The sky is the limit: Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe making strides

The sky is the limit: Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe making strides

Since the Portland Trail Blazers waved the white flag and shut down Damian Lillard for the remainder of the season, they have shifted their focus to developing rookie Shaedon Sharpe and the rest of the young players on their roster.

Lately, Sharpe has been playing significantly more minutes and handling way more responsibilities than at any other point this season. The 19-year-old still has a lot to learn, but he's making the most of this opportunity.

On Wednesday, the Blazers had just seven players available as they faced the Sacramento Kings, and Sharpe responded with his best game of the season. With a chance to carry the scoring load, Sharpe finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 threes while shooting 46.2% from three-point range in the losing effort.

"We take it personal," Sharpe said. "Us young dudes don't really get the playing time that we want, so when we get an opportunity, we go take it."

Over the last five games, Sharpe is averaging 23.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.6 threes, 3.2 assists and a steal, while shooting 45.7% from the field, 45.0% from three and 81.0% from the free-throw line. This stretch is huge for Sharpe's confidence, and it gives him something to build off of entering next season. 

"Just getting more comfortable (in the NBA) and getting used to the play style and how dudes like to play,” Sharpe said. “But I feel like it all comes down to film. We do a lot of film (study) behind the scenes, so I feel like it comes down to the film and knowing what guys like to do and how they like to play.”

On the season, Sharpe has appeared in 75 games and has averaged 8.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 threes and 0.9 assists on .474/.369/.707 shooting splits.

"He's seeing so many new things every single night,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said. “He's going to be fine. He learns things so quickly. We'll go over (things) and watch film and talk about what we need and, boom, right away he knows how to do it. He's doing good."

Billups pointed out that Sharpe needs to get better at passing and making reads, but he also acknowledged that those struggles are to be expected for a raw rookie who's still a teenager.

This hands-on experience is important for Sharpe, who attended the University of Kentucky but never suited up for the Wildcats. Sharpe was the No. 3 high-school recruit in the nation and the fact that he didn't play college basketball didn't scare off NBA teams, as the Blazers selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. 

“Shae has come in and it’s been a tough game for him to learn, you know? He never really even had a chance to learn the college game and then all of a sudden, boom, he’s thrust into learning the NBA game,” Billups told BasketballNews earlier this month. “It’s a lot. It’s a lot of things to study, a lot of things to watch, but he has taken that task very seriously. Now, he’s starting to understand what we want as a team and what his role is and what we need from him every single night. 

“He’s always going to have those ‘wow’ moments because that’s just the type of beautiful athlete that he is. But it’s the simple things that he’s really starting to pick up, and guys can start to gain more and more trust in having a young guy out there.”

As Billups alluded to, Sharpe has had plenty of ridiculous dunks throughout his rookie season. That’s one area where his lack of experience hasn’t limited him, as he’s already one of the NBA's best high-flyers.

While Sharpe is still a "blank canvas," as Billups puts it, this stretch has allowed him to showcase different aspects of his skill set. Given his upside and athleticism, it’s easy to see why the Blazers fell in love with him during the pre-draft process. He could be a special player if he realizes his full potential.

“He is up and down like a teenager usually is,” Billups added earlier this month. “He plays good sometimes, but sometimes he struggles with our coverages, our concepts and just staying locked in long enough. … That is something, if you’re a coach playing young players, that I have to live with. But for the most part, overall, I think Shaedon is coming along very nicely.”

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