Damian Lillard is an established All-Star, face of his franchise, and NBA media darling. He brings a serious scoring punch, leadership, entertainment, and swagger to a team devoid of it. CJ McCollum stepped on the scene last year and firmly planted his foot as option 1b, showing he's just as threatening on the ball as he is off the ball. Both show well-rounded games out and beyond the 3-point line, while tightening down the screws in areas they're less than spectacular in.
Who's next on the totem pole?
Ask 10 people are you're likely to get three to four different answers. Some would say Allen Crabbe. He's certainly getting paid like it. During the final 33 games of the 2015-16 season Crabbe posted slightly over 12 points per 36 minutes. Not star-level material, but nothing to sneeze at either. Throw in his 42 percent shooting from distance on over four 3-point attempts per game and you've got solid footing to build on. But again, he's not a sure thing, yet.
The same can be said of Evan Turner. He came into the league seen as a Brandon Roy-esque player in a few ways - a larger combo guard-forward who played at his own tempo with great body control and a decently rounded game. Obviously Turner and Roy had very different career paths, but Blazers coach Terry Stotts has worked wonders with players' games, so giving him the benefit of the doubt isn't a stretch. From the beginning of February till the final day of the 2015-16 regular season, Turner posted over 14 points and 6 assists with nearly 7 rebounds per 36 while shooting over 47 percent from the field.
If there's a measuring stick comparing Crabbe and Turner, you could probably say the advantage goes to Turner at this point based on production and experience. And isn't that what the Blazers are looking for now - production and experience?
Others would say that Al-Farouq Aminu stepped up and solidified his place as a sure-fire starter this season. Does that mean he's third in the pecking order? Aminu is arguably Stotts' star pupil. Somewhat of a redemption project, Aminu was put into a role he was unfamiliar with and showed out beyond expectations. While somewhat inconsistent at times last year, from February on he shot 37 percent from three, pulled down 7 rebounds, put up 12 points, and more often than not took the opposing team's most potent offensive threat as his defensive assignment.
What about Maurice Harkless? Wasn't he tied to the best all-around lineup that Portland put on the floor last season? The numbers on Harkless aren't as broad as what we've been discussing, so they've been shortened to reflect his time as a starter. Normally I wouldn't do that, but the sample size just isn't there - so that's the disclaimer. However, it's kind of interesting, maybe even ironic, that the guy who was signed last may be the one who turns out to be the guy who fills that third man spot.
Harkless managed 16 points and nearly 9 rebounds per 36 in the final 14 games that he started - fourteen games in which the Blazers went 10-4 . Harkless' defensive contributions were huge too. He often took over Aminu's role as primary wing defender and allowed Aminu to slide back inside to offer more help defense. Pair that with Harkless' athleticism that showed up to the tune of 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks per 36, both Blazer bests, and it's not hard to see Moe as being "that guy" if he gets his opportunity. While he may be one of the longer shots, you definitely can't sleep on him.
Cases can be made for both Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard developing into Portland's third option. Plumlee showed how valuable his playmaking can be, and his ability to ignite the break by himself is certainly valuable. Leonard's shooting ability, size, strength and potential all still cause many fans to peg him as the next big thing.
From the outside, it doesn't appear Portland solidified option C. This can be a good - but interesting - problem to have.
Opposing defenses certainly scheme to take away your strengths. Lillard and McCollum work great in the pick-and-roll? Trap the pick-and-roll and force them to the sideline. Aminu can't create off the dribble? Play him tight at the 3-point line and make him pass or shoot over the top. The wildcard here is that Portland has quite a few wrinkles to throw in the mix, depending on the situation, to counter what opposing defenses throw their way.
That's the good.
The interesting aspect here is that the Trail Blazers don't have a consistent threat to throw out nightly who works as a multifaceted offensive threat. At least not one that has an established record of being "that guy." That's what we're always looking for though. Pegging down the hierarchy and trying to figure out which guys are the most dangerous.
For Portland, Lillard and McCollum can both take over a game and completely blow up a defensive game plan. However, there are nights when one or even both can be off. This is the time that option C needs to come up big.
It appears that Crabbe or Turner are most likely to ascend to that role based on opportunity and skill sets.
Crabbe's offensive game fits perfectly in Stotts' system. He's capable of knocking down shots from the outside, moving without the ball, finishing at the rim, and hitting the catch-and-shoot. The question then becomes, what happens when teams start to game plan against him? If teams stay tight to him at the 3-point line, close out on shots, and really pay him mind, how does he respond? This may give a bit of insight into another reason Turner was brought in: Allowing Crabbe to work his way into a legitimate sixth man role, and while maybe being the third guy on the board.
Speaking of Turner, one might suspect that in his mind, he wasn't brought in to help Crabbe's career. He'll say and do all the right things (ok, so he may not say all the right things all the time, but that's another story). Still, Turner is a professional basketball player and he's not about to cede anything to anyone. He has the potential to be that third guy; Turner can create off the bounce, make plays for others, and dominate smaller wings in the post. Not exactly built in the mold of the Stottsfense, but maybe that's what the Blazers need - a subtle jab to the one-two combo of Lillard and McCollum.
Clearly the Blazer's offseason moves, retaining their homegrown players, and adding a few new ones all play a key role in deciding the fate for the 2016-17 season. There will be plenty of storylines heading into training camp. Who starts? What are the rotations? How will they mesh? Those are definitely going to be the underlining questions leading up to opening night, but lost in those bigger questions: Do the Blazers have that No. 3 man on their roster right now? If so, who is he?
Is it Crabbe, who was handed a lucrative contract and the faith of the organization?
How about Turner, the offseason acquisition who raised more than a few eyebrows locally and nationally?
What about Aminu? Can he take another huge leap forward and be a consistent threat opposing defenses have to account for?
Or is it Harkless, the forgotten man with something to prove?
What do you think? Do the Blazer's have that key piece to fill out a three-pronged attack? If so, who is it? Let us know in the comments below.