-committed from Louisville in September after the school became embroiled in a corruption scandal. He turned down offers from Florida and Tennessee to enroll at IMG, a post-graduate boarding school.
His lack of college experience was not the only concern raised by scouts. Simons is slender, with a listed weight of 185 pounds. He also is not a true point guard, having only distributed 1.3 assists per game last season at IMG.
Simons' scoring ability and long-term potential made the difference.
"We're looking for the guy with the highest ceiling we can find,"Olshey said. "He's really talented. His skill set translates when his body catches up with his God-given talent."
Olshey began scouting Simons in February, around the time Portland's record elevated over .500. He watched him play multiple times and requested a second workout to offset his lack of game tape.
"With Anfernee, we wanted to make sure what we saw in the first workout was real," Olshey said. "Seeing a kid in an empty gym in Florida isn't the same as seeing him play in the ACC tournament."
Olshey acknowledged looking to use the trade exception and No. 24 pick to deal for an impact rotation player.
With a trade not in place, the Blazers locked in on Simons and looked to get back into the draft. The front office viewed Trent Jr. as a player with an NBA background and physical skill set to play immediately.
Olshey said selecting Simons at No. 24 and trading for Trent Jr.'s draft rights was the "best way to double dip."
Trent Jr. averaged 14.5 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game last season. He played both shooting guard and small forward for Duke.
The Blazers project Trent Jr. to defend opposing teams' No. 2 guard. At 6-6 and 210 pounds, he is a physical defender.
Trent Jr. also will be looked at to score off the bench. He shot 40.5 percent from beyond the college arc and made 87.6 percent of his free throws last season.
"I feel like I'm going to be able to come in and give a spark anywhere I can," he said. "I can't think anything less than about how to help them win."
Trent Jr.'s father was a first-round draft choice of Milwaukee in 1995 and played his first 2 1/2 seasons in Portland. Trent Jr said playing for the same team as his father, who was a 12-year pro, is the perfect setting for him.
"It can't be nothing but God's work. Same place that my dad played, it's unexplainable. This is surreal. It's crazy," he said.
Olshey said Trent Jr. will be expected to play in the rotation, whereas Simons' role is yet to be identified.
Trent Jr.'s experience in the ACC and NCAA Tournament was another selling point in taking on another ball-oriented guard.
"I don't think we're going to need to feel as patient with Gary, in terms of the body of work he's able to bring to the table, as we will with Anfernee," Olshey said. "He's still very young, but I think much more mature in terms of his NBA-level pedigree."
Olshey deflected the notion that selecting Trent Jr. eliminates the possibility of acquiring a rotation guard or wing in free agency.
He also left open the notion of trading one of the five guards on the roster. Before a deal is made involving either Simons or Trent Jr., the front office must identify market values.
"Tonight was about the draft," Olshey said. "I don't want a question about Gary to supersede us trying to not build the bench.
"And anyone who thinks they're going to find a guy with the 37th pick who is going to step in and play on a 49-win playoff team … that guy ends up out of the league in a year."
Owner Paul Allen has a history of being active on draft night. Portland gambled on Martell Webster with the fifth overall selection in 2005, took three first-round players in 2006 and used the 1996 draft to remake the team's roster under former general manager Bob Whitsitt.
"It's fun being in the room with Paul on draft night because there's a real joy that accompanies the unknown for him, in terms of what players can become," Olshey said. "This is more art, and I think Paul takes great joy in being a part of that."