Here's the next installment of our Taking Stock series, accounting for the talent under the Blazers umbrella with an eye towards summer acquisitions and future plans. We've covered the Core Four already: LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews. You can find those lively discussions by clicking each name.
Today we venture into the murky waters of the Blazers bench, taking a look at two players who came on late in the season, Eric Maynor and Will Barton.
Eric Maynor's story is well-chronicled. Drafted by the Utah Jazz in the middle of the first round in 2009, he rode the rookie roller coaster of highs and lows. He got traded to the Oklahoma City thunder after a promising start to his sophomore season, struggled, got injured, lost his back-up role, struggled some more, then moved to Portland in a mid-season trade this year. The Blazers gave him the biggest role and most minutes he's had in the league and he responded with a bounce-back to the vicinity of his pre-injury production. He didn't post career-high numbers in Portland but he showed more in 27 games here than he had in the prior three years.
Three-point shooting and assists were the backbone of Maynor's game for the Blazers. His 38% clip beyond the arc outshone his 35.4% career average. His 42.2% overall field goal percentage improved upon his 40% career average as well. As a result his true shooting percentage rose to .508, a high water mark. Passing has always been a hallmark of Maynor's game but his ability to set up teammates was a godsend after a parade of reserve point guards who weren't able to do much more than score...if that. Maynor provided critical relief for Damian Lillard, not only spelling him for rest but handling the ball while Lillard set up away from pressure. A second dribbler on the court provided welcome relief as games wound down, defenses locked on, and Lillard tired.
Even Maynor's comparatively good performances raised question marks, however. Chief among these was defense. He's never been a strong defender but he quickly and consistently showed himself as one of Portland's worst...and this year that's saying something. He's not enough of an offensive power to compensate for leaky "D". When he's not churning out multiple assists he becomes, at best, a temporary place-keeper.
Even though Maynor shot jumpers fairly well this year he's still not that great. Jumpers comprise 87% of his shots. He's successful when he drives but he just doesn't do it that much. Even when he's going strong he doesn't pressure the defense off the dribble or draw fouls. If, over time, Maynor's shooting percentages will revert to the abysmal OKC levels he becomes a serious risk.
On the other hand the guy is 25, knows his way around the floor, and will probably come cheap. The Blazers' ability to retain him may depend on the level of contract he's willing to accept and the timing of the offer. They'll want to avoid committing extra space to a cap hold so they'll want to sign him instantly for a negligible amount or release him and pick him up after all other signings are complete with the dregs of their cap room or their room exception.
For Portland's part, they could probably find a comparable reserve guard for nearly the same money but the guy will be old, young, flawed, or lack ceiling space. Maynor is flawed but he fits otherwise. The Blazers probably won't bend over backwards to keep him but there's nothing wrong with retaining him at the right price either.
On Maynor's end he's already earned more playing time and responsibility in Portland than he has anywhere else in his career. And this was in a season where the guy ahead of him played more minutes than anybody in the league. One would guess that his opportunities in Portland will remain level at worst and will probably get bigger. It's doubtful anybody else will offer him more than the couple million the Blazers will advance. He'd be well-served to sign a short-term, low-level contract and build up credibility with the extra floor time he'll see with the Blazers.
The best thing about Will Barton's performance in his rookie season is that he grew from completely clueless to a mostly-functional part of the offense over the course of 73 games. Nobody could possibly forget the "Will B. Krazy" offense during the first dozen games of his career. Barton would check in...nothing...nothing...wait for it...SEVEN STRAIGHT POSSESSIONS OF BANZAI DRIBBLE DRIVES FOLLOWED BY LOOP-TWIST FINISHES OR IMPROBABLE FADE-AWAYS!!! He'd hit, like, two of those shots and miss five before Coach Terry Stotts gave him the hook, shaking his head, half-amused and half-frustrated. As the early season wore on and the pattern didn't change the amusement faded and the frustration manifested itself in fewer opportunities for Barton. Will returned a changed man, timing his opportunities, keeping position instead of diving for every rebound, actually passing the ball every once in a while. Improved play and Portland's faltering playoff chances opened up more minutes for Barton and by the end of the season he drew significant rotation minutes, performing credibly...all things considered.
Barton's athleticism remained the unchanging constant to all of these performances, sane and otherwise. His lift-off power is improbable, his finishes at the rim already legendary. Rumor has it the bottom of his sneakers read, "If you can read this, you are about to get embarrassed." You cannot see him throw down a shoulder-cocked hammer dunk without dreaming of a bright and intimidating future. A few rebounds, a few assists, a little ball-handling ability...this could work.
A few things will need to happen if that dream is to become reality. First and foremost, Barton needs a jumper. His sub-14% clip from the three-point arc won't wash in an offense that values threes from the wings. Barton drives far more than his teammates. Only 65% of his attempts come from distance. But his effective field goal percentage on those jumpers sits under 35%. That's bad. So is Barton's 38% overall clip from the field. Offense will be his calling card if he succeeds in this league. You could build the Taj Mahal in the statistical distance between his offense and "acceptable" right now. That's a concern no matter how high he gets on his dunks.
Finding a position may also be an interesting journey for Barton. He's probably best suited for the small forward role but he's a little short and a lot slight to defend there. Shooting guard would be a physical fit but his stats at that position put him among the worst guards in the league. Barton showed small, small flashes of passing and dribbling ability near the end of the season that might make you think he could become a converted point/attack guard, provided he had other dribblers and passers on the floor with him as part of an interchangeable lineup. He'd be a super-intimidating physical specimen there but his Basketball IQ would need to grow exponentially and he'd need serious help defensively. It's not impossible to envision him in a big lineup with, say, Nicolas Batum and a Tyreke Evans-type...no true point but three players who can handle a little and pass. But right now it's all "coulds" and "maybes", sadly followed by "probably nots", no matter what the position. Optimists would say he's full of multi-position potential. Pessimists would point out that he hasn't even shown he can play any position yet.
Nevertheless, Barton has shown more than enough to be a keeper on this currently-thin roster. He might have shown enough to make you think he could be special someday. The litmus test for him will be what he looks like in the first weeks of training camp and the season. If he reverts to his early first season form you start drawing question marks all over his trading card. He's not going to make it in this league coasting on athletic capability alone, nor will the hopefully-improving Blazers be able to live with him learning on the fly. But if Barton shows up next fall with a shiny new jumper and a more chiseled (dare we hope, slightly bigger?) body you might suspect that he has the kind of dedication to turn that raw talent into actual NBA production. Then you start to get a little excited about what he'll be able to do with another season or two under his belt.
What do you foresee from Maynor and Barton? Will either be a significant force on next year's squad? If so, what conditions will have to be met? Weigh in below.
Next Up: A couple of forwards come up for review.