The Portland Trail Blazers played their first NBA season back in 1970, and found some quick success. Within seven years, Portland was on top of the NBA world with their first championship. Unfortunately for the franchise, they have not reached the mountaintop since then, but they came close with NBA Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992.
Since 2004, Portland has won just a single division title (2015), and have had their ups and downs in the draft department. Some of the best players on the team were surprises that nobody thought would become the top level guys that they are now. Before that, though, Portland was in a bit of a lull in finding talent through the draft.
So how would the Trail Blazers look today if they had the ability to go back and select the players that they wanted? There were a couple of big hits, though there were certainly some misses, especially when they had the top pick of the draft. Let’s take a look back at the past 15 first round picks that the Trail Blazers have held in the first round, and see what other direction they had the chance to go.
15 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (2015)
Original Pick: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
As the Trail Blazers did not have a first round selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, we start with 2015. Portland held the 23rd overall selection, and used the pick on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson before sending him to Brooklyn (along with Steve Blake) for Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton. Hollis-Jefferson has been fairly quiet with 7.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists averaged in his first two seasons.
Plumlee was decent, but spent less than two seasons in Portland before being sent to Denver. Meanwhile, Connaughton has barely gotten any playing time in the NBA. As of right now, the correct call would have been to draft Hollis-Jefferson and keep him in Portland. None of the players drafted in the rest of the first round have put up his kind of production to this point.
14 Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013)
Original Pick: C.J. McCollum
Portland did not have a draft selection at all in the 2014 NBA Draft, but had three second round selections in 2013 and one in the first round. Portland would end up using the pick on C.J. McCollum from Lehigh. After two seasons, it didn’t look like McCollum would be a huge player, but he has posted two straight seasons of more than 20 points per game, while adding around 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
As good as McCollum has been (and he has been good), was it the right call? Portland fans love him, but the player that was drafted 15th overall appears to have a brighter future as an overall player. That player is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has posted 23.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. Sorry, C.J..
13 Maurice Harkless (2012)
Original Pick: Meyers Leonard
In 2012, Portland had two high draft selections in the first round, landing the sixth overall pick in a trade with Brooklyn and the 11th overall pick. With the latter pick, the Trail Blazers would select Meyers Leonard, the center from Illinois. Leonard is still on the team, but has not been much of a revelation. In five seasons, Leonard has posted 5.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.
Luckily for Portland, there weren’t any studs drafted shortly thereafter that they missed out on. Portland ended up getting 15th overall pick Maurice Harkless starting in the 2015-16 season. So far, Harkless has been scoring 8.2 points per game with 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists. Instead of using the pick on Leonard and eventually acquiring Harkless, they should have just gone the other way around.
12 Damian Lillard (2012)
Original Pick: Damian Lillard
Before Portland had to pick between a bunch of guys that haven’t turned out to be NBA stars, they had to make a choice between a few solid players. With the sixth overall pick that they got from Brooklyn, the Trail Blazers ended up taking Damian Lillard out of Weber State. Although Andre Drummond was still on the board, Lillard was definitely the right choice with this selection.
Lillard has been named an All Star twice in his career, and his scoring has only gotten better with each season. Toward the end of the 2016-17 season, Lillard has scored 26.6 points per game with 4.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Portland definitely would have made the same pick if given the chance again.
11 Kenneth Faried (2011)
Original Pick: Nolan Smith
The Trail Blazers held the 21st overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, which they use on mostly forgotten Duke guard Nolan Smith. Smith did not last long in the NBA, as he spent his only two seasons in Portland. Overall, he scored 3.3 points per game with 1.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Obviously, the Trail Blazers would go in almost any other direction since they didn’t get the production that they wanted.
The very next pick (22nd) would have been a better way for Portland to go. It was Kenneth Faried that was selected by the Nuggets at that spot. So far, Faried has posted 11.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. There weren’t many other players drafted in the next few spots that would have been better, so Faried is the pick here.
10 Jordan Crawford (2010)
Original Pick: Elliot Williams
Portland would have another selection in the 20’s in 2010 as they held the 22nd overall pick. The Trail Blazers wound up with Elliot Williams, a guard from Memphis. Williams spent just one season with Portland, averaging 3.7 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. After missing a season, Williams would come back for three more years that were overall underwhelming.
Though there weren’t many players in the rest of the first round that ended up being stars, there are a couple of different directions that Portland could have gone. First, Trevor Booker from Clemson could have been a better option. The best option would have been Jordan Crawford, though. In 272 career games, Crawford has posted 12.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
9 Taj Gibson (2009)
Original Pick: Victor Claver
Shortly after future All Stars Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague were selected in the first round of 2009’s NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers held the 22nd overall selection after making a deal with Dallas. Portland ended up with Victor Claver, a small forward from Spain. Claver lasted just three seasons with the Trail Blazers, averaging 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game before leaving the NBA in 2015.
A better way to go with this pick would have been to take Taj Gibson out of USC. Gibson was the 26th overall selection by the Bulls after they had made a deal with Denver. Gibson spent a lot of time in Chicago before making the move to Oklahoma City this season. So far, Gibson has put up 9.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in his career.
8 Roy Hibbert (2008)
Original Pick: Brandon Rush
In 2008, Portland missed out on the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez since they held the 13th overall selection. Portland would take Brandon Rush from Kansas, and then shipped him to Indiana in exchange for Jerryd Bayless and Ike Diogu. Rush has played with four teams and is still active in the league, but hasn’t had any standout seasons so far.
There were some better options such as Robin Lopez, but if you want the player that had the best ceiling, Portland should have taken Roy Hibbert from Georgetown. Hibbert was the 17th overall pick, and he also ended up in Indiana. Hibbert was a two-time All Star, and so far has posted 10.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.
7 Kevin Durant (2007)
Original Pick: Greg Olden
When it comes to Portland’s draft history, 2007 is the one that people always talk about. Portland had won the lottery and landed the first overall pick. With that selection, they took what was supposed to be the safe pick with Greg Oden. Oden would end up being a bust due to injury problems, playing two seasons with the Trail Blazers. While he put up solid numbers, it was only two seasons.
In hindsight, Portland should have taken Kevin Durant, who was the second overall pick by Seattle (now Oklahoma City). Durant has been an eight-time All Star, and won the 2014 MVP Award. Portland fans might want to look away from the career stats, which are 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
6 P.J. Tucker (2006)
Original Pick: Joel Freeland
Portland held two picks in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft, with one coming very early and the other coming very late. The first one we’ll look at is the 30th overall selection that capped off the first round. Portland made a deal with Detroit to get the pick, which was used on Joel Freeland from Spain. Freeland didn’t play with the team until 2012. He spent three seasons in Portland, putting up 3.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game.
If Portland was willing to wait for a player, they should have selected P.J. Tucker from Texas. Tucker was the 35th overall pick, and played for one season before missing five to play overseas. Tucker returned in 2012, and has put up some decent seasons since then. Tucker has posted 7.7 points with 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game in his career so far, and has split time with Phoenix and Toronto this year.
5 Brandon Roy (2006)
Original Pick: Tyrus Thomas
Earlier in the first round in 2006, Portland held the fourth overall selection. They would take LSU forward Tyrus Thomas, and then sent him to Chicago with Viktor Khryapa in exchange for LaMarcus Aldridge. It ended up being a great deal for the Trail Blazers, as Aldridge posted 19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. However, with the Bulls knowing what they know now, they wouldn’t have made that deal again.
Portland also ended up with sixth overall selection Brandon Roy after making a trade with Minnesota. Going back in time, Portland probably would have just taken Brandon Roy with the fourth overall pick and left it at that. Roy would end up having injury problems and ended his career after the 2012-13 season, but would be a three-time All Star that scored 18.8 points per game with 4.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
4 David Lee (2005)
Original Pick: Linas Kleiza
2005 was very similar to 2006 for Portland as they had two first round picks, with one early and one late. For the 27th overall pick, Utah originally held it before trading it to Dallas, who then traded it to Portland. The pick was Linas Kleiza, a forward from Missouri. Kleiza was then traded to Denver, who also played for Portland in his career. Kleiza put up 8.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game in his seven NBA seasons.
Since Portland had the 27th pick, it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch at all for them to draft David Lee, instead. Lee was the 30th overall pick out of Florida that landed with the Knicks. The two-time All Star has put up 13.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in his career that has seen him play for five different teams.
3 Channing Frye (2005)
Original Pick: Martell Webster
Much earlier on in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers acquired the sixth overall pick from Utah. Back when you could draft players out of high school, Portland acquired Martell Webster from Seattle Prep School. Webster ended up playing until the end of the 2014-15 season. In five seasons with Portland, Webster put up 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.
Many of the players that ended up being solid in the first round of 2005’s draft had relatively short careers thanks to injury, such as Andrew Bynum and Danny Granger. While not a flashy pick, the best way Portland could have gone was by taking Channing Frye instead. Frye was the eighth overall pick by New York, and he has put up 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in his career.
2 Beno Udrih (2004)
Original Pick: Sergei Monia
Portland found themselves with two first round picks yet again in 2004, though they were a bit later in the round. The latter of the two picks was Sergei Monia, a guard from Russia that the Trail Blazers got with the 23rd selection they had acquired from Memphis. Monia only played 23 games with the Trail Blazers, putting up 3.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. Obviously, the Trail Blazers would want that pick back.
There wasn’t a lot of other talent available at the point in the draft, but an upgrade for Portland would have been Beno Udrih. Udrih is still in the league at 34 years old, and has played for eight teams. Udrih was the 28th overall pick, and has posted five seasons of double digit scoring per game. Overall, he has 8.4 points, 3.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game.
1 Al Jefferson (2004)
Original Pick: Sebastian Telfair
Earlier on in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers held the 13th overall selection. Taking a chance on a hyped up high schooler, Portland selected Sebastian Telfair. Telfair never lived up to the hype, as he put up 7.4 points, 3.5 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game. He also only spent his first two seasons in Portland, and played his last NBA game in the 2014-15 season.
Al Jefferson was the player that was taken at 15th overall by Boston, and that would have been a much better selection for Portland. Jefferson had some very solid seasons in the league even though he’s starting to wind down now. At his peak, Jefferson was putting up more than 23 points and 11 rebounds per game. His longevity and production was something Portland didn’t get from Telfair.