How Deep Are the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers?

USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers added several new players in the summer of 2013. Could their new-found depth propel them farther than pundits predict?

Dave,

Everyone knows the Blazers accomplished their goal of getting deeper this summer.  I guess it would have been hard not to with last years bench.  But how deep are we really?  Would you say the new team is legit deep or just deeper than that worst in the league lineup last year?

Jarod

The Blazers improved in this vein, no doubt.  Mo Williams and Dorell Wright alone make Portland's bench more powerful than the Nolan Smith-Luke Babbitt version from last season.

Since the term in question is "depth", let's assume a couple things.

First, we're not talking about overall talent team-wide.  That distinction is important because depth alone doesn't guarantee wins.  The Heat don't field the deepest lineup in the league.  Doesn't matter.  Their overall talent makes them the champs.  For our purposes we're going to assume the Core Four from last year is set and mostly we're going to let other teams have a corresponding top four without direct comparison.  Depth will be defined by the 5-10 positions, in Portland's case Robin Lopez and the bench.

Second, let's assume a high ceiling for upward mobility...that the point of the depth is not to just get a little better but to make a leap into the playoffs, maybe a big leap.  As such, we'll compare Portland's depth to that of three presumed mid-range Western Conference playoff teams:  Golden State, Memphis, and Denver.  We could aim higher but, as we just said, depth alone doesn't get you there.  We could also shoot lower but then we wouldn't be exploring much.  We're assuming that Portland's new lineup puts them in the discussion with Minnesota, Dallas et al for the 7th-11th spots in the West.  Could depth be a significant enough factor to propel them higher?

To keep it interesting and conversational, let's propose a simple litmus test.  Would Portland's player in question be able to displace the corresponding player on those other rosters for playing time?  I'll give my thoughts and then we'll open it for debate.

Robin Lopez--Starting Center

G.S. Andrew Bogut MEM Marc Gasol  DEN JaVale McGee

Admittedly this is the hardest place for the comparison to start.  Lopez wouldn't be able to displace any of these three players from the starting lineup.  It's not guaranteed he could displace the reserve center for any of these three teams:  Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, and Jermaine O'Neal...though he's more in the range there, obviously.

But to be fair, Lopez should probably be compared against each team's 5th starter rather than each team's center.  Is Robin more valuable than Denver's Evan Fournier?  At this point, yes, if nothing else because Fournier has no track record behind him.  The case gets more difficult when you talk about Tony Allen in Memphis or Klay Thompson/David Lee in Golden State.  Cross comparisons like this are hard, but those guys are pretty solid.

Whether you're measuring by starting center or 5th starter, Lopez leaves the Blazers short of the other teams in most comparisons.

Mo Williams--Reserve Point Guard

G.S. Nemanja Nedovic MEM Jerryd Bayless  DEN Andre Miller

Things look better for the Blazers here.  Williams would displace Nedovic on a playoff-bound (as opposed to developmental) team.  He'd shove aside Bayless as a pure point guard as well.  Only Miller trumps him, but Miller is one of the best reserve guards in the league.

C.J. McCollum--Reserve Shooting Guard

G.S.  Toney Douglas MEM Mike Miller DEN Randy Foye

This one is tricky because McCollum is a rookie.  Douglas is short for the position but shoots threes well.   Miller goes the opposite way, a tall three-point shooting veteran.  Foye is in the middle.  If you're looking long-term there's little doubt you'd rather have McCollum than any of these players.  Douglas is the closest replacement.  But if you're asking whether you'd prefer McCollum in 2013 if number of wins was the only important goal the waters get muddier.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for this season, McCollum and Douglas or Foye is a wash.  You'd rather have Miller there because of his experience until C.J. shows something.  If McCollum excels he could move ahead of all these players.  If he struggles this year, you'd prefer the veterans.  Absent further data, the fairest thing is to call it even...a "maybe".

For partisans who will rise against that assessment, keep in mind that we're only considering this season. Naturally you'd rather have McCollum than those other players in the long run because he has more potential...at least until one of them proves different.

Dorrell Wright--Reserve Small Forward

G.S. Harrison Barnes MEM Quincy Pondexter  DEN Wilson Chandler

Here we see the same principle working in the other direction.  Harrison Barnes might be the most exciting name out of the four but he's also the youngest and the least productive.  Discounting future potential, you could make a solid argument for Wright displacing him in the rotation.  Pondexter and Chandler are more mixed, but Wright probably ends up just above the former and just below the latter, depending on what you're looking for.  In any case, he's in the mix.

Thomas Robinson--Reserve Power Forward

G.S. Mareeese Speights  MEM Ed Davis  DEN J.J. Hickson

Youth rears its ugly head again here.  Robinson doesn't have a track record and what he does have looks rough in every aspect save rebounding.  His rookie season is ranked near the bottom of all the seasons these four players have registered in their careers.  He could have potential but right now he'd be behind all three opponents on the depth chart.

Meyers Leonard--Reserve Center

G.S. Jermaine O'Neal  MEM Kosta Koufos DEN Timofey Mozgov

Of the three, only Mozgov is even debatable.  O'Neal and Koufos wouldn't feel a threat from Leonard.  Meyers is a better offensive player.  Mozgov is a better rebounder and defender.  It's a matter of what you're looking for.

Considering these six positions, you have one strong positive in Mo Williams, two maybes in Wright and McCollum, and three negatives in Lopez, Robinson, and Leonard.  The Blazers have a stronger purchase on the smaller positions than the bigs.    Overall, though, the significant teams in the Western Conference playoff hunt--those trying to claw their way up the same way Portland is, through numbers rather than already-established superstars--are still deeper than the Blazers.  The Blazers hope that McCollum, Robinson, and Leonard will close that gap in a couple years as they develop.  For now, though, "deeper than they were last year" is the more reasonable claim for this team over truly deep.  The Blazers don't have to bow their heads in shame but they're not that distinct either.

What say you?  Discuss Portland's depth, or lack thereof, in the comment section.  How significant do you think it will be?

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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