Blazers on guard as draft nears

A look at possible candidates for Portland backcourt

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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For the past few weeks, prospective NBA players have shuffled into the practice facility of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Some came with name recognition, and many others needed a nametag.

But whether the players are projected as lottery picks or just destined to be the 15th man at the end of the bench, they all arrived in Tualatin, Ore., with the same goal of impressing the Blazers brass.

And the Blazers could fulfill their dreams on Thursday at the NBA Draft. With the big night looming, now would be a good time to review the talent pool.

In this edition, let's take a look at the top 10 guards and wing players that the Blazers have evaluated.

1. C.J. McCollum, 6-3 guard, Lehigh

Guys such as the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Blazers' own Damian Lillard have cleared the brush for players like McCollum to come out of the basketball wilderness.

No longer can you make the argument that a player from a smaller program can't succeed in the NBA. Curry, a bet-my-life-on-it future All-Star, and Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year, prove that not all mid-major players are created equally. Every now and then a jewel can be found outside of Memphis, Kansas or Kentucky — and McCollum could be the next prize.

Bright enough to promote the Curry and Lillard comparisons and talented enough to potentially back it up, McCollum has the mind and the game to become a quick contributor in the NBA.

McCollum shone the brightest against the best competition — his 30 points against Duke in the NCAA Tournament helped Lehigh to a shocking upset in 2012.

Also, McCollum was the only guard that the Blazers brought in for an individual workout, and Lillard has endorsed him as a player he would like the team to draft.

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 6-6 guard, Georgia

In a conference that features Kentucky, Florida and Missouri, Caldwell-Pope earned the honor as the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year ... as a sophomore.

Caldwell-Pope and Dominique Wilkins (1981) are the only Georgia Bulldogs to have swept the major SEC awards. Caldwell-Pope may not become the next Human Highlight Reel, but he has many layers to his game that a young Wilkins did not possess.

Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.5 points a game and showed an above-average stroke from distance (37.3 percent 3-point shooter).

And it bears repeating: Caldwell-Pope performed at this rate in a conference that annually produces lottery and first-round picks.

3. Glen Rice, Jr., 6-5 guard, Rio Grande Valley (NBA D-League)

Since being kicked out of Georgia Tech after a criminal charge, red flags have followed Rice. However, after a re-invention in the unlikely warm springs of the NBA D-League, Rice has cleansed himself of that troubled reputation. Leading your team to the D-League championship while averaging 25 points a game can do that for you.

Junior's path will be different than that of his father, but he has similar elements for which Glen Rice was known -- namely, a pure shooting touch.

During his one season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Rice, Jr. ranked third in the league in 3-pointers (38.5 percent) and compares himself to a spot-up shooter like Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.

Rice is trying to become the first D-Leaguer in NBA history to be drafted in the first round. If he did in fact leave all that baggage at Georgia Tech, the Blazers would get a steal if he falls to their second-round pick at No. 39.

4. Ray McCallum, 6-3 point guard, Detroit

Another "Junior" in the Draft, the son of University of Detroit head coach Ray McCallum Sr. was a good boy and stayed home when he could have played for a much larger program.

McCallum earned McDonald's All-American honors as a high school senior but rejected the likes of Arizona, UCLA and Florida so that he could play under his father.

Just as one would expect, McCallum, the big fish, dominated the small pond of the Horizon League and earned Player of the Year honors during his junior season.

After averaging 18.7 points and 4.5 assists, McCallum wisely declared for the draft. Besides his scoring and playmaking ability, McCallum brings to mind hard-working guards like Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook as he averaged 5.1 rebounds last season.

5. Tony Snell, 6-7 forward/guard, New Mexico

The lankiest guard on this list, Snell has the body of a slasher but the statistics of a reliable shooter.

In spite of his frame, Snell patterned himself as a 3-point shooter -- and during his junior season at New Mexico, he made 39 percent from beyond the arc. Snell may not be able to create much offense on his own, but NBA teams can always use a floor spacer and a knockdown shooter.

Also, Snell played small forward in college and with his 6-foot-11 wingspan, he could defend either the two or three positions in the NBA. From indications, the Sacramento Kings may have their sights on Snell after giving him two workouts.

6. Pierre Jackson, 5-10 point guard, Baylor

During his pre-draft tour, Jackson experienced a minor injury in his left knee and could not compete in his scheduled workout with the Blazers. Instead, Jackson visited the team and watched on the sidelines as other prospects tried to impress during one of the Blazers' final workouts.

Even if Jackson did not get to showcase his talent, he showed plenty during his senior year at Baylor.

Jackson led the competitive Big 12 in scoring (19.8) and assists (7.1) and his compact stature brings to mind other diminutive but effective point guards in the Association, Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) and Nate Robinson (Chicago).

7. Archie Goodwin, 6-5 guard, Kentucky

Goodwin, another McDonald's All-American as a high school senior, will not turn 19 until August. As one of the youngest players in the draft, Goodwin will be a raw project and second-round gamble — but his fearlessness in creating in his own shot can give a patient team something to hope for in the future.

8. Ricky Ledo, 6-7 guard, Providence

While Goodwin at least played one year of college basketball and has established a baseline for judgment, Ledo declared for the draft after sitting his entire freshman season at Providence.

The NCAA ruled Ledo as a partial qualifier before the start of the 2012-2013 season, so he could only participate in practice. So, now teams have only his pre-draft interviews, YouTube highlights and prep school accolades to evaluate a player who has an NBA body, but could have definitely used some refining on the college stage.

9. Elijah Johnson, 6-4 guard, Kansas

Johnson played some point guard at Kansas — to varying degrees of success and failure — but he's better off the ball than operating from the one spot (4.6 assists and 3.1 turnovers a game as a senior).

Johnson does not appear on several draft projections, but the Blazers must have liked him since the team gave him two workouts.

During the first session on June 3, Johnson teamed with Caldwell-Pope and Brigham Young power forward Brandon Davies in a series of competitive 3-on-3 games. Johnson, however, did not complete his second trial on June 22 and was spotted on a trainer's bench near the end of the workout.

10. Myck Kabongo, 6-1 point guard, Texas

Pass first, shoot later — Kabongo is a traditional point guard who can score off the dribble (team-leading 14.6 points) but looks to set up teammates foremost (5.5 assists).

However, those statistics come from just 11 games during his sophomore year as Kabongo served a 23-game suspension after receiving impermissible benefits from an agent. After the abbreviated season, Kabongo decided to enter the draft.

It will likely take some time for the smallish guard to be effective in the NBA.