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The Blazers Should Consider Jameer Nelson

The Blazers -- likely in need of an upgrade at the backup point guard position next season after Steve Blake began showing his age last year -- should consider throwing a reasonable offer at Jameer Nelson, who is expected to opt-out of his deal this offseason with the Nuggets.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers face some uncertainty this summer as All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and fellow starters Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez test unrestricted free agency. After team and player options, non-guaranteed contracts and qualifying offers are taken into account, only Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum are currently guaranteed a paycheck next season signed by Blazers owner Paul Allen.

Though the starting lineup could see up to three new members next fall -- possibly four, depending on how much you think Portland GM Neil Olshey is dangling Batum as trade-bait -- the Blazers' bench rotation also finds itself in a state of flux.

With Leonard and McCollum ostensibly entrenched in their roles off the pine for the foreseeable future as legitimate role players and scorers in the frontcourt and backcourt, respectively, the team's biggest needs on the bench call for a floor-spacing wing or two, maybe a stretch-four and another backup point guard.

Last week we discussed a handful of affordable "3-and-D" wings Olshey could potentially add to the mix to heighten the overall talent level of the Blazers' reserve unit. Realistically, though, Portland could fill this spot by retaining any combination of Allen Crabbe, Dorell Wright, Arron Afflalo or Alonzo Gee. The No. 23 pick this summer could also be used to find a useful wing player for the bench.

Chris Kaman and Joel Freeland could also be brought back at a decent price, shoring up the backup big rotation with players who've already been in coach Terry Stotts' system. Wright also impressed at times this season with his ability to play power forward when the Blazers opted to go small, and Leonard is the ultimate frontcourt floor-stretching machine. With potentially limited roster spots available, bringing in another big may not be at the top of the list for Portland's front office this offseason.

Look behind Lillard at the point guard position, however, and the need for a steady, serviceable backup becomes more clear. Steve Blake, who turned 35 this past year, was brought in last summer with the Blazers' Bi-Annual Exception on a contract that will earn him just over $2 million this year.

Blake started off the 2014-15 season playing relatively heavy minutes, and went into the All-Star break averaging 20.7 minutes per game. Following the All-Star festivities, Blake improved his three-point shooting to 40 percent for the remainder of the year but only contributed 15.3 minutes a night and was clearly passing up open looks on a regular basis. Through five playoff games, Stotts limited the former Maryland Terrapin's minutes to 8.5 per contest as he connected on just 12.5 percent of his threes and 18.2 percent of his overall field goals.

Unless you're impressed enough by Tim Frazier's 68 minutes in Portland's backcourt last season to crown him Lillard's backup heading into the fall, you probably can see that Stotts could use an upgrade off the bench in the form of another ballhandler.

Realistically, the Blazers should only need about 15-20 minutes a night out of their backup point guard, who would be mostly playing alongside McCollum and occasionally next to Lillard when Stotts' needs his two-time All-Star point guard playing off the ball. Blake may be able to bounce back from his postseason fizzle in 2015, but heading into year No. 14, time is not on his side and he could very conceivably see his output continue to slide for the fourth straight season.

Portland's front office needs to strongly consider bolstering its backup point guard rotation with an affordable, heady player who won't make too many mistakes, can manage the offense and step aside when Leonard and McCollum are spearheading the bench's offense and take (and make) the occasional open shot.

Why not consider bringing Jameer Nelson on board?

Nelson, 33, was rumored last week to be opting out of his 2015-16 salary of about $2.8 million with the Nuggets, making him an unrestricted free agent in July.

The 11-year veteran point guard began last season starting for the Mavericks, helping pilot them to an NBA-leading Offensive Rating of 113.6 before he was traded in mid-December to the Celtics. Six games in Boston proved to be a disaster for Nelson, but he was shipped to Denver within weeks and ended the season hitting 35.4 percent of his threes with the Nuggets in 20.6 minutes a night, also hauling in 3.7 assists

At Nelson's age, it could be reasonably inferred that he's on the downside of his career. Still, at the start of last season, he was at the helm of the league's most efficient offense in Dallas and ended the year playing a solid backup role in Denver. Take a look at that Mavericks offense, which is headed by Stotts' former boss, Rick Carlisle. Nelson was able to flourish in Dallas' system, which runs parallel to that of the Blazers in many ways -- ball movement initiates open shots, often on the perimeter.

Nelson was able to set up jumpshooting power forward Dirk Nowitzki (sound familiar?) and, maybe more importantly, effectively play with a ball-dominant wing like Monta Ellis. With Lillard and McCollum's preference for operating with the ball in their hands, Portland's front office should strongly consider Nelson's history alongside Ellis as a solid indicator that he won't disrupt the Blazers' style of play and, in fact, see that his strengths could be a great fit in Stotts' offensive scheme.

Only the Mavericks and Celtics tried more open shots -- attempts without a defender closer than 4-6 feet of the shooter -- than the Blazers last season, according to One issue, however, is that Portland only sank those open shots at a 49 percent clip, ranking them in the bottom-third of the league in that category.

So the Blazers' offense works to get its players open shots, but they could've done a much better job last season capitalizing on them.

Of the players who qualify (minimum 1.5 open shots per game, at least 20 games played last year) Nelson ranked No. 7 in open shot frequency at 42.7 percent, meaning a huge chunk of his attempts were without a defender closer than 4-6 feet of him. The average player hits those shots at an effective field goal percentage of roughly 50 percent, though Nelson was above the curve last year at 52.1 percent.

For comparison, Portland's best open shooters last season were Matthews (55 percent), McCollum (54.1 percent) and Lillard (51.4 percent). No other player on the Blazers was able to fully and consistently capitalize on the open looks afforded by Stotts' offensive system; Nelson would slot right in as one of the team's best shooters in space.

There are obviously downsides to Nelson's game -- he struggled at times with turnovers last season with the Nuggets, and his defense has certainly seen better days. But the Blazers won't likely have much more than a cheap, Mid-Level Exception this summer to throw at free agents, and Nelson should be a realistic and affordable target who won't command a ton of money or years.

If Olshey is looking to retool next season, bring back his starters and re-populate the bench with legitimate contributors around Leonard and McCollum, he'll need to address the backup point guard situation early on. Blake, who has a $2.1 million player option next season into which he'll almost assuredly opt in the coming weeks, has lost a step in recent years but still has the moxy to be a veteran presence in practices and in the lockerroom while still having a bit of tread left on the tires when needed on the court.

But Nelson can still be an offensive contributor for at least another season or two, either in setting up and managing his more ball-dominant teammates or finding small gaps in the defense for open looks, which he's capable of hitting at a solid clip. His career 37.1 percent three-point shooting makes him look that much more attractive for the Blazers, and the 8 shots per game he took in 22.3 minutes per night last season indicate that he wouldn't come in expecting too much, especially at this point in his career.

Portland could make a splash this summer in free agency or via trade, but we can rest assured that any incoming player of substantial value will either be a wing or a big man, as Lillard obviously holds the keys to the franchise as the team's point guard of the present and future. Bringing in a big name point guard would be a waste of resources that could be better and more effectively allocated elsewhere.

Considering team needs and the other point guards available on the free agent market, Nelson seems like an ideal candidate to step in as an affordable backup for Lillard, function well with the team's two star players and with other offensive weapons like McCollum and Leonard, while also demonstrating a willingness and ability to stick open shots when necessary.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter