Canzano: Trail Blazers should enter Wembanyama Sweepstakes
Plus, some words on Pac-12 football.
Victor Wembanyama is 18. I smiled when I read a recent quote from an NBA Western Conference general manager about the draft prospect. The drooling GM told reporter David Aldridge: “If he breaks both legs, I’ll still draft him No. 1 and wait for him.”
The Trail Blazers should join the Wembanyama Sweepstakes, too.
The NBA season opens for Portland’s NBA franchise tonight at Sacramento. The over/under win total for the Blazers: 40.5 victories. That feels generous given the ugly preseason and so many questions surrounding the roster. I’m left thinking the better outcome is to get off to a slow start, stumble into the February trade deadline, shed talent, lose a pile of games, and aim for one of the top-two NBA Draft picks.
Yes, top two.
Wembanyama is 7-foot-5 with an eight-foot wingspan. He’s a walking mismatch, who can handle the ball and create his own shot. We haven’t seen a player quite like him since — really, ever. The buzz around Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming at that same age was about size and strength. Wembanyama is big, but it’s his skills that make him special.
The other player NBA scouts are buzzing about is Scoot Henderson. He’s 6-foot-2 with a great first step and a killer instinct. Think: Ja Morant meets Derrick Rose. Henderson, a guard, has exceptional poise, skills and body control. But it’s his aggressive, monomaniacal on-court mentality and inner drive that make him special. As Henderson explained to The Athletic, his mindset is pretty much to murder whoever is in front of him.
“To just demoralize their spirit,” he said. “… just to make whoever is in front me not play basketball again. That’s my mindset going into the rest of my career.”
Indiana (22.5 win total projection), San Antonio (22.5), Utah (23.5), Houston (23.5) and Oklahoma City (24.5) have been installed as the favorites in the race for the top picks in the NBA Draft. But losing games is something Portland could be good at if it focuses on the mission and leans hard into the loss-column.
The Blazers are stuck in the wasteland called the “middle” of the NBA. They’re not talented enough to contend. Not terrible enough to draft high. Portland feels like a team destined for the league’s Play-In Tournament. The stubborn unwillingness in recent years to admit the roster was broken and start all the way over has left the franchise playing out a bad hand.
Every NBA season starts with hope. That is soon replaced by sobering reality. Portland has a still-unproven head coach, a roster that doesn’t consistently defend, and an aging star player (Damian Lillard) coming off an abdominal surgery.
Ownership is a mess. Trustee Jody Allen should sell the team to Phil Knight. He’d love it and nurture it. The season already feels long and it hasn’t yet started. But if the Blazers won 22-25 games this season and got one of the top-two picks, I’d call the whole thing a raging success.
• OREGON STATE: I spoke with Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera about Saturday’s Colorado-Oregon State game at Reser Stadium. Howell joined me on my statewide radio show (750-AM in Portland, 1050-AM Eugene, 960-AM Klamath Falls, 1490-AM Roseburg) and said he thinks the Buffaloes, playing with an interim coach after the firing of Karl Dorrell, confused Cal last Saturday.
“There was an element of surprise,” he said. “They did things no team had ever seen on film… There were some things schematically they did on defense that was very different. They completely revamped their defense in a matter of 10-12 days. They created new positions for players, they brought new energy on defense.”
OSU is favored by 24 points on Saturday.
Listen to Brian Howell talk Colorado-OSU here:
• UCLA-OREGON: Los Angeles Times beat reporter Ben Bolch is Chip Kelly’s favorite verbal sparring partner. The Bruins are undefeated this season and playing at Oregon on Saturday. I asked Bolch this week what Kelly (6-0) has been like to be around.
“He’s actually been a lot of fun this season,” Bolch said. “We’ve butted heads in the past. He really has been fun. He’s brought out his wry sense of humor to the full extent. He’s made jokes. He’s not being contrarian like he likes to be. He’s been really agreeable and to be honest it’s been a lot more fun to cover.”
Bolch said he likes UCLA to beat Oregon on Saturday 41-38. I’ll make my official pick on Thursday in this space.
Listen to Ben Bolch talk Bruins-Ducks here:
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