October is here, and Trail Blazers preseason basketball is upon us once again. With only six exhibition games separating Portland from the 2017-18 regular season, these games could prove to be a crucial part of President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey's evaluation of the final roster.
With those stakes in mind, we turn to Blazer's Edge contributors Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald to get us prepped for the start of the preseason.
What re-configurations to the roster do the Blazers need to make before the regular season?
Steve Dewald: Much like last year, Terry Stotts will be tasked with trying to find a way to protect his dynamic backcourt on the defensive end of the court. The Blazers attempted to tweak their defensive scheme at the start of last season, and it was a complete disaster. Jusuf Nurkic was primarily asked to sink towards the paint when helping his teammates guard the pick-and-roll, but maybe a slimmer version of the Bosnian Beast is up to the task of being more aggressive on the perimeter.
Brian Freeman: The roster as it stands has a very respectable talent level. CJ and Dame may not have been All-Stars recently, but they are both that caliber of player. Nurk brings an exciting skill set, and the role players all have talents that can help NBA teams win games. Unfortunately, the talent level may be higher than the win total shows. The glut of bigs and lack of wings is an odd fit, Dame and CJ are not the perfect pairing for a backcourt and there are not more than four players on the roster I would like to see dribbling the ball. The talent acquisition has been solid but pieces don't fit well. It feels like there is a trade or two that needs to happen to complete the puzzle.
Can anyone fill the final roster spot and make any kind of significant impact?
Brian: The only guy I see who can make an impact with that 15th spot is Anthony Morrow. Mostly because, as mentioned above, the Blazers are extremely (ridiculously) shallow when it comes to shooters. And wings in general. Morrow fills up both. As teams look at this Blazer roster, the defensive strategy is obvious: get the ball out of Lillard and CJ’s hands, and clog the paint. Where would the points come from in this scenario? Portland needs to have at least one other wing player who forces defenses to respect them.
The other option is bringing in players like Briscoe or Goodwin who have higher future ceilings. The G-League is full of undrafted rookies and young guys who haven’t panned out yet. I’d rather have someone who helps win basketball games now and scan the G-League to see if any young guy proves themselves worthy.
Steve: Replacing Allen Crabbe's outside shooting will be a huge hurdle for Portland to overcome this year. Adding a shooter with Morrow's pedigree has obvious benefits, but the 32-year-old wing only played in 49 games last season. Olshey has some young options to choose from this preseason, and he has taken chances on guys like Luis Montero and Tim Quarterman in the past.
Goodwin is only 23 years old, and he is a dynamic athlete. I like his odds to make the roster, but he’ll have to add some range to his shot to outlast his competition.
With Noah Vonleh sidelined, the Blazers will have a new starting power forward when the season gets underway. Which one of the remaining big men will capture a spot in the starting rotation?
Steve: When Al-Farouq Aminu is at his best, the Blazers are a completely different team on both ends of the court. With Nurkic manning the pivot spot, Aminu's lack of size isn't as big of an issue as it was when Mason Plumlee was in town. I'm not worried about the defense when he is on the court, but his subpar 3-point shooting percentage does raise concerns. His offensive limitations could be hidden in the starting lineup, however, as the Blazers would have three bonafide offensive threats flanking him.
Brian: I couldn’t agree more with what you said, Steve. Aminu at the four-spot is the best case scenario coming into the season of any player whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Farm-yellow.” Aminu’s defensive versatility is unmatched by anyone on the Blazers’ roster. But as you said, his offensive value is directly correlated with the success of his shot. If he can hit his 3-pointers at a somewhat respectable rate and force his man away from the basket, it will create space for Nurk and lanes for the guards. The other Blazers frontcourt players are hardly threats from outside, either, so Aminu gets the nod from me whether he’s hitting or not—at least until Vonleh gets back.
Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard will be trying to put a lackluster 2016-17 campaign behind them this season. Of all the Trail Blazers big men, who do you think is primed to use the preseason to build momentum towards a bounce-back season?
Brian: Both players had injuries that shoulder a lot of the blame for their unsuccessful seasons last year. Ed Davis has been a better player throughout his career than Meyers and talent-wise, he’s the obvious choice. But he has a lot farther to go to bounce back than Meyers does. A bad season for Ed is a bounce-back year for Meyers. Also, Meyers fills more of a need. For whatever reason, Stotts believes the 7-footer is best served as a 3-point shooter out on the perimeter and although I disagree, it’s not me who controls his minutes. With Nurk, Vonleh, and Swanigan on the roster, there is not a drastic need for a ground & pound big man like Davis. Between Davis’s redundant skill set and Meyers’ low bounce-back ceiling, I’m giving the nod to Leonard.
Steve: Given how I am often the Meyers Leonard defender in our behind the scenes debates, I am shocked we aren't in agreement on this one. Ed Davis isn't an ideal fit next to most of Portland's other frontcourt options, but his ability—when healthy—to impact the game on the boards shouldn't be understated. Davis was an absolute monster in his first season with the Blazers, and he now has the potential to operate in the vacuum that Nurkic creates in the paint.
If Davis returns to his old form, the benefits would go beyond just the results on the court. The Blazers were able to get lucky at the trade deadline last season, and a revamped Davis could be an attractive asset for a team looking for rebounding help.
What are you hoping to see from the Blazers this preseason? Tell us in the comments below.