Blazersedge Mailbag: Which New Guys Make the Most Impact?

Dave,

There's been tons of Blazers turnover this summer. I know you're not really high on most of the incoming players, but who's going to make the most impact of all the new and/or young guys off the bench? Obviously Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard are the best candidates, but besides them?

--Brick

I'm not high on the incoming group as a unit. Compared to most benches in the NBA, Portland's is under-talented, less experienced, just not as good top to bottom. Individuals will shine through, though. Almost all of these guys have marketable skills. It's just a matter of developing enough game and savvy to be able to showcase them.

Though taking this year's first-round out of consideration, you've left the field wide open by asking about "new and/or young players". We need to divide the set to get a good answer.

New or new-ish veteran players include J.J. Hickson, Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavlovic, and Ronnie Price. Of those four Hickson has the most scoring ability by a mile. He's playing at a crowded power forward position but the near-vacant center slot opens up spare big man minutes. He'll likely get the initial chance to impress.

But don't kid yourselves. All four of these guys will get opportunities because the players around them will fumble away minutes with experience-related mistakes alone. Sooner or later Coach Stotts will rely on every one of them. Price has the most natural opportunity, backing up a rookie point guard. But Pavlovic's minutes just opened up with the Elliot Williams injury. But I'm going to fall back on a Jared Jeffries trademark. He's always the guy you don't think will get playing time and yet always the guy that your team can't seem to do without. His combination of smarts and defense could give him the biggest season-long impact of the four. Hickson will be flashier but Jeffries will be right up there.

The new or new-to-playing youngsters include Nolan Smith, Victor Claver, Luke Babbitt, Will Barton, and Joel Freeland. The instinctive answer here is Smith, as he's played before, is looking for a promotion, and is also a beneficiary of Williams' injury. But Smith is competing with veterans at either guard position. He'll get a look but if he doesn't seize it I'm not sure his development will take high enough priority to earn him a decent rotation spot. The middle-position players are all lacking in one way or another. Babbitt lacks dimension, Claver may lack a game at all, and Barton is thin as a rail and probably not ready for the daily rigors of the NBA. Freeland stands out as the most experienced, perhaps most talented, and the guy with the most available minutes in front of him, presuming he can eke out a few at center (where the Blazers will certainly have to play him). If Smith is ready to become a hard-nosed, aggressive scoring combo guard the opportunity is open, but the obvious choice for immediate impact is Freeland.

What say you, dear readers? Comment below.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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