clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who will be the Trail Blazers’ fourth option next season?

New, comments

The Blazers have a rock-solid “Big 3.” Now they need a fourth scoring option to emerge to take the offense into the stratosphere.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Chicago Bulls Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

As the Trail Blazers head into the 2017-18 season it’s evident that, outside of a surprise trade, the roster will be virtually identical to last season’s. Consequently, the dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will spearhead the offense again, with some help coming from Jusuf Nurkic.

The rest of the offensive weaponry, however, ranges from “poor” to “talented but questionable.” So, assuming there are no more significant roster changes, who will be Portland’s fourth-leading scorer?

Last season, the Blazers had four players bunched between 8.7 and 10.7 points per game: Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Allen Crabbe. Let’s take a look at each player’s offensive potential, with a dark horse candidate thrown in at the end for good measure.

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu had a promising 2015-16 season, averaging 10.2 point per game while shooting 36 percent on 3-pointers. He failed to replicate those numbers last season, shooting below 30 percent from the floor over the first month of the season. But Aminu suffered multiple injuries over the course of the season, so it’s possible that nagging physical issues contributed to his season-opening slump and he’ll return to form this year.

Aminu has shown that he can get hot from the outside, making three or more 3-pointers in a game seven times last season. He does, however, have one of the uglier outside shots in the NBA, with an inconsistent release point that doesn’t lend itself to easy duplication. Possibly related, for the second straight season, Aminu shot worse from the outside when he was wide open versus when a defender was within two feet.

Aminu also struggles with shot selection, often opting to force a drive straight at the rim against waiting defenders. While it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back season, it’s not likely that Aminu, at this point in his career, becomes a 13-15 point per game scorer.

Evan Turner

Turner, like Aminu, had a frustrating 2016-17 season. Immediately after he signed with the team many questioned his fit within Portland’s offense. These doubters were initially proven correct as Turner struggled with his shot and looked uncomfortable in the offense. Once Turner started to get it going a bit, he suffered a broken hand that kept him out of action for more than four weeks, and upon his return he once again had to adjust to an offense that now featured Nurkic getting touches in the middle.

While Turner has never been a particularly efficient offensive player, he is effective at getting into, and scoring from, the mid-range. He features a bevy of turnarounds and post moves that can catch defenders off guard and shot a fairly respectable 47 percent from inside the arc. It’s reasonable to expect that, after a full season in Portland under his belt, he will be more comfortable in the offensive flow this season.

Turner, however, is a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter, limiting his offensive potential with the Blazers. He’ll be at a massive disadvantage if he can’t knock down at least the occasional open 3-pointer. Unfortunately Turner is nowhere near being able to do so on a consistent basis, which means he needs to work harder to get decent looks.

Turner also needs the ball in his hands frequently to be effective, yet is a generally unselfish player. Playing alongside Lillard and McCollum, Turner would often drift, appearing to make sure the main options got their touches, before deciding to hold the ball and make a move, for better or worse, every fourth or fifth play.

Turner’s game basically leaves him between a rock and a hard place. He’s an intelligent player, but that intelligence might mean that he continues to defer enough that he won’t reach another level in terms of scoring.

Maurice Harkless

Harkless had an up-and-down year that saw him put up exactly 10 points per game. Only 24 years old, Harkless is the type of player that scores without having plays run for him. Though it’s a positive that he doesn’t need to have his number called in order to get buckets, it’s just as easy to say “A team can’t really run plays through Moe Harkless.” Despite shooting a team-high 57 percent from inside the arc last season, Harkless took fewer than six shots per game from that area.

While continuing to be a decent threat in transition and on the offensive glass, Harkless rebuilt his outside shot last season with solid results, shooting 35 percent from the 3-point line. Fans are hopeful that his improved 3-point shooting will stick, but there is the possibility that last season was a fluke, similar to Aminu’s outside shooting two years ago. For reference, Harkless is a career 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc.

Allen Crabbe

Crabbe finished second in the NBA with a 44 percent 3-point percentage but still managed to have a disappointing season last year, averaging virtually the same offensive numbers that he did in ‘15-16.

Crabbe struggled mightily to create his own opportunities last season. He was assisted on 78 percent of his 2-point field goals and 97 percent of his 3-pointers. Crabbe struggled to assert himself offensively and in one-on-one situations -- a marginal improvement in either would reap massive benefits for his offensive game.

If Crabbe can develop any kind of counter dribble-drive, the basketball world will be his oyster, at least on the offensive end. He’s shown himself to be a consistent shooter, converting over 40 percent of his shots from every zone on the floor, and has at least shown some improvement each season. With no obvious options at the wing, Crabbe will have ample opportunity to earn enough minutes to ramp up his scoring.

Noah Vonleh

Still just 21, Vonleh played well after Nurkic’s arrival, making active cuts and taking advantage of the unique gravity that a player like Nurkic provides. He averaged 7.8 points and 8.3 rebounds over the final 16 games of the regular season.

If this is the year the Vonleh makes “the leap,” it stands to reason that he could see his production jump up slightly from those final 16 games and put up 12-13 points per game.

Unfortunately, it’s likely a long shot that Vonleh will hit those benchmarks. While he has excellent physical tools, he hasn’t actually shown much in his career outside of those 16 games. Vonleh still shrinks under the spotlight, can be too hesitant, and hasn’t shown enough consistency with his jump shot.

If Vonleh doesn’t start the season strong he may see his minutes evaporate. Aminu already spends time at power foward and the Blazers just drafted two rookies who both play the four. While Zach Collins didn’t impress in Summer League, it’s reasonable to expect him to get some rotation minutes and Caleb Swanigan appears hellbent on earning a spot in the rotation.

Prediction

Out of the the five players listed above, it’s likely that Crabbe emerges as the fourth-leading scorer for Portland next year. He will receive plenty of open looks and has proven that he can knock them down. If Crabbe adds a reliable one-on-one move he will be the dynamic fourth scorer the team needs.