Shaedon Sharpe’s talent couldn’t help but shine despite modest minutes off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers last season. Sure, he missed out on one of the 10 All-Rookie Team nods, but the young Canadian staked a claim as a name to watch moving forward.
Sharpe was one of the more entertaining experiences in what turned out to be a rather dismal 2022-23 campaign for the franchise. And the hype was more than just outrageous dunks and otherworldly athleticism.
By the All-Star Break, the No. 7 overall pick had found judgment and composure, a fairly significant development given his age and lack of attendance at Kentucky.
The Blazers now enter NBA Draft week with a decent enough chance to move Anfernee Simons along with the No. 3 overall pick. While his understudy in Sharpe emerges untouchable in what will likely be a very busy transaction window for General Manager Joe Cronin and his front office.
So, just as he cleared a runway for Simons last summer with the departures of CJ McCollum and Norman Powell, Cronin may now be doing the same for Sharpe, who appears to be a better fit of the two, next to Damian Lillard.
According to Jacked Ramsays’ Danny MarangSharpe will also work out with Lillard this summer, another potential sign of the franchise’s future backcourt aspirations.
All of this builds on Sharpe’s own exit interview in April, when he claimed he was ready to start for the Blazers.
But should he?
Sharpe’s 2022-23 season
Let’s take a look at how far he’s come over the last 12 months – from pure obscurity and raw talent at the draft to an untouchable asset.
His rookie season was the very definition of linear progression. Through October and November, Sharpe averaged 20 minutes a night off the bench and recorded anywhere between 0 and 20 points a night.
In the last eight games and eight starts, Sharpe played more than 35 minutes and was held below 24 points just once in an outing.
The just-turned-20-year-old finished the season averaging 22.2 minutes, 9.9 points, 36 percent on 3.5 attempts from three, 2.2 boards, 1.2 assists and 0.5 steals.
Among wings, the 6’6 phenom finished 22nd or in the 80th percentile in offensive rebounds and 32nd or in the 70th percentile in blocks.
He made 55.3 percent of his two-pointers, good enough for the 72nd percentile, and 40 percent from the corner, leaving him just short of the 60th percentile.
There is still work to be done. Turnovers were an issue with Sharpe sitting in the 37th percentile and free throw shooting was less than satisfactory at 71.3 percent, good enough for the 11th percentile.
Defensive lapses were regularly evident, with Sharpe consistently having trouble staying out of foul trouble, finishing in the 43rd percentile among wings. He was also in the 11th percentile in steals.
But despite these obvious flaws/growing pains, Sharpe already projects as a better defender than Lillard and Simons, in part because of those physical gifts and instincts.
His rookie-scale contract is incredibly team-friendly and will be for at least the next three years.
And with Lillard, potentially Jerami Grant and whatever comes back in the rumored big trades, the Blazers need as many rotation players on affordable contracts as possible.
Sharpe’s competition at the start of the shooting guard
Assuming Simons is moved, the only other remaining contracted guards are Lillard and Keon Johnson, assuming the latter has his team option picked up. Nassir Little is more of a small forward, but could probably fill in as a shooting guard in a pinch.
Simply put, the backcourt lacks true entry-level talent that can drive the team into contention.
Enter Matisse Thybulle. The 26-year-old restricted free agent is a good possibility to return with Cronin with matching rights. And frankly, any deal that brings him back under $10 million a year is a win for the Blazers
The two-time All Defensive stalwart can stop just about anyone on a basketball court, in theory capable of making up for Lillard’s well-known deficiencies on that end.
What was most alluring about Thybulle’s game was the three-point shooting he rediscovered in a Blazers uniform.
Throughout his Philadelphia 76ers tenure, Thybulle was largely in the low to mid-30s in percentage from three-point range, unable to average more than seven points a game.
But something happened after the trade. He found his three-point shot and hit 38 percent from that area through 22 games.
Thybulle went from 32.2 percent and the 24th percentile through 49 games with the 76ers to 38.8 percent in Portland, good enough for the 72nd percentile among wings.
If the Australian national representative is able to function as a reliable catch-and-shoot option, he will be able to serve as an elite attacking defence.
Conclusion – Sharpe vs Thybulle
This discussion is based on the assumption that Thybulle returns and that the offseason does not give the Blazers another starting option at shooting guard.
The 20-year-old Sharpe, known to some as Baby Kobe, is still a raw talent with All-Star/All-NBA potential written all over him.
Compared to the defensive savant is Thybulle who, if he is able to consistently hit from long range, serves as a true three-and-D option.
I’d love to say that Sharpe should be the guy to start alongside Lillard from opening night because I think that’s where he’ll finish the season and hopefully beyond.
But for someone who has only really played a month of starter-level minutes, Sharpe still needs to mature into the role, and may do so by initially playing the sixth man role.
The 2023-24 season will be all about winning for the Blazers. They don’t have time for a development proposal in the starting line-up when they have a more experienced and safer pair of hands in Thybulle.
There’s no doubt that Sharpe will be the better player, but Thybulle offers more stability to the roster, at least until the end of the calendar year.