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Evaluating the Blazers’ “Closers”

The Blazers have a handful of players at the end of the bench who mostly see garbage time in blowout situations. Who’s the best of the bunch?

Indiana Pacers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

With Portland opting to let 15th man Tim Quarterman’s contract become guaranteed this week, it can be assumed that Portland values his potential upside more than the flexibility that his roster spot and reduced salary obligation would have afforded the team. This got me thinking about the rest of the deep bench – the “closers,” if you will – and whether any of them have long-term potential to develop in Portland.

The focus of this piece is limited to the last four spots on the bench – Quarterman, Connaughton, Layman, and Napier. Adding one more player gets you into Noah Vonleh territory and that’s a whole different discussion that merits its own article for another time.

Tim Quarterman

Quarterman has certainly shown flashes in his limited time. To be fair, we’re talking about an incredibly small sample size; over the course of the season, he’s managed to rack up 39 end-of-game minutes, only two more than starting point guard Damian Lillard averages per night. Here’s how his performance shakes out:

Per Game Table
2016-17 12 3.3 .700 .400 1.000 .800 0.5 0.6 0.1 0.2 0.3 1.3
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2017.

These are obviously garbage-time minutes, but a couple things stand out. He’s not known as a 3-point shooter but has connected on two of his five attempts. This doesn’t tell us anything about how well he would shoot it with more opportunity but it at least demonstrates that he has the range.

Quarterman’s greatest strength is his length; he’s 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 reach – phenomenal for a point guard. While his height/wingspan allow him to see the floor well and screams defensive potential, he will need to pack on some muscle in the near future to not be bullied on either side of the ball. He’s shown a good knack for jumping into the paint and fighting for offensive rebounds, racking up a couple put-backs off of misses, including this electrifying dunk:

Quarterman is still a work in progress and, while he has shown some flashes, lacks a quick first step and is not yet regarded as a consistent shooter, regardless of his shooting percentage in limited time this year.

Pat Connaughton

A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2015, Pat Connaughton has played sparingly thus far in his Blazers tenure, logging only 143 minutes last season, and 89 so far this year. While Connaughton was regarded as a pure shooter with an explosive 44-inch vertical, he struggled to connect from the perimeter last season – taking 42 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point line with a 24 percent success rate. In case you were wondering, that’s terrible.

This season, Connaughton has worked on his shot selection and his shooting numbers speak for themselves:

Per Game Table
2015-16 34 4.2 0.4 1.4 .265 .238 .286 .316 0.9 0.3 0.1 0.3 1.1
2016-17 15 5.9 0.6 0.9 .692 .667 .700 .769 0.8 0.3 0.0 0.1 1.6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2017.

His percentages are up across the board while his attempts per minute are down. Blazer fans have even seen him get some first-half run in a couple games, where he played within the flow of the offense and performed adequately on defense.

Connaughton is an excellent athlete, but doesn’t possess the lateral quickness to ever be a real difference maker on the defensive perimeter. He defends decently in the post – thanks to being forced to play power forward for extended stretches in college – but is easily outmatched by NBA-sized bigs.

Connaughton is an interesting case, because he always has baseball to fall back on. Most fringe players are betting everything that they can make it in the league and, while Pat C. is certainly giving it everything he has, don’t be surprised if he soon decides to give pitching in the minor leagues a try.

Jake Layman

I’m not sure another player in the NBA has had as up-and-down a season, relative to total minutes played, than Jake Layman who burst onto the scene with a 6-for-8, 17-point performance in eight minutes of play in his season debut. He followed that up with 9 points on 50 percent shooting in the next game he saw action and fans began asking themselves if Portland had found a second-round steal. Since those two games, however, Layman is shooting a frigid 5-of-32 from the floor, including 2-for-21 from the 3-point line, which gives you the following:

Per Game Table
2016-17 19 6.5 .313 .242 .467 .396 .778 0.6 0.3 0.3 0.2 2.4
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2017.

Layman has a nice looking, if inconsistent, jump shot and was regarded as a streaky shooter coming out of college. He is sneaky athletic when driving to the rim, and generally is in the right place at the right time on the offensive end. Defensively, he has done well in one-on-one situations, but looks lost against the pick-and-roll.

Layman has shown more ability to get rolling in a hurry than any other players on the deep bench, but he needs desperately to find his shooting stroke again. If nothing else, Layman has already likely cemented his place in die-hard Blazer lore with his NBA debut performance.

Shabazz Napier

Third-string point guard Shabazz Napier, acquired from the Orlando Magic in the offseason, is already on his third team in three NBA seasons. Looking at his numbers, it’s easy to see why:

Per Game Table
2014-15 MIA 51 10 19.8 .382 0.8 2.3 .364 .400 .786 2.2 2.5 0.8 1.6 5.1
2015-16 ORL 55 0 10.9 .338 0.6 1.9 .327 .351 .733 1.0 1.8 0.4 0.8 3.7
2016-17 POR 24 0 8.2 .395 0.7 2.0 .347 .481 .739 0.7 1.0 0.7 0.7 3.9
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2017.

The good news: Napier is shooting a career high from the floor this season. The bad news is that even with a career-best shooting performance, he is still sub-forty percent from the floor. Napier lacks the size to get quality shots off effectively but is also not a natural distributor. He’s simply wired to look for his own shot first. Napier puts up a 3-pointer for about every four minutes of court time, outpacing everyone on the team aside from Jake Layman, whose numbers are skewed from his seven 3-point attempts in his first eight minute stint.

This would be fine if he were a knockdown shooter, but Napier is shooting just under 35 percent from the 3-point line this year, exactly his career average. For contrast, Allen Crabbe is shooting 42 percent from distance and puts up a 3-pointer every eight minutes.

If Napier wants to stick in the NBA, he is going to need to learn how to run an offense and distribute the ball among his teammates better. Don’t get me wrong, for a third-string point guard he’s fairly solid, but there just isn’t a lot more upside in Napier worth waiting for.

Ultimately, there may not be a lot of upside in any of the four aforementioned players. While they all have varying degrees of talent, Layman seems like the most likely to stick for a few years and possibly become an impact player, if only because Pat C. is rumored to still want to give baseball a shot. Quarterman has intriguing potential as a poor man’s Shaun Livingston down the road, but will need to continue to put on muscle and learn NBA defense.

Blazer’s Edge Night 2017

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