Last week, I wrote a list of questions facing the new team. Two players were notably missing from that review: Allen Crabbe and Tim Frazier. This was not by accident as neither player had demonstrated the upside you want during a total rebuild.
Summer League has shown that this may have been premature. Now, of course, a couple good games doesn't mean these guys will have an impact. It doesn't even mean they'll make the team. But they've showed me enough to deserve some attention. So let's add a little addendum to the last article and consider a few more questions.
Is Tim Frazier Good Enough to Have the Ball?
Offenses in the NBA are complicated. They're multifaceted with a bunch of different interlocking parts that all feed off one another. Because of this, it's necessary to look at offense from a wide variety of perspectives. I'm a big fan of the scheme perspective, looking at how different actions set up the next step in the offense and put players in a position to succeed.
One of my least favorite perspectives is the "who has the ball?" perspective. This one gets lots of traction, especially when one ball dominant star joins another. It's somewhat relevant but multidimensional, highly skilled players tend to figure it out. They're so skilled, you can put them in almost any situation and, assuming you have a capable coach and players focused on winning, get great results.
But Tim Frazier isn't a star level player and his skillset isn't particularly well rounded. This makes this perspective relevant to his future in the NBA. In fact, it may be his biggest obstacle.
Frazier is in many ways the opposite of Steve Blake. Blake carved out a great niche in the NBA because he could play next to anybody. He could hold his own on defense, make the smart pass, run a pick and roll, and spot up from the outside. If a team had a ball dominant scorer on their second unit, Blake could roll with that. If the team had a sweet shooting guard that liked to curl off screens, Steve could get him the ball on time and on target.
Frazier has certainly shown he can run an offense. Give him the ball, surround him with shooters, and I have no doubt he'll do just fine. However, put him in the other situation, next to a scorer, and the fit becomes more precarious. If he doesn't have the ball, Frazier transforms from an asset to a liability.
This isn't unique. Lots of players need the ball but most of them are good rather than fringe players. Give them the ball and the offense does better than just fine. As a result, the bar for "ball-dominant" players is higher than it is for off-the-ball complementary pieces. If you're a guy that can defend a little and shoot, you can be mediocre and carve out a long career. If you're a guy that dominates the ball, you better be really, really good. The only reason a team would employ you is if they thought you were the best person they could give the ball to.
Frazier is good. He's got super speed and has a great feel for the game. I'm just not sure he's good enough to warrant taking the ball out of Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum's hands. And I'm not sure if he can play with them off the ball. It's a thorny situation Frazier will face for the rest of his career unless he fixes his jumpshot.
However, Frazier might be good enough to stick anyway. Some of his pick and rolls are beautiful. He pushes the pace non-stop and is excellent at facilitating the fast break. He needs to avoid some bad turnovers but that typically improves with time.
It will be fascinating to see if Frazier can round out his skillset or just be good enough so it doesn't matter.
How Much Upside Does Allen Crabbe Have?
Allen Crabbe was a bit of a Blazer's Edge sensation last year. He started in place of the injured Nicolas Batum and the team didn't miss a beat. He knocked down jumpers, didn't turn the ball over, played solid defense, and showed off perhaps the best closeout on the team. All of that is great and I think Crabbe has a place in this league. The problem is that place might not be in the middle of a rebuild.
When you have enough talent to contend, the key is to find players that complement that talent. Crabbe is an excellent complementary player. However, when all that talent up and leaves, complementary pieces become hollow. Finding or developing complementary players doesn't make sense because you don't know which players you're complementing. There's limited minutes and rebuilding teams need to use those minutes to find the new core, not the periphery.
But Crabbe has been much more aggressive and is showing an ability to create that we haven't seen before. Couple that with his shot and his defense and Allen is busting out of the complementary box. He'll never be a leading creator on a bench unit but secondary creator no longer seems out of the realm of possibility. That's something even a rebuilding team could spend some minutes exploring.
Now, I'm not arguing the Blazers should give Crabbe minutes next year. Summer League is too amorphous and unreliable to draw that kind of a conclusion. But I'll be watching closely during training camp to see if Crabbe can maintain his aggressiveness and efficiency against top competition.
Both guys are long shots but on a roster this wide open, anything is possible.