6 Intriguing 2024 NBA Draft Prospects The Portland Trail Blazers Should Target

By REESE KUNZ, OREGON SPORTS NEWS

With the NBA Draft Lottery now finished, the Portland Trail Blazers officially have two lottery picks in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft, which will take place on June 27th. After finishing the season with a 21-61 record, the Blazers went into the lottery with a 13.2 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick and a 50 percent chance of landing a top-four pick.

Instead, they landed picks No. 7 and No. 14. Pick No. 14 was top-four protected and came from the Golden State Warriors as part of the blockbuster trade when they sent Jrue Holiday to the Boston Celtics.

Now, the Blazers front office and General Manager Joe Cronin can focus on adding foundational pieces to their rebuild through the draft.

3 Prospects Blazers Should Target With Pick No. 7

1. Matas Buzelis – Forward, G League Ignite

The Blazers’ G League experiment continues! Matas Buzelis is a versatile, do-it-all forward and could be what Portland’s roster is missing schematically. The 6-foot-10 forward possesses ideal length combined with his modern-day NBA forward skill set. At 19 years old, Buzelis isn’t yet elite at any one particular skill, which could cause him to fall to pick No. 7 on draft day for the Blazrs to scoop up.

Last season with the G League Ignite, Buzelis averaged 14.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 0.9 steals per game on 45/27/68 shooting splits. The differentiating factor for the Lithuanian forward’s success at the NBA level will be his ability to be a threat from beyond the arc. The good news is that his form suggests that he’s a better shooter than his 27.3 percent from three last season.

If Buzelis pans out, he would be an ideal forward to start alongside center Deandre Ayton, who had a promising finish to last season.

2. Ron Holland – Forward, G League Ignite

Like his teammate Buzelis, Ron Holland is a forward who needs to improve his shooting to reach his NBA starting caliber upside. Last season with the G League Ignite, Holland averaged 19.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game on 44/24/76 shooting splits.

Even if Holland never becomes an above-average NBA shooter, he can impact winning in various ways outside of shooting. At 6-foot-8 with elite agility and quick hands, Holland projects to be a lockdown wing defender who can guard multiple positions at the next level, which every team could use more of.

Holland’s defensive promise gives him a higher floor than other prospects in this year’s draft. However, the Blazers already have a few defensive-minded wings, most notably Matisse Thybulle.

Selecting Holland would be betting on his two-way upside and ability to play alongside Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe. If he can’t improve his shooting, the fit in the starting lineup may be murky.

3. Cody Williams – Forward, Colorado

Freshman Cody Williams is one of this year’s most polarizing draft prospects. Earlier in the season, Williams was projected on some mock drafts to be the No. 1 overall pick. Analysts love Williams’ two-way potential, given his frame, athleticism, and offensive efficiency.

Williams finished the season averaging 11.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game on efficient 55/42/71 shooting splits. The question mark for Williams and something that could be the difference between him going top five and towards the end of the lottery is how legitimate scouts think his shooting ability is.

At first glance, the 55.2 field goal and 41.5 three-point percentage stand out. However, looking deeper into his numbers, it’s concerning that Williams only shot 71.4 percent from the free-throw line, suggesting he may not have the soft shooting touch and that his three-point efficiency was more of an anomaly, especially since he only attempted 1.7 threes per game.

Talks on being the No. 1 overall pick have cooled, but Williams still projects to be a lottery pick, and for good reason. At 6-foot-8, Cody is three inches taller than his brother Jalen, who thrives on the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, Cody doesn’t project to be a lead ball handler who can initiate offenses at the next level like his brother.

Williams could wind up being an elite-level role player – someone who can defend multiple positions and won’t hurt you on offense, but also isn’t someone you draw up plays for and rely on to get a bucket. Cody is much more of a project than his brother, but the Blazers can afford to be patient with his development.

3 Prospects Blazers Should Target With Pick No. 14

1. Tyler Smith – Forward, G League Ignite

Last year with the G League Ignite, Smith averaged 14.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 48/35/74 shooting splits. At 6-foot-11, Smith has excellent length and fills a need for the Blazers’ young core, which primarily consists of undersized backcourt players.

While Smith doesn’t necessarily possess the tantalizing All-Star upside, he’s a versatile forward who would be a great connecting piece for Portland. He has solid length and is an ideal modern-day four because of his versatility and ability to space the floor with his shooting.

Smith is a complementary piece that wouldn’t hinder the development of the other Blazers’ rising stars because of Portland’s positional need and ability to fit seamlessly into any NBA roster.

2. Tidjane Salaun – Forward, Cholet Basket

Salaun came into this year as a relatively unknown draft prospect. Previously a projected second-round pick, he has been one of the players whose stock has risen the most, now being a potential lottery pick. There’s a chance Salaun isn’t even available by the time the Blazers are on the clock again.

Last season, the French forward averaged 8.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per game on 37/33/79 shooting splits in the competitive LNB Pro A league. At 18 years old, Salaun is another modern-day forward with untapped potential. While a bit raw, Salaun fits the Blazers’ timeline nicely as they continue their rebuild.

Salaun oozes two-way upside with his length, agility, and shot-making ability. At worst, he projects to be a solid 3-and-D forward, which still is something that the Blazers could use. However, if he continues to improve other offensive aspects of his game, primarily the ability to create off the dribble, then Salaun could wind up being one of the steals of the draft.

The Blazers’ positional fit and high-upside swing make sense. Now that they have two first-round picks, they can be a bit riskier with their No. 14 selection.

3. Ja’Kobe Walter – Guard, Baylor

Walter stands out as one of the most intriguing 3-and-D guards in the draft. In his Freshman year at Baylor, Walter averaged 14.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per game on 38/34/79 shooting splits.

At first glance, the fit may appear to be questionable, given Portland’s plethora of young guards. However, Walter could be an ideal pairing alongside Henderson and Sharpe as the Blazers look toward the future. Henderson and Sharpe are highly athletic and great at driving and slashing on offense. Offensively, Walter would blend in well as a floor spacer as he would give the two of them more room to operate. On catch-and-shoot threes, Walter’s efficiency shot up to an impressive 44.8 percent, which is the role he would thrive in with the Blazers.

Defensively, Walter has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5. While the Blazers have a ton of talented guards, most of them are undersized, which makes them a defensive liability. Walter could give their rebuilding roster more of a defensive identity as a two-way prospect. It would also provide the Blazers flexibility in deciding what to do with Anfernee Simons, who has recently gone on record saying he wants the opportunity to win and doesn’t appear to be an ideal fit next to Henderson as their future backcourt duo.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of who ends up being the two first-round selections, Blazers fans and the organization should be excited about the franchise’s direction. They are only going into their second year of a full-on rebuild following the Damian Lillard era. They already have promising young assets that could be foundational if they reach their potential. This upcoming draft will be pivotal as they continue shaping their new team identity.

Check out more from our friends over at Oregon Sports News by clicking here.