The' summer acquisitions were not deemed "flashy" or "sexy" by fans or analysts. The team did not get any big-name players from this summer's free agent pool, but that doesn't mean they won't be effective.
In the back court, Blazers GM Neil Olshey effectively replaced PG Mo Williams with Steve Blake. Many fans expect Blake, who will enter his third stint with the team, to fill a role similar to what Mo Williams provided for the team last season. However, that is not necessarily true. The Blazer's Edge panel discusses how the back court rotation looks with the addition of Blake and how other young guards may be affected.
Timmay!: By default, I think that if Steve Blake hadn't joined the Blazers, then Mo Williams would have re-signed. So mentally, I'm focused on "would Barton or McCollum's minutes be different compared to if Mo stayed?".
Caveats: Blake injuries are always a fear, and of course Steve's level of play has dropped a bit as he ages. Barton or McCollum could simply pass him in the rotation, aka "pulling a ". But that's impossible to predict on September 1.
I think, much like last season, CJ McCollum and will have trouble increasing minutes without making a leap. If healthy, Steve Blake will likely take the majority of backup PG minutes previously owned by Mo Williams. That leaves 3rd string minutes, plus some backup SG. Barton and McCollum will likely battle throughout the season for minutes, and I wouldn't be surprised if the coaches use them as situational adjustments. But unless one or both of them make a leap, their overall expected minutes haven't changed from our May predictions.
Sam Tongue: Steve Blake went from averaging 33 minutes a night last season when he was a starter with the Lakers to 22 minutes upon being traded to Golden State. And his numbers plummeted along with the minutes: a drop of two assists per 36 minutes, five percentage points on his three point shot and his point totals essentially cut in half.
I still think the jury is out to a certain extent on whether Blake can be an effective bench player. I also know that they spent a 10th overall pick on C.J. McCollum just a season ago that couldn't crack the rotation in large part because the team was rolling by the time he was healed from an injury. This isn't to say that the team has a need to play him, but rather he has lottery-pick talent (albeit in a horrendously thin draft class).
All that said, I think the back court is only affected to the point where Blake can positively outplay both McCollum and Will Barton. Stotts will without question play the most effective guy, regardless of experience OR upside. I think that it's realistic for two of the three to get consistent playing time, but seeing the drops statistically once Blake took on a bench role in Golden State still makes me wonder whether he's an absolute lock to take playing time away from the two youngsters.
Chris Lucia: I expect Terry Stotts to start the season playing Steve Blake at least 20 minutes a game as one of the first subs off the bench, meaning Damian Lillard would play somewhere around 10-14 minutes a night off the ball. If Wesley Matthews starts and averages about 34 minutes a game like last season, that means the opportunities for Will Barton and CJ McCollum to get minutes at the shooting guard spot will again be fairly limited.
Leading up to the 2013-14 All-Star break, Stotts had given McCollum a much longer leash than Barton, playing him just over 15 minutes on average over 17 contests following his return from a preseason foot injury. Barton, while healthy, got into 16 of the Blazers' first 53 games and played under five minutes a night, according to NBA.com. In the team's final 29 games and into the playoffs, the roles seemed to switch as Barton often jumped McCollum in the rotation while Stotts praised his growth as a player in his post-season exit interview.
McCollum is probably the more balanced player of the two, ostensibly a better fit in Stotts' offense due in part to his better outside shooting and ability to score more efficiently than Barton without the ball always in his hands. I suspect we'll see McCollum ahead of Barton in the backcourt rotation early in the season, with Barton used more situationally as a "change-of-pace" wing off the bench.
Stotts does seem to have a lot of faith in the third-year, second-round pick out of Memphis, though, so Barton should have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in 2014-15. There are also a few minutes for him at the backup small forward spot if Dorell Wright struggles again next season, so by the end of the year, both Barton and McCollum could be seeing around 10 minutes a night. Heading into training camp, I would say McCollum has the inside track on playing time -- which is subject to change before the season starts at the end of October, for sure.
Ryan A. Chase: Blake provides a distinct change of pace over Mo Williams, which will greatly influence how CJ McCollum develops in his second season. Williams was a great shoot-first guard, providing needed scoring off of the bench. Blake is capable of scoring in bunches, but he is far more of a traditional pass-first guard. This means that McCollum will be counted on more as a shooter from outside the paint, while Chris Kaman handles the scoring down low for the second unit. McCollum's ability to shoot from just about anywhere in the gym will shine with Blake as his back court running mate.
The question that needs to be answered is where does Will Barton fit in? When Coach Stotts started trusting his younger players more at the end of last season, Barton was aggravatingly hot and cold. His 20 point, 11 rebound outing against Brooklyn last season showed his potential as a hyper-athletic rebounding guard with the ability to cut into the lane at will. Yet he had multiple games where he could not find a way to get near the basket, and was forced into awkward shots.
McCollum will benefit the most as the backup for Wesley Matthews, and Barton could definitely find a role in the offense as a high-energy booster, or when the team needs help crashing the boards and Thomas Robinson is in foul trouble. If both play to their potential, the Blazers will have their best bench of the LaMarcus Aldridge era, and that spells trouble for the rest of the Western Conference.
Scott Horlbeck: In 28 games last year with Golden State, Steve Blake averaged 22 minutes a night, which is surprising because anytime Stephen Curry came off the floor or moved off the ball to the 2, all I seem to recall is Jordan Crawford and me throwing things.
At 34 years of age, Blake has positioned himself nicely in this league as a reliable back-up point guard and what Jalen Rose likes to call a "Keep Gettin' Dem Checks" guy. In the 2014-2015 season, Blake will be "Gettin' Dem Checks" in Portland, and it will be interesting to see how this acquisition affects the minute allotment for CJ McCollum and Will Barton.
With Mo Williams departing for Minnesota, he leaves on the table roughly 25 minutes per game. He also leaves on the table the role of back-up point guard, which, most likely, will be battled out between Blake and McCollum.
Note: Barton averaged 9.4 minutes last season and I see a similar number this year. Looking back at his game log, his minutes are so sporadic that it's difficult to predict a significant increase in playing time. Of course, things can change and Barton could very well show up to camp and impress early, but I'm going to play the averages and say things stay fairly the same this year.
It's too easy to say that Blake will step in and assume all of Williams' minutes, and it's probably wrong too. Not only do the Blazers have 25 minutes to fill, they also have 9.4 points per game and 3.6 assists per game to make up (Williams' line). And with Blake's increased age and lack of offensive ability, there's a chance McCollum is in the perfect situation and is exactly what the Blazers are looking for.
Think about it:
1. McCollum had opportunity to watch and learn during his rookie season rather than being tossed into the fire and potentially developing bad habits.
2. The Blazers need a guard off the bench to come in and score and make things happen.
Chad Ford's Draft Profile [ESPN Insider] on McCollum:
- Electric scoring guard
- Quick first step
- Excels in transition
- Solid shooter with range on his jumper
- Excellent rebounder for a guard
- Picks up a lot of steals
- Very efficient
3. The first-to-second year jump is often the most significant level of improvement in a young player's career. McCollum is entering his second season.
So to wrap up -- it's hard to say how exactly the minutes will be distributed between Blake, McCollum, and Barton, but what I will say is that CJ McCollum is in a great situation, one that any young player would kill for, and now has the opportunity to live up to his billing and show Blazer fans why he was taken number 10 overall back in 2013.
Evans Clinchy: While I've personally never been a huge fan of Blake's game, I suspect he was brought back to Rip City to fill the Blazers' third guard role that was vacated this summer by Mo Williams. Despite the flaws in Blake's game (and there are several significant ones), his return to Portland sort of makes sense, according to NBA conventional wisdom. The Blazers are in "win now" mode, and the thinking is that a 34-year-old known commodity makes for a better fit than a couple of untested youngsters. To an extent, I get that.
My prediction is that, at least to start the season, Terry Stotts will go with a rotation similar to the one he used last year - Blake will fill the Williams role and play 25 minutes a night, while Barton and McCollum pick up table scraps to the tune of 10 or 15 each. That might not last, though. Opposing Western Conference teams might expose Blake's weaknesses as the season goes on - he turns the ball over, he can be forced into inefficient midrange jumpers, and he's too slow to guard anyone in a conference dominated by flashy young guards. Over the course of the season, you may see the young guys begin to compete for a few more minutes.
Which young guy sneaks into the mix first? Smart money's on Barton, if you ask me. He's a year older, and it shows. The scoring numbers aren't there, but that's OK when you're playing next to Damian Lillard or Wesley Matthews. Barton brings other things to the table - he's a better passer at this stage than McCollum, and a better rebounder for his position to boot. On a team that's fighting for a seat at the table with the West's elites, having a command of those fundamentals will be a major factor.
Willy Raedy: Say what you want about individual players, it's all about combinations on the court. Last year, lineups with both Mo Williams and Damian Lillard posted a defensive rating of 107.7, two shameful decimal points worse than the 76ers. Put me down as skeptical that the 34 year old Blake will improve that significantly. If Stotts is as focused on defense as he claims, he'll be looking for a true SG to hold the fort when Wesley sits.
Whether Stotts finds that SG in Barton or CJ remains to be seen, but the bar has not been set very high. If I had to guess, I'd put my money on the youngsters. One of them will earn Wesley's back-up minutes relegating the two-point guard lineup to a change of pace strategy rather than a key part of the rotation. Which youngster is a conversation for another day.
No matter what, it will be an interesting training camp.
Sagar Trika: At this point in time, it's nearly impossible to predict how the minutes Williams left will be distributed.
I am positive the Blake will not claim Williams' 25 minutes in the rotation. Blake's age and his lack of scoring will keep him away from the full 25 minutes. Because of the extra minutes in the rotation and the need for more scoring off the bench this year, I believe McCollum will earn a boost in playing time.
Blake was brought in to primarily be a facilitator for the second unit, not a scorer. Scoring is one of McCollum's strong suits, and the role he will be needed to fill this season will be ideal for him.
Barton, however, is tricky. His aggressive, occasionally reckless style of play is not found in the league that much (in other words, he pushes the ball up the floor very fast and often dangerously, something that is not very common). One would think that because he can fill the stat sheet up so quickly, he would get a spot in the rotation. However, he is very inconsistent, which likely contributed to his lack of playing time early last season.
Because of the inconsistency, I don't think Barton will get a major increase in playing time. He may get an extra minute or two in garbage time, but he likely won't be playing very meaningful minutes this season.
What do you think? Weigh in the comments below.