Welcome to the Shaedon Sharpe experience.
The Blazers have played only 10 games, but one question has already been answered: General manager Joe Cronin made the right decision selecting Sharpe with the seventh pick of this year’s NBA draft.
The rookie has thrilled fans, alternating smooth stepback jumpers with gravity-defying highlight dunks. He’s creating a buzz in the Rose Garden and the team feels it too. Head coach Chauncey Billups has already compared Sharpe to Vince Carter and Brandon Roy. Let’s dig into what Billups is talking about and throw in a third comp for fun.
Carter was a phenomenon. Dominique Wilkins’ ferocity combined with Michael Jordan’s athleticism. There was a palpable buzz in every arena when Carter would touch the ball. Those moments were 2001′s version of Steph Curry putting a defender on skates just because he could.
Sharpe is starting to earn the same reaction in Portland (it’ll be a while before road crowds catch on). One-handed tomahawk dunks in traffic, soaring back-door alley-oops, pugnacious put-backs, fast-break rim-kissers that back down LeBron James.
Sharpe’s already pulled off just about every iteration of in-game dunk you can imagine, and we aren’t even a month into the season. The dude attacks the open court like a runaway freight train and has an insane vertical leap to back it up. He’s so fun to watch, Ticketmaster is probably going to add another surcharge to Blazers tickets.
Longtime radio announcer Brian Wheeler used to call Roy “The Natural.” The three-time All-Star’s game had a mesmerizing quality—he often played glacially slowly, lulling opponents out of position, before unleashing a flurry of crossovers and stepbacks. Roy’s body control plus an almost academic understanding of basketball movement left defenders befuddled and bamboozled (miss you, Wheels).
Sharpe has a similarly natural feel for the game. Despite not playing in college, Sharpe has shown flashes of Roy’s intellectualism from the jump.
Example: In his first game as a pro, as Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic worked a pick and roll, Sharpe caught both weak-side defenders ball-watching, made a hard cut to the block, received a perfectly timed pass from Lillard, and dropped in a dunk before De’Aaron Fox even realized he had made a cut.
Sharpe just knows how to play. He can read when a defender is off balance, knows how to sneak into open spaces, and gels with his teammates. For brief flashes, Sharpe seems to see the court in slow motion. Call him…preternatural.
OK, now it’s time for a reality check. The kid is only 19 years old. Sharpe has a ways to go before Ron Artest says he’s better than Kobe Bryant. (Yes, Artest really did say that about Roy.) Or before he’s going shot for shot with Allen Iverson in a Game 7, like Carter did in 2001.
For every thunderous slam and hand-in-his-face 3-pointer, there’s a missed defensive assignment or 2-points-in-21-minutes stumble. His defense, especially team defense, is a work in progress. We may all be dreaming of a 2027 NBA title but the reality is that there are going to be a bunch more pedestrian box scores before any parades are scheduled. There’s a decent chance Sharpe won’t even make the All-Rookie first team.
So what’s with all the hype? Why is Billups, a borderline Hall of Famer in his own right, comparing Sharpe to Brandon Roy and Vince Carter?
To be blunt, it’s because the Blazers haven’t had a player this young and with this much star potential since Jermaine O’Neal. Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard were both 22 years old when they debuted. All due respect to Anfernee Simons, but it took a couple of years before it was clear he would stick. Others like Travis Outlaw, Jerryd Bayless and Zach Collins had star potential only in the eyes of die-hard homers.
Sharpe is different. We can safely assume he has a long NBA career ahead of him. That alone is worth celebration. But the flashes of brilliance are so tantalizing there’s also psychic unity on ignoring mediocre stats. Numbers just don’t capture his vibes.
The feeling is that Sharpe has the highest ceiling of any Blazers teenager in 25 years. That’s the kind of draft luck that can make or break a franchise. It’s probably a bit unfair to pin this much on a teenager, but it’s hard not to be excited.
GO: The Portland Trail Blazers return to Moda Center at 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 14. Tickets start at $11.