Just like last summer’s thoughts, let’s step back before we dive into Kris Murray’s selection as the 23rd overall pick of the 2023 draft to the Portland Trail Blazers. Take a look at this from Scott Dochterman:
Portland takes Kris Murray with the 23rd pick in the first round.— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) June 23, 2023
Murray is the 11th first-round pick in Iowa MBB history and joins his twin brother, Keegan, as the Hawkeyes’ only first-rounders since 1998. He’s the sixth draft selection under coach Fran McCaffery since 2014. pic.twitter.com/C1FIxue8we
Kris joins Chuck Darling (1952), John Johnson (1970), Fred Brown (1971), Kevin Kunnert (1973), Ronnie Lester (1980), Roy Marble (1989), B.J. Armstrong (1989), Acie Earl (1993), Ricky Davis (1998), and brother Keegan Murray (2022) as the only first round draft picks in Iowa basketball history. That is rarified air for Iowa basketball players. It is incredibly elite company to keep and congratulations to Kris Murray. It’s a marvelous achievement.
But I went to bed Thursday night feeling...I don’t know. I’m happy to have another Iowa guy in the Association. It’s nothing but a positive for Iowa. Also fun - Sacramento and Portland played 4 times last year, so we’ll get some brother-on-brother matchups next season.
But this team? Portland? There is a difference between Kris landing here and Keegan landing in Sacramento last year. I had reservations about Sacramento last year based mostly on their history since the mid-2000s as a loser franchise. Bad personnel decisions for nearly two decades, bad ownership, playoff drought - there was a lot to dislike.
Even with that, there were positives for Keegan heading to Sacramento that I don’t feel for Kris and Portland. Everyone saw the Kings heading toward relevance again. Their over/under was a hilariously low 33.5 last year, a mark they cleared right after the All-Star break, on February 24. It was nearly unanimous in NBA communities that they’d clear that win total and if they did, they’d do it by a lot and make the playoffs.
The case for Sacramento was bolstered by how the 2021-22 season ended, as they clearly had good chemistry brewing with players like De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. That chemistry carried over into this season, as both Fox and Sabonis ended the season as third-team All-NBA players. They had two top 15 players in the league, plus an emerging rookie in Keegan, plus scoring punch from guys like Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter, plus a heady veteran that still has gas in the tank in Harrison Barnes, plus Mike Brown as coach, which was a really smart hire.
They went from a horribly-run franchise to one of the more competent groups in two years. They just freed up a ton of cap space last night during the draft as well, so they could go hunting for some big players when free agency starts next week. The future is suddenly bright for the Kings.
Portland, by comparison, is not close. They have Damian Lillard and an intriguing young core of players in Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, the third overall pick this year in Scoot Henderson - Dame’s likely replacement - and now Kris Murray. They could keep my favorite punching bag Jerami Grant as well, though he’s at Kris’s position so he blocks playing time for Kris if he re-signs with the Blazers. Not a bad start.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, everything else looks shaky. The roster really falls off after those 4 or 5 players. Despite a good draft last night, next season looks tough and full of uncertainty. They think they can thread the needle on this, being a championship contender in Dame’s twilight years while also incorporating this young group, but I’m skeptical. Their defense was bad last year and will struggle again this year (they were 23rd in points allowed per game, at 117.4, and their defensive rating was 27th at 118.8. Terrible numbers). They don’t have much size either. The backcourt is small with guys like Dame (6-2). Henderson (6-2), and Simons (6-3). Sharpe is only 6-5. The front court isn’t much bigger.
What did we just see in the playoffs this year? Of course it helps to have the best player in the world, but Denver had a competent defense when they decided to stop playing with their food and play hard, and they were a legitimately big team, especially compared to a team like Miami (Denver’s starters go 6-4, 6-5, 6-10, 6-8, and 6-11). Bad news for Portland on that front.
Further bad news? Divisions don’t matter much in the NBA anymore, but you do play those teams often and the rest of the division (Oklahoma City, Minnesota, and Utah) is full of big teams. They played those teams plus Denver 16 times last year - nearly 20 percent of the schedule. So Portland has neither size nor defensive chops, in a division full of huge players that features the defending champions and the best player on the planet. Otherwise, things are great!
(Ed. note: Also adding that their ownership situation is shaky after Paul Allen’s 2018 death. The link from Blazer’s Edge gives a good recap -Boiler)
Absolute best-case scenario, Dame likes what he sees with the young group and decides to stick it out and be the loyal soldier. He at least stays until the deadline and re-evaluates then. Worst case, they flounder and have to enter a blow it up phase in the next week. I don’t know what that looks like - there was rampant speculation all week that Portland would trade out of the third pick for immediate help in an effort to placate Dame, but they didn’t so will he accept any of this? Dame was reportedly on the block too but nothing happened - is there an acceptable trade package they can get for a soon-to-be 33-year-old shoot-first point guard that’s only 6-2 and is set to make $45.6 million next year? They need draft capital back, but will it be offered? There was also this bit of news from Chris Haynes last night:
Yikes. Good luck threading the needle. This could go sideways for Portland quickly. Brooklyn and Sacramento, teams that drafted right before and right after Portland, would have been preferable locales for Kris.