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Trading Ryan Anderson for Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard a Bad Idea for Trail Blazers

President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey would be making a mistake if he does swap Harkless and Leonard for Anderson as part of a Carmelo Anthony trade.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Trade rumors are swirling around Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. Anthony will soon be headed to the Houston Rockets in a three or four-team deal, if media sources are to be believed.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been linked to the deal, with one permutation of the trade sending Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard to the Knicks, in exchange for Ryan Anderson from Houston.

Here’s a breakdown of Anderson’s fit in Portland:

Positive Traits

Anderson is a prototypical stretch power foward and a perfect fourth or fifth starter on the right team. He’s 6’10” and averaged 29.4 minutes in 72 starts for the No. 3 seed Rockets last season.

Anderson was a fixture for Houston because he’s a dead-eye outside shooter (in road games, at least); he shot 40 percent on 3-pointers last season on 7.0 attempts per game. For his career, Anderson is a 38 percent shooter from deep.

He feasted on open shots when defenses sucked in to stop James Harden’s penetration or Clint Capela’s alley-oop threats, on his way to 13.6 points per game:

Damian Lillard (who’s not dissimilar to Harden), CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic all thrive in isolation and would almost certainly create many wide open shooting opportunities for Anderson. He proved last year that he’ll reliably hit open shots like no Blazer other than Allen Crabbe.

Anderson is also in the middle of his prime (28 years old) and has three years remaining on his contract. If he did gel in Portland, the Blazers would be able to retain him for several seasons.

Negative Traits

Bluntly, Anderson is a bad defender. And “bad” might be charitable. Our sister blog The Bird Writes broke down his defense (click through for videos):

Many often lament his well-documented defensive flaws. Anderson's shorter figure and below average wingspan make it difficult for him to come out and guard taller, more athletic stretch fours. It also makes it tougher for him to rotate and challenge guards.


He has consistently had trouble doubling ball handlers on defense, committing too much and not defending the passing lanes, which leads to easy layups.


Anderson did a better job defending off-ball this past Friday, but Kaminsky's tall frame made it hard for Anderson to challenge his shot. In general, the Hornets found success against Anderson, making 7 of 11 shots from the field.

Anderson’s lack of defensive effort and/or ability has also drawn ire from opponents. Last season, DeMarcus Cousins said, “[Anderson] just kept falling. He did it the entire game. He just flopped. He didn't want to defend -- that's one thing. He's known for not wanting to defend, so he just falls. It's terrible, man."

And the eye test doesn’t offer much defense for Anderson’s footwork on the perimeter:

In addition to his lackluster defense, Anderson has durability issues. He has played 61-66 games nearly every season of his career. He’s not a walking injury risk, per se, but fans can more or less bank on him missing nearly a quarter of the season every year.

Finally, his contract is insanely overpriced. He’s set to make more than $60 million over the next three years, and all three seasons are guaranteed with no team option.

Anderson has drawn scorn for his poor rebounding numbers last season, but he was a reasonable rebounder, for a stretch 4, at times in Orlando and New Orleans. It’s unclear if he has gotten worse on the boards, or if his decreased production was the result of Houston’s gameplan.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Anderson’s Impact on the Blazers

There’s no denying that Anderson would improve the Blazers’ offense. His outside shooting would be an instant upgrade over Portland’s other options at power forward. But the team doesn’t need help with scoring – they were No. 11 in the league in offense last season, but only No. 21 in defense.

Unfortunately defense is a glaring weakness for Anderson. Opposing teams would be licking their chops at a Lillard/Anderson pick-and-roll defense combination. That scenario only ends two ways: 1) With a much larger opponent scoring easily on a trailing Lillard, or 2) A guard breaking Anderson’s ankles.

Anderson could play most effectively with Evan Turner, who has the versatility and length to help with switches on defense and also needs a good outside shooter as a relief valve on offense. But it’s hard to stomach paying $20 million for a guy who isn’t compatible with the McLillard backcourt, and thus can only be used with specific lineups.

Harkless, on the other hand, is an ideal defender in the NBA of 2017. He’s a hybrid/tweener that can switch seamlessly with Aminu or Turner to defend several positions – that versatility is essential to success in the league right now. Harkless may be weak on offense but has found a niche with strong cuts and good hands, and the occasional 3-pointer.

Having a “niche” on offense doesn’t sound impressive, but when contrasted against Anderson’s status as a negative on defense, Harkless’ offense becomes almost desirable.

Bottom Line

In short, swapping out Anderson for Harkless means the Blazers will score a lot of points – but they’ll give up a ton as well. Anderson would likely feast on the open shots Portland’s big 3 generated for him, but the Blazers would give all those points back on defense. Anderson would look really good to the casual observer because of the offensive fireworks, but the team’s win total will not be improved relative to having Harkless in the lineup.

All of that might be forgivable if Anderson offered salary relief or gave the team more flexibility.

He does not.

Anderson is on the books for $19.6 million next season, about $1 million more than the combined salaries of Harkless and Leonard. With luxury tax, that means the Blazers will be on the hook for an additional $4.5 million. A curious move for a team that just stretched Festus Ezeli’s contract to save a few bucks.

Anderson also does not help with long term flexibility. His contract is just as long as Harkless’ and Leonard’s, and consolidating one low-value contract (Leonard) and one medium-value contract (Harkless) into one larger low-value contract (Anderson) will only make future trade prospects worse.

The bottom line is that replacing Leonard and Harkless with Anderson will not significantly improve the team’s win total or long-term salary situation. If the Blazers are involved in the Anthony trade negotiations, they will hopefully be getting more in return than has been rumored so far.