TUALATIN — The Portland Trail Blazers held their fifth day of predraft workouts on Friday, with LSU forward Tari Eason as the headliner among six prospects who made their way to the team’s practice facility.
Eason is a wild card in this process given that most mock drafts project him to be taken long after the Blazers select at No. 7 during the June 23 NBA draft. The expected range for Eason is from No. 11 into the high teens.
In fact, the 6-foot-8 Eason said Friday that he had already worked out with several other teams. Those teams give an indication about where Eason is likely to land in the draft. They included: Oklahoma City, which has the No. 2, No. 12 and No. 30 picks; Washington (No. 10); New York (No. 11); Atlanta (No. 16); Chicago (No. 18); and Minnesota (No. 19).
Mock drafts are largely educated guesses and not sure-fire predictions of what will happen. But chances are that the Blazers wouldn’t have worked out Eason if they weren’t considering taking him at No. 7, or maybe trading down.
As for Eason, he said he hasn’t paid much attention to predictions regarding his place in the draft.
“I don’t really have a preference or really look into that sort of thing,” he said. “I don’t really get caught up in that. I just control the things that I can control.”
So, how would Eason fit with the Blazers?
First and foremost, Eason is already considered a strong defender by most evaluators. He can defend multiple positions because he is long enough to deal with forwards and athletic enough to stay in front of most guards.
The chances that the Blazers draft a player without defensive potential would appear to be slim given that coach Chauncey Billups desperately wants to improve that side of the ball.
Eason said his length, strength and athleticism complement his mentality and competitiveness on defense.
“You just don’t want the other guy in front of you to score,” he said when asked what influences him to take playing defense seriously.
Sounds simple enough. But oftentimes, such directives have appeared to be optional for some Blazers over the past few years.
Offensively, Eason averaged 16.9 points on 52.1% shooting while also making 35.9% of his threes. His high-end athleticism allows him to get to the basket and finish with relative ease. And he displays good touch on a variety of shots.
All of this sounds like a player who definitely should be selected in the top 10. However, Eason started just four of 33 games for LSU after transferring there following his freshman season at Cincinnati.
Areas for improvement include the ability to go to his left hand, ball security and shooting consistency.
Eason has strong Northwest roots.
He grew up in Seattle and spent his freshman and sophomore years at Garfield High School, playing to form Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy. Eason transferred to Federal Way High School for his final two seasons and played with Jaden McDaniels, now with Minnesota.
“Any time you can learn from a former All-Star professional like that, it’s special,” Eason said.
Eason spoke highly of the Pacific Northwest and the potential of returning to play with the Blazers.
“My high school coach played here,” he said. “I’ve been down here several times for AAU tournaments. I have family around this area, friends. The community around here, it’s really special. I went to high school in the Northwest, so I have some roots down here. It would be special to come back.”
Eason said he would love to play with the Blazers current All-Star, Damian Lillard, whom the former Tigers star called a legend. As an added bonus, Eason landing in Portland would reunite him with former Tigers teammate and Blazers forward Trendon Watford
“He’s been like a big brother for me ever since I got to LSU,” Eason said. “He was here talking me up on the sidelines. So, just coming back here would be really amazing.”
Asked for some inside information about Watford that Blazers fans might not know, Eason couldn’t come up with anything beyond saying Watford is a great guy.
“I ain’t got no dirt,” Eason said with a smile. “He’s such a nice guy. He’s a lot more caring than maybe you guys would know.”
The Blazers have now worked out five projected first-round picks: Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, Memphis center/forward Jalen Duren, G League Ignite’s Dyson Daniels, Duke forward AJ Griffin and Eason.
Also on hand for Friday’s workout, but not expected to be first-round picks, were Colorado forward Evan Battey, Wichita State guard Tyson Etienne, Harvard guard Noah Kirkwood, Louisiana Tech forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Arkansas guard JD Notae.
The Blazers have two picks in the second round, at No. 36 and No. 51.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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