After the NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers enter the bulk of the offseason with three new recruits in the fold: G League Ignite pick No. 3 Scoot Henderson, Iowa and pick #43 Rayan. Rupert, a French winger who played in Australia’s NBL last season.
The franchise welcomed the trio to Portland yesterday with an introductory press conference. Along with general manager Joe Cronin and head coach Chauncey Billups, the rookies answered questions about their respective games and games with Portland.
Below are some of the more notable quotes from the 20+ minute session.
Cronin opened the event with excitement about the players landing Portland’s draft picks, especially since the franchise had much higher rated Murray and Rupert on its big board.
“For us, it was one of those unique draft nights where we had these three lottery-ranked players, and we were lucky to have three of them at very different times in the draft. … It was a unique way the draft broke for us that aligned very well with how we had prioritized it.
Billups echoed Cronin’s remark and said the players fit his favorite all-around competitor archetype.
“(It’s) not often that you have (pick) three, 23 and 43 and come away with three guys who were invited into the green room. … Many of you know what I think about basketball, I like guys who are very competitive. I like guys who play with fire, who play both sides of the basketball, and all three do that. They are all very dynamic, so I look forward to dedicating myself to them and teaching them as best as I can.
Henderson comes to Portland as one of the most high-profile prospects the Blazers have landed in a long time. Considered a likely No. 1 overall pick in nearly every other draft that doesn’t feature French phenom Victor Wembanyama or Alabama forward Brandon Miller, Henderson comes to Portland after the Charlotte Hornets went with Miller to the No. 2. The 6-foot-2, athletic playmaker possesses great confidence and a swagger, evident in the presser (and by his nightwear draft), and is believed to be more pro-ready than most 19-year-olds, after two years in the NBA G League.
Asked about the hype, Henderson said he tries not to think about it too much.
“Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to it. It’s a little difficult not to see it, obviously I have social networks, but I always rely on the gym. I wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for me and my work ethic. … So whenever there are words like that, “generational”, “special”, I know who I am as a person and that’s all that matters.
Entering the NBA as a high lottery pick comes with expectations of leadership and being the face of a franchise at some point. Henderson said his time in the G League helped prepare him for the responsibility and he is not shy about speaking up.
“I’m blessed to have spent the two years at Ignite as a pro having to tell men, (like) Pooh (Jeter), who is 20 years older than me, where to go on the court. That’s something that I’m going to continue to feel comfortable with and I’m going to embrace it. That’s the thing I could do, accept that and admit that I have a lot of responsibility, but that comes with the work ethic I always come back to that. I work on things like that – just talking and little things like that in my game.”
After four years at Iowa, the 22-year-old Murray enters the league much older than his teenage rookie teammates and most modern NBA rookies. Cronin said he received many calls from other teams trying to advance to 23rd place, especially on draft night, but the franchise was pleased to see Murray still on the board when the pick finally came around.
“Weeks before the draft (we) started getting a lot of calls about pick 23. I could tell the league was starting to really assess and understand the depth that was here in this draft. So there were frequent calls for the previous two weeks about our pick and the teams that wanted it. …As we entered our teens, the phones were exploding. Teams were trying to get into the draft, chasing not only Kris but other guys as well. Just a lot of activity, a bunch of different phone calls and chats. Mentally, we had Kris way up on our board, and say we’re pick 18, 17, we’re like, ‘man, he can’t go that far.’ You just hope and put down roots, and at some point we consider ourselves lucky that he joined us.
Along with the added experience of age, Murray also has the benefit of learning from his older brother, Keegan, who was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 4 pick last summer. The 6-foot-8 forward opened up about how his brother helped prepare him for his NBA moment.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience when your brother, who you’re very close to, goes through this whole process, and I kind of got to see in the shadows last year what it all entails, so just to little things I learned from him. … Just how you take care of yourself on and off the pitch. The biggest thing I learned from him was to do the same thing every day. Don’t don’t change who you are.
Rupert, 19, comes to the NBA after a year in Australia’s NBL with the New Zealand Breakers. The 6ft 8in forward briefly told reporters about his journey from an elite basketball academy in France to the NBA, and how he likes to play.
“I grew up in France, I played for four years at the INSEP Academy. Tony Parker, Evan Fournier played there, so I spent four years there. Last year I made the decision to play with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL. It was a great opportunity to grow as a player and a person to play away from my country, so it was an amazing journey, and now I’m happy to be here.
I think I’m a two-way player, my first quality is defensive, I just like to be disruptive defensively, play with maximum energy.
A big fan of the Rupert selection included former Blazer Nicolas Batum, who tweeted his approval of the pick. Rupert discussed his relationship with his fellow Frenchman at the presser, which goes back years.
“Nic Batum is like a big brother to me. He called me (Friday), I’ve known him for 10 years, I did a camp and I ended up MVP in this camp, so I spent 10 days with him when he was in Charlotte. When he called me yesterday (he) just said a lot of good things about this organization, people here. I like his game. I’m trying to find out more about him on the field and off the field.
While Portland’s selections drew generally positive reviews from the media, criticism came from the franchise’s inability to build a team around Damian Lillard ready to face, a reality further reinforced by Portland’s decision. to use all three choices. On that front, Billups said the Blazers’ front office still has a lot of team-building work to do this summer, but also that these rookies are more ready than most.
“The way I see these guys is obviously their age is quite young, but they don’t play that way. Their IQ is different from that of a normal guy their age. That’s a reason they’re here, we’ve handpicked them all for those reasons. Those young moments and those young things, they’re going to be minimized with these guys. Scoot just said it: he’s been leading men for two years. …Kris, you can tell he has a maturity about him. He won’t play like a rookie, when he’s there he can contribute. Rayan played pro in a very, very physical and tough league. I don’t think these guys are young, I feel like they can contribute right away. … Obviously, we have a few weeks ahead of us to build the rest of our team.
Players were asked how they could contribute to their rookie seasons and answered the following:
Rupert: “I will try to earn my minutes with maximum energy and defense at the start, to do whatever the coach wants me to do to help the team.”
Henderson: “I think I can pressure the defense in all kinds of ways. Come as a voice, try to lead by example and earn the trust of my teammates. Then, on the defensive end, grow…and become one of the best defensemen in the league.
Murray: I think for me it’s just my versatility, offensively and defensively. I feel like I can hold multiple positions and play multiple positions, but definitely my basketball IQ. I think I’m the type to make few mistakes.
The Lillard Situation
The narrative around Lillard and whether there is a Blazer left for next season turns out to be the storyline of the summer. Towards the end of the presser, Cronin discussed his communication with the face of the franchise surrounding the results of the project.
“The last time we spoke directly was while he was in Europe on Tuesday, and I’ve spoken to his agent several times a day, staying in close contact. Dame is coming back to town soon, so we’re will find.
Weeks of draft speculation and uncertainty are now firmly in the rearview mirror, with the Blazers bringing Henderson, Murray and Rupert to town. Now all eyes are on free will and the summer trading season.