After witnessing the Portland Trail Blazers (33-49) season unravel faster than the ribbon protecting the most gargantuan present under the tree from an impatient child, it’s time to look to the future.
No matter how utterly horrendous your favorite NBA team is, every fan has the luxury of looking forward to the NBA draft and free agency. While some are calling this year’s draft the worst since the year 2000 when Kenyon Martin broke his leg into being selected number one overall, there is always a diamond in the rough (former all star Michael Redd was taken 43rd in that same draft). In the Blazer’s case, free agency might be more beneficial considering their more pressing need for proven commodities than potential.
The Blazers’ starting guards and forward situations are almost certainly set, but the rest of the spots in next year’s rotation are seemingly up for grabs. The formula for the Blazers woes this season was: NO Bench + No Defense + No Rebounding = No Playoffs. The Blazers not only had the worst scoring bench in the NBA by an astounding eight points, but also averaged 15 fewer bench points than their opponents PER GAME!!
Not to mention, the Blazers were the fourth least efficient defensive team in the NBA last season thanks to no shot blocking presence (unless you count Batum on the fast break) or elite defender on the roster. Finally, they ranked 20th in the NBA in team rebounding rate. Suffice it to say; although the blazers have a talented core, they lack the role players to establish a consistent winner. Thanks to the NBA draft and free agency, these holes can be filled before next season. But can anyone on the current roster quell Portland’s deficiencies?
Meyers Leonard showed a lot of improvement this season, showing not only dunking ability and rebounding potential, but a feathery jumper, which could develop into a serious weapon with a summer spent in the gym. Also, Eric Maynor proved to be a useful acquisition and would be an above average back up point guard if General Manager Neil Olshey opts to keep him. Although Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland were largely ineffective cogs on the worst bench in the NBA this season, they will also have a chance to earn minutes next year. Still, the Blazers seriously need a deeper talent pool in order to establish some semblance of a respectable bench.
Considering the difficulty rookie’s typically face making a significant impact on the defensive end, the Blazers should sign defensive specialists in Free Agency. Lamarcus Aldridge cannot be the biggest player in the Blazers’ starting five for them to succeed defensively. Thus, it would be wise for Olshey to sign a true center. Although no center available is ideal in this free agent class, a few players could strengthen Portland’s frontline.
Upcoming free agent Samuel Dalembert would compliment Aldridge’s scoring prowess with defense, shot blocking and rebounding. Dalembert didn’t receive as much playing time as he is used to due to the emergence of young bigs Larry Sanders and John Henson, but was able to average 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in under 17 minutes of action a night.
San Antonio Spur, Tiago Splitter could also be a serviceable big for the Blazers. He wouldn’t block a ton of shots, but his adept mobility, rebounding and touch around the basket would be useful. Atlanta Hawks big man Zaza Pachula could provide similar skills as Splitter, although he tore his ACL earlier this month.
If perimeter defense were the sole determinant of skill in the NBA, Memphis wing Tony Allen would be Lebron James. Allen has been the best perimeter defender in the NBA for a few years now. Not only does he shut down opponents individually, but he is also excellent at rotating defensively and causing havoc off the ball. One Grizzlies lineup with Allen at shooting guard ranked the number one defensive lineup in terms of points allowed per possession in the Association. It will be interesting to see how much money it will take to sign him considering perimeter defensive specialists rarely attract big contracts. If the Blazers can’t get Allen, Denver forward Corey Brewer would also certainly bolster the Blazers’ defense.
In the draft however, they should look for bench scoring.
Although nothing is certain until the Ping Pong balls unscrupulously make their decision in the draft lottery on May 21, the Blazers will most likely pick somewhere between ninth and 12th. I will go into more detail about whom the Blazers should select after the draft lottery, but for now, I will provide some calculated but vague generalities based on pure speculation.
Big men will likely dominate this section of the draft and the Blazers could use another big considering JJ Hickson’s possible departure. Two of the best scorers in college basketball, Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk could both be available at the time the Blazers are on the clock. Both would provide scoring off the bench, although both would almost certainly be a liability defensive liability.
Another guard with upside who can score off the bench could be useful as well. If UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad slips to the latter portion of the lottery, he would be a good value pick for the Blazers. Muhammed is a versatile scorer who plays with a lot of tenacity and toughness. Lehigh guard CJ McCollum missed most of his senior season after injuring his foot in January, but their is a lot to like about the guard. Look no further than the tape of Lehigh’s upset victory over 2 seed Duke in 2012 to find the evidence. The guy can shoot the lights out of the gym, not only in spot up opportunities, but he made an impressive 49% of his shots off the dribble. Still, he is a bit of a tweener who plays like a shooting guard but has the size of a point guard at only 6-3. He may have trouble stopping NBA shooting guards but he could potentially be a quality scorer at the NBA level.
If somehow the unthinkable happens and the Blazers land a top three selection, they would go for the two most likely players in the draft to reach an All Star game, shooting guard Ben Mclemore and center Nerlens Noel. Luckily, both players play the top two weakest positions in the Blazers’ starting lineup. Mclemore was not only a human highlight reel, but also a three-point marksman for the Kansas Jayhawks. Noel may not have lived up to his predecessor Anthony Davis offensively, but before he tore his ACL, he averaged more than four blocks per game. Once he is healthy, he will immediately make penetrators think twice before going at the rim. Still, he will miss part of his rookie season rehabbing his torn ACL.
The Blazers also possess two second round picks. It is almost impossible to predict which second rounders will make an impact in the NBA, but I have a few I like. I think former UNC wing Reggie Bullock could be a solid knockdown shooter and tough perimeter defender in the NBA. UCLA forward Kyle Anderson could be a rich mans Luke Walton who does a little bit of everything relatively well and North Texas forward Tony Mitchell could be a good defender and rebounder at the NBA level.
So many variables are in play that consequently, I have no idea what is going to happen this summer. Let’s hope this off-season turns out to be more like the years we drafted Clyde Drexler or Terry Porter and completely opposite to the years we traded Moses Malone, drafted Martell Webster instead of Chris Paul or drafted the two centers who must not be named ahead of Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant. But first, the draft lottery awaits.