The Search for the 17th Man

Rod Benson aka Boomtho at 2009 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (Ben Golliver / Blazersedge)

On Tuesday night, after the extent of Joel Przybilla's knee injury became known, I wrote...

Given that Przybilla is the fifth rotation player expected to miss significant portions of the season (joining Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw, Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez), the Blazers could potentially apply for another hardship exemption to temporarily fill out their roster, which currently stands at 10 healthy players, including Pendergraph.   

Last night the news came down from Tom Penn via Geoffrey C. Arnold of The Oregonian, who wrote...

 Tom Penn, vice president of basketball operations, said Portland will seek a hardship exemption from the NBA to sign another player, but must wait until Przybilla has missed three games. 

(Oregonlive's Sean Meagher also noted that Larry Miller made a similar announcement before last night's game.)

Checking the schedule, Przybilla will not miss his third game until Monday, December 28th against the Philadelphia 76ers.  At that point, the Blazers can apply to the league for the hardship exemption and will almost surely be approved given the previous approval and the general circumstances.  Portland: where hardship happens.

So, by as early as the middle of next week, the Blazers could temporarily welcome a 17th player to their roster on a non-guaranteed contract, similar to the one already handed out to power forward Anthony Tolliver, who is not related to me but thanks for asking.  Tolliver played for the Idaho Stampede of the D-League.

So who is the 17th man going to be?  Surely a center, right?  The Blazers have 16 players on their roster with zero healthy centers.

Kevin Pelton writes...

The D-League is short on 7-footers. Rod Benson, Dwayne Jones, Rob Kurz or former Blazer Shavlik Randolph are potential options, but none figures to be an upgrade on what Portland already has on the roster; their primary contribution would be depth.

Likewise, a trade could be difficult for the Blazers, who would not want to commit to anyone beyond this season, do not want to overpay and would have a tough time dealing one of their few healthy players. Surely, Portland's general manager Kevin Pritchard will work the phones, but finding the right fit will be a challenge. 

Pelton assesses the potential contributions of some of the available players in yesterday's Wingcast. Long story short: Jeff Pendergraph is a better option than all of them.

For the definitive, thorough list of potential center prospects from the NBA Developmental League, we turn to D-League guru Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside.com.

Schroeder recently predicted the Anthony Tolliver call-up just 3 days before it happened.  He writes...

I've picked out eight possible candidates.  I know it seems that's probably too many, but, looking at everything, they all bring certain strengths and weaknesses.  Just so we know what we're working with, the Blazers would seemingly be looking for a big, solid defender who can rebound and occasionally get a couple putback dunks.  They don't need an offensive powerhouse, they just need someone who can come in, know his role and play like a throwback big man.    

His list of 8 candidates includes 3 of the names mentioned by Pelton above.  The two names that seem to generate the most call-up buzz recently are...

Rod Benson (6'11", 235 - 15.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.2 spg, 2.1 bpg, 53% FG) - It's a movement.  He gets buckets, boards and blocks.  Benson's game is pretty polished at this point, actually.  His low post moves are a bit limited, typically ending in either a sweeping hook shot or a little face-up, then sweep to the bucket he sometimes falls in love with.  He's recently been working on a Tim Duncan jumper, but hasn't quite perfected it. Defensively, his length and athleticism means he rarely gets beat by his man, but still, he's not the best defender in the D-League - gambles a bit too often (though with the 2.2 steals/game, it sometimes pays off.  There aren't really many holes in his game, and he's all but quit blogging, so I'm not quite sure what's holding him back.

You must watch this youtube video that Benson recently put out.  Hilarious.  Off the court, Benson -- pictured above before a game at the 2009 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas -- approximates Channing Frye after a six pack of Red Bull and 2 pixie sticks. 

The other hot name for a call-up recently has been...

Dwayne Jones (6'11", 250 - 17.8 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 64% FG) - First, those numbers are outstanding, but I have to put them in persperctive - he's been matched-up with Kevin Pittsnogle in five of his 11 games.  Take those games out and he's still averaging a beastly 14.9 points and 11.7 rebounds, but they seem a bit more NBA-transferable. Offensively, he's not able to do much in the low block - a spin move when he's not double-teamed and a little reverse lay-up seems to be the only thing he's willing to look for when he gets fed the ball down low.  However, he's great in the pick-n-roll, but I think that's more due to his being extremely lengthy than anything he does offensively.  Rebounding is his game - I'm willing to say he scores more off of offensive putbacks than he does with his back to the basket.  Defensively, he's good in the post, but I don't think he's quick enough to make a living on it in the NBA - teams can kill him in the pick-n-roll or with any big that draws him just a little bit away from the basket.  For what it's worth, he was drafted by the Cavaliers out of St. Joseph's and has played in 80 career NBA games. 

Do yourself the favor of giving Schroeder's list a full read.  I guarantee you'll learn something.

A quick survey of Synergy's reports (courtesy of the Invisible Ninja) for Benson and Jones from this year's D-league games reveal the following...

  • Benson rates as a "very good" (77th percentile) offensive player and a "very good" defensive player (75th percentile). Benson rates "excellent" (100th percentile) for post up defense.
  • Jones rates as an "excellent" offensive player (96th percentile) and an "average" defensive player (40th percentile).  Jones enjoys success in many different offensive situations: He's "very good" (78th percentile) on putbacks, "good" (64th percentile) in postups and "very good" (71st percentile) off cuts.  

It's also worth mentioning that the Blazers don't have to fill their hole at center via hardship exemption.  They could also swing a deal for a center.  That would require trading at least one player out, however.  The most likely names there would be the old reliables: Andre Miller or Steve Blake.  At 19-12 despite all the injuries, it's difficult to see the Blazers moving one of those guys in the short term.  They could also waive a player to create a roster spot.  Teflon point guard Patty Mills would be the most likely candidate here but he's made it this far.  There's no reason to believe the Blazers would turn him loose now, given that he is set to return to action within the next month. 

In using a hardship exemption on Tolliver, a player with limited NBA experience on a non-guaranteed deal, the Blazers filled a roster hole in essentially the cheapest way possible.  Odds are they will likely do the same thing here too. 

-- Ben Golliver | (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com) | Twitter

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