The Trail Blazers begin preseason training camp for the 2015-16 year in just a couple short weeks, but several players -- an assortment of both roster locks and guys not even guaranteed to make the roster -- are already in Portland preparing together and developing on-court chemistry as late summer stretches into fall. Perhaps the player fans know least about is guard Luis Montero, who was signed for three years back in early July.
The Blazers currently have 17 players under contract for next season, including veteran wing Mike Miller, who is expected by many to be waived in the coming weeks. The team can carry up to 20 players in its training camp, but only 15 of them can be on the roster by the end of preseason. That means, essentially, that Montero is competing for that last spot on the squad with guys like guard Phil Pressey, forward Cliff Alexander and, depending on who you ask, point guard Tim Frazier.
Not one of these players at the end of the lineup is expected to be an impactful player for the team early on, but nevertheless, we've already gone over the likely rotational players' potential contributions this summer. Now that it's mid-September and we're seeing Blazers news slowly trickle in through the pipeline, it's time to take a look at some of the roster hopefuls, and Montero, 22, may be the most intriguing.
Montero took a roundabout way to potentially making his first NBA roster. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, he was considered one of the country's top basketball prospects as a youngster. He moved to Massachusetts four years ago to attend prep school and prepare himself for NCAA basketball, and eventually committed to play at Westchester Community College in New York for his freshman season, a junior college which had a reputation for sending its top players to Division-1 schools.
The 6-foot-7 Montero played mostly point guard at Westchester, where he averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and three assists per game, making over 52 percent of his field goals and 43.7 percent of his three-pointers. A handful of universities had interest in signing Montero following his freshman junior college season, including Alabama, West Virginia, St. Johns, Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State and South Florida.
When transcript fraud allegations swept through Westchester after Montero's lone year there, the school cancelled its 2014-15 season, leaving the Dominican prospect with no team. He eventually committed to the University of South Florida, but was deemed academically ineligible for the 2014-15 season. Montero kicked around the idea of attending another junior college in Texas to earn some court time and get his academics in check, but wound up sticking around Westchester and working out solo as professional teams had expressed interest in him for the 2015 NBA Draft, pegging him as a potential second-rounder.
After working out for several teams last spring, Montero's name went uncalled on draft night. Eventually the Trail Blazers were able to sign him, give him a spot on their Summer League roster and an eventual chance to make the 2015-16 roster.
"Montero, who sports a 7-1 wingspan and fluid dribbling skills, said he can play point guard, but is more comfortable playing shooting guard," The Oregonian's Mike Richman reported in July. "He admits that he has work to do to get strong enough to compete against NBA competition. But after agreeing to a multi-year deal with the Blazers, Montero knows he has to seize his opportunity."
The versatile guard has the odds of making the Blazers final roster -- let alone his chances of earning meaningful playing time -- stacked against him. Portland has Damian Lillard, Pressey and Frazier currently penciled-in at point guard, Gerald Henderson, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Pat Connaughton at shooting guard and Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Cliff Alexander fighting for minutes at small forward.
Montero's best opportunity to get on the floor for the Blazers and contribute would likely be at one of the wing positions, but at 185 lbs. heading into preseason camp, he's considered a bit undersized at small forward. With McCollum expected to slide over to point guard occasionally as Lillard's backup, Montero's route to playing time might be via competing with Crabbe and Connaughton for backup minutes at shooting guard behind Henderson.
"Montero is a big guard with great versatility and ability to play three positions, including point guard. He is smooth and explosive as an athlete with a good handle," WEEI.com's Josh Slavin wrote in June. "As a passer, Montero is very skilled and has good court vision ... He has a lot of other weapons in his offensive arsenal, too, with the ability to fake or change directions or finger roll his way to the bucket. His versatility could make him appealing given his size. He also is a solid defender and shot blocker with good timing."
Montero's size, at 6-foot-7, could allow him to be a versatile player on both ends of the court, and as the NBA transitions more and more into utilizing players with positional fluidity, he'd potentially make a great wing defender, ostensibly able to switch between defending the two guard positions and small forward as well. This would help allow coach Terry Stotts to employ more switching on the defensive end, similar to the Golden State Warriors, relieving some of the pressure on smaller guards.
Most tantalizing, though, might be Montero's potential on the offensive end. Rodrigo Sperandio of NBADraft.net spoke of his capabilities back in June. Here's the scouting report:
Big guard with great versatility to play 3 positions ... Has logged time at point guard ... Explosive, smooth and creative player ... A good ball handler ... Can use a cross over at a high rate of high speed ... A good passer with court vision, always looking for the open man ... Smooth. Runs the court very well, excellent in fast break situations, often finishing with dunks ... Has a great ability to attack the rim with an arsenal of moves ... Can use the Euro step, change directions, fakes, finger rolls, floaters ... A good shooter from 2 and 3 points, with deep range and good mechanics on his shot ... The kind of player capable of creating baskets for himself and for his teammates ... Can drive to the basket and open the court and dish for shots for his teammates, or find the bigman under the rim ... Good shot blocker, with good timing , very smart playing the passing lanes, anticipates well and also in running the fast break ... Great length, with a wingspan of 7-foot-1, and a standing reach of 8-foot-8
Montero certainly has shooting range, as evidenced by his 43.7 percent three-point shooting percentage at Westchester for the 2013-14 season, but he needs to develop consistency. In six Summer League games with the Blazers, he only nailed 30.8 percent of his threes against other NBA-hopefuls. But if he can hit that shot consistently, Sperandio's scouting report might lead some fans in Rip City to believe he has some of the intangibles of former Blazer Nicolas Batum, whose game was expanded when Stotts took over the team in 2012. As a smooth floor-runner who can set up his teammates -- don't forget he played mostly point guard at Westchester -- Montero could eventually evolve into an offensive playmaker.
"I think he’s got some fluidity, he’s long, and he can play in the pick-and-roll," Blazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts told CSNNW.com's Jabari Young during Summer League. "This is the biggest stage he’s had in his career, so he’s going to get more comfortable as the week goes along. He’s going to make more mistakes. We know that it’s going to be a process with him, but he’s a kid that I think is going to get better."
That process -- along with plenty of patience -- may lead to an eventual roster spot in Portland for Montero. But for the Dominican guard about whom little is known, a chance is all he needs.
"I want to show everybody that I can be in the best league," Montero told Young in July. "If they give me the opportunity, I’m going to take it."
With Portland's training camp officially weeks away, we'll have to wait and see how Montero fits in with the team. But with a rebuilding roster and so much of Stotts' reserve rotation up in the air -- particularly on the wings -- the intriguing Dominican may have as much of a shot as anybody to seize a roster spot and, potentially, a place in the rotation come October.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter