June 29, 2022

TUALATIN — The Portland Trail Blazers held their fifth day of practice before the draft on Friday, with LSU forward Tari Eason headlining among six prospects who made their way to the team’s practice facility.

Eason is a wildcard in this process given that most fictional drafts predict he will be taken long after the Blazers are selected at No. 7 in the June 23 NBA Draft. The expected range for Eason is from No. 11 to teenagers.

In fact, Eason, who is 6-foot-8, said Friday he has practiced with several other teams before. These teams give an indication of 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).

Dummy drafts are largely educated guesses and not surefire predictions of what’s to come. But chances are the Blazers wouldn’t have worked out with Eason if they hadn’t considered taking him to No. 7, or maybe trading him.

As for Eason, he said he didn’t pay much attention to predictions about his place in the draft.

“I don’t really have a preference or really look at that stuff,” he said. “I’m not really caught up in it. I just control the things I can control.

So how would Eason fit in with the Blazers?

First and foremost, Eason is already considered a strong defender by most reviewers. He can defend multiple positions as he is long enough to face attackers and athletic enough to stay in front of most guards.

The odds of the Blazers selecting a player with no defensive potential seem slim given coach Chauncey Billups is desperate 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 makes him take defensive play seriously.

It seems simple enough. But often those guidelines have felt optional for some Blazers over the past few years.

LSU forward Tari Eason worked for the Portland Trail Blazers. June 10, 2022.

Offensively, Eason averaged 16.9 points on 52.1% shooting while 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.

This all sounds like a player who should definitely be selected in the top 10. However, Eason has only started four of 33 games for LSU after being traded there after his first season in Cincinnati.

Areas for improvement include the ability to go to his left hand, ball security and shot consistency.

Eason has strong Northwestern roots.

He grew up in Seattle and spent his freshman and sophomore years at Garfield High School, playing for former 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.

“Anytime you can learn from a former All-Star professional like that, it’s special,” Eason said.

Eason praised the Pacific Northwest and the potential to return to play with the Blazers.

“My high school coach played here,” he said. “I have been here several times for AAU tournaments. I have family in this neighborhood, friends. The community around here is really special. I went to high school in the North West, so I have roots here. It would be special to come back.

Eason said he would love to play under current Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard, whom the former Tigers star called a legend. As a bonus, Eason’s landing in Portland would reunite him with former Tigers teammate and Blazers forward Trendon Watford.

“He’s been like a big brother to me since I came to LSU,” Eason said. “He was here to talk to me on the sidelines. So coming back here would be really amazing.

Asked for inside information about Watford that Blazers fans might not know, Eason couldn’t find anything else to say that Watford are a great guy.

“I don’t have any dirt,” Eason said with a smile. “He’s such a nice guy. He’s a lot more caring than you might think.

The Blazers have now crafted five projected first-round picks: Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, Memphis center/forward Jalen Duren, G League Ignite Dyson Daniels, Duke forward AJ Griffin and Eason.

Colorado forward Evan Battey, Wichita State goaltender Tyson Etienne, Harvard goalie Noah Kirkwood, Louisiana Tech forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Arkansas goaltender JD Notae were also in attendance for the practice on Friday, but are not expected to be first-round picks.

The Blazers have two second-round picks, at No. 36 and No. 51.

— Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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