Six games into preseason I think the jury is mostly in and we have some verdicts:
1. Lillard is the real deal. He has much to learn, especially on defense, but I think that will come in time. It would simply be foolish to try to predict his eventual ceiling now. That ceiling may reach into the Rose Garden rafters someday. Watching his development will be the best part of this year for me.
2. Meyers Leonard is not ready to start. That was never in doubt, but it’s been confirmed for any fans that had unrealistic hopes. Like many rookie big men, he will be fighting foul trouble this year and trying to learn to play defense in the NBA.
3. Adam Morrison didn’t make the team. But could there be another Cinderella candidate still in the running? See below.
4. Stotts hasn’t figured it out yet, but Freeland thinks he is a center, and so do I. Listen to this interview to hear it from Freeland himself.
5. Stotts hasn’t figured it out yet, but JJ Hickson is not a center, and JJ always needs to be in the game whenever LA is on the bench. Yes, I believe Stotts will solve the “baffling” riddle of item 4 and item 5 by eventually starting Freeland at center and playing LA at center about 12 minutes or so each game, so Hickson can get all of his minutes at PF.
6. Although Babbitt has shown marginal improvement rebounding and playing defense against PF’s, he is unequivocally unable to guard SFs. His 3-pt shooting could be a nice weapon to have off the bench for 3-4 minute spells for a contending team, but there is no room for him at PF on this team behind LA, Hickson, Jeffries, and Freeland. Under no circumstances should his rookie contract be extended for next year.
7. Nolan Smith is not now, never was, and will never be an NBA PG. He is also too small and not a good enough shooter to be an NBA SG. Nolan Smith needs to be traded if a sucker can be found to take him. Otherwise, his rookie contract should not be extended for next year.
8. Pavlovic is a steady veteran player that can shoot the ball and not hurt the team.
9. Batum will probably get the backup SG minutes behind Matthews (while also starting at SF of course). That opens up a lot of minutes at backup SF for someone. If Batum plays 14 minutes at SG and 20 minutes at SF, that leaves another 28 minutes open at backup SF. Who gets those minutes? So far that seems inclusive. Right now it’s probably a committee of Pavlovic, Claver and even Jeffries. Barton would like some minutes too, either at SF or SG, but I think he will spend more game time on the court in Idaho than Portland.
The jury is still out on Coby Karl:
10. Coby Karl has earned yet another look on Thursday in Utah. He plays with the confidence and poise of a veteran and could be valuable if Ronnie Price is injured later this year. (Lillard will NOT get injured this year because … well, just because!) Karl could also play some backup SG leaving Batum free to play more SF minutes. So Karl deserves some more minutes in the final preseason game to see if he is the real Cinderella story this preseason.
If Olshey can unload Smith it would be easy to keep Karl. If not, then it becomes difficult to keep Karl. You have to weigh the much lower future value of Karl versus the potentially higher future value of Babbitt or Elliot Williams. Babbitt’s value to the Blazers is as a trading chip. If he has a good season (he will get some short stints off the bench eventually) then his trading value could rise to a low 1st round pick. Elliot William’s playing value could potentially be much higher, but how many guys play 24 games (averaging only 6 minutes a game) in 3 years and then successfully come back to a major role from a torn achilles when their primary talent was their athleticism?
But reality is not like a fantasy basketball league. It is really difficult to trade a Smith or Babbitt at this time of year, and I don't think they are going to be waived to keep Karl because they may have some trade value around the trade deadline in February. Olshey has said he won’t waive Williams, and while I think he could change his mind if a player with more long term potential became available, I don’t think he would or should waive Williams for Karl.
So that leaves Pavlovic. Pavlovic has more immediate value to a contending team than Smith or Babbitt. If the Blazers decide they want to keep Karl, perhaps also using him as backup SG (and therefore using Batum less at backup SG) as well as 3rd string PG, they may be able to find a contending team that would trade a 2nd round pick for Pavlovic. Right now I think that is the most likely way Karl would make the team.
So what happens to Coby Karl? Answer in the Poll and in the comments section.