Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan provided some insight on Monday into one of the remaining depth chart battles: backup point guard. During scrimmages this week, McMillan has allowed both second-year guard Armon Johnson and 2011 first round pick Nolan Smith to head up a 5-man unit.
"Both guys are running teams and we're just taking a look at them and allowing them to play," McMillan said. "We'll do the same thing in the preseason games and get a backup."
While praising the aggressiveness and work ethic of both Johnson and Smith, McMillan detoured without much prodding into a thinking-out-loud questioning of Johnson's ability to run a team.
"I think he's more of an off guard," McMillan said. "He's score-first, that's his mindset. Setting up the team, that's something that -- it may or may not come. So really you try to play him off the ball and allow the ball to be reversed to him. And let him do what I think he does best."
Compared to the careful treatment that McMillan gave to a score-first point guard like Jerryd Bayless, this was a curious public revelation: Running a team "may or may not come" for Johnson.
Like Bayless, who was traded to the New Orleans Hornets last season and is now a member of the Toronto Raptors, Johnson was a Las Vegas Summer League standout. He began the 2010-2011 season well but saw his role diminish as the season progressed. He finished with averages of 2.9 points and 1.2 assists on 45.5 percent shooting in 38 appearances.
McMillan said he was reserving the right to wait to make a decision on who comes off the bench first behind starter Raymond Felton until the team plays its season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 26.
It's unclear whether there would be greater or fewer available minutes for Johnson at the two spot. On Saturday, McMillan said that he believes both Smith and second-year guard Elliot Williams are capable of defending both guard positions. Portland's brass is particularly high on Williams, who has been drawing oohs and aahs over the last two weeks with his leaping ability and overall athleticism, and a team source said on Monday that the Blazers might still add another two guard in free agency.
"He's not where he wants to be," McMillan said, while watching Felton shoot post-practice jumpers with a group of veterans. "He's always -- from what I've heard -- worked himself into shape. He's working hard. I don't see any effect with where he's at right now. He'll get down and be able to play the way he wants to play."
Portland's coach has regularly praised Felton's game since the start of camp, particularly his ball-distribution abilities.
"He does a good job of making reads and seeing the floor," McMillan said again on Monday. "Getting the ball to guys when they're open."
Other roster note: McMillan continues to refer to Gerald Wallace as the team's starting small forward with forward Nicolas Batum as the sixth man, although LaMarcus Aldridge's absence following a heart procedure has kept them both in the "starting unit" during camp.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter