NEW YORK – There may have been no bigger mystery in this year’s NBA draft than Shaedon Sharpe. How else could we describe the 6-5 wing from Kentucky who never played at Kentucky and has not taken the court for an official game since high school?
Still, his talent is so vast and his appeal so wide that he entered Thursday night as a presumed lottery pick. Sharpe set his own market at the top 10 picks. When the Portland Trail Blazers took him seventh overall it was the kind of selection that was easy to understand. The Blazers took their moonshot midway through the lottery, hoping they could land a future All-Star to help Damian Lillard now and also serve as a bridge to the future.
Sharpe goes there hoping to do so, too. He was the No. 1 player in his high school class, so he is long on talent and pedigree, and he believes that he can reach rare heights in Portland.
“I feel like I can become the best player to ever play the game,” he told The Athletic.
How high Sharpe flies remains to be seen. He is not lacking in confidence, and he will bear a large mantle in Portland. The Blazers won just 27 games last season and owned the sixth-worst record in the league during a difficult year in which their former general manager was fired, franchise pillar CJ McCollum was traded and Lillard played just 29 games.
It also allowed the Blazers to reset. They named Joe Cronin, a longtime executive with the team, the new general manager and he has gone about refurbishing the team. Sharpe is his most audacious move yet and his first draft pick. Cronin had weighed dealing the No. 7 pick but held onto it when the right deal didn’t appear – he wanted to be wowed by an offer but never was.
Sharpe thinks he can come in and contribute. He will give the Blazers something they desperately need: a wing with size and scoring skill who has the potential to create for himself and maybe others. Most fans have not seen him play, so Sharpe offered his own scouting report on himself.
“I’m a dude that likes to attack the rim, draw some fouls, finish above the rim, also get my teammates involved and really just shooting the 3,” he said. “Just impacting the game.”
Sharpe admits there may be some rust at first but believes he can get up to speed quickly enough. He hasn’t played in a competitive game since last summer’s AAU circuit. Sharpe said he came close to playing during his half-season at Kentucky. He enrolled at the university in January after graduating from Dream City Christian in October, but never made it into a game.
He said was “really thinking about playing” in February when the Wildcats hosted Alabama and the team was down its starting backcourt in TyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler. Ultimately, Sharpe decided not to play.
“I just felt like it’s best for me to sit out just to get my body right,” he said. “And really just get ready for next season.”
He surprised head coach John Calipari by leaving after just one semester. Sharpe’s unceremonious exit was not well-received by those inside the program.
Sharpe said he has no qualms with how his time at Kentucky ended.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason, ”he said. “I wasn’t really disappointed in not playing or anything.”
Now, the Blazers must hope he can help their turnaround. They have been a consistently successful franchise, with eight consecutive playoff appearances before last season.
Portland is banking on Sharpe as part of the nucleus which can help stabilize the organization. Lillard should be healthy again after abdominal surgery. They traded for Jerami Grant earlier this week.
The Blazers front office was comfortable with Sharpe after bringing him in for a 3-on-3 workout and Cronin was enamored with how he played in it. Cronin told reporters the Blazers watched as much film as they could find, from international competitions and anywhere else they could get. Without any college games to go off of, they used the workouts, both at their facility and Sharpe’s 1-on-0 workout at the draft combine, and film as a base.
They were also beneficiaries of more intel since some of its new hires had seen Sharpe play before. Portland hired Mike Schmitz as an assistant general manager last month; he had been a draft analyst at ESPN.
“Shaedon is an incredible talent,” Cronin told reporters. “We’re really excited about his future. It was a unique situation with Shaedon where he didn’t play college basketball. So he wasn’t seen or evaluated nearly as much as a lot of these other guys. But we were lucky enough to have we had a pretty good foundation built on Shaedon through our past viewings, specifically some of the new people we hired who had seen him a little bit. ”
The Blazers considered dealing the seventh overall pick but couldn’t find a deal they liked. Instead, they settled on Sharpe.
Cronin thinks Sharpe has enough talent to play immediately. Sharpe thinks he’ll be helping the Blazers soon enough even after all the time away from playing.
“It’s gonna take some time,” he said. “But it’s not going to be long before I’m playing basketball, how I play ball.”
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04.30 Photo of Shaedon Sharpe: Jordan Prather / USA Today