May 20th, 2013 | by MIKE ACKER News | Posted In: From the Elbow

From the Elbow #9: The Next Next Big Thing

The Draft Combine is only the prologue to the never-ending NBA season, but for the Blazers, it could be a glimpse at the future.

victor_oladipoThe Blazers have reportedly set their draft sights on Indiana University shooting guard Victor Oladipo.

The NBA has no off-season. Certainly, Portland-based professional basketball fans have moved on to other leisure-time activities since the Blazers’ season wrapped up unceremoniously just over a month ago. That doesn’t mean the NBA season is over, however. Or that it will, in fact, ever end. 

The NBA’s elites, minus Kevin Durant and an injured Russell Westbrook, are still fighting it out for the title. For them, the season is still very much on. But for the other 25 NBA teams, a whole different kind of season has just begun. Call it the off-season if you want, but it’s anything but off.

This secondary season began last week in Chicago with the annual NBA Draft Combine. It will continue through next week’s Draft Lottery, which will determine which team gets the number one overall pick, followed by individual team workouts in early June; the actual draft, held June 27 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; mandatory team workouts; Summer League; and training camp in the middle and end of summer, with preseason and the start of the 2013-14 regular season in the fall. For NBA executives, head coaches and future players, there is no rest to be had.

Every NBA team was represented in one way or another at the two-day Draft Combine, scrutinizing 60 rookies-to-be as they were put through their paces in competitive drills and high-end fitness testing. For those unable to make the trip, ESPN was kind enough to broadcast the events live. 

Though watching groups of college players test their standing and running vertical leaps, complete three-quarter court sprints and execute the three-man weave is only slightly more exciting than daytime network television, Day One wasn’t without a little drama. Many of the players slated to go in the top tier of next month’s draft choose to sit out the activities of the combine’s first day. On the advice of their newly hired representation, these players had been counseled that going head-to-head with their lesser competitors might adversely effect their potential draft position. 

As the head-to-head drills were reserved for the first day only, all the potential lottery picks (players drafted in the top 14, earning them both the most accolades and the most guaranteed money) participated in the combine’s second day, the day set aside for fitness testing. 

It was on this second day that at least one of the incoming rookies the Blazers have locked in on shined. Indiana University’s Victor Oladipo is projected to be one of the first five players drafted on June 27, meaning the Blazers would have to make a draft-day deal to get him. Nonetheless, the three-year man known for his defense and athleticism has piqued the interest of the Blazers

“Playing with solid veterans in Portland that aren't that far away from being serious contenders would be a dream come true,” Oladipo told Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet on Friday in Chicago. “To play in the backcourt with Damian Lillard and to have [Nicolas] Batum on the other wing would be a great situation.” 

Regardless of whether or not Blazer General Manager Neil Olshey pulls the trigger on the kind of deal that could bring a blue-chipper like Oladipo to Portland, the Blazers will have a serious opportunity to continue building to contention through the draft. 

Holders of the 10th pick in the first round—barring some incredible luck, good or bad, in the Draft Lottery—and three picks in the second round, the Blazers will have a chance to add some talent using the league’s cheapest method of acquisition.

Whether that means drafting a guy like Kansas’s Jeff Withey, France’s Rudy Gobert or Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk—project centers who should be available when the Blazers make their first selection and might be able to address the team’s needs for a defensive big man—trading for the chance to move up in the draft or dumping the pick entirely in a deal to land a big-time known quantity, remains to be seen. 

The Blazers won’t choose their man based solely on how high he jumps, how fast he can back-peddle around the key or on the short interviews the team conducted with a number of players including Oladipo and UCLA’s uniquely-aged Shabazz Muhammed. Extensive individual workouts held in early June prior to the draft will likely be used to make those decisions. 

The Draft Combine isn’t a total waste of time, though. If not just to see the early stratifications of next season’s rookie class based on who did and didn’t choose to participate in team drills, the combine at least provides teams with raw data to help influence their later, super-important drafting decisions.

Not only that, the NBA Draft Combine official announces that the 2013-14 season has begun. The search for the Blazers’ next Next Big Thing is upon us.


Mike Acker is the founder of the Blazers fan site Rip City Project. Follow him on Twitter: @ripcityproject. 

 
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