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Who Starts at Power Forward for the Blazers?

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Portland has clear starters in three positions, but one remains a huge mystery.

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers will begin the 2017-18 season with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic firmly ensconced in their respective starting roles, the latest version of the Big 3. Around those pillars, Portland’s situation is more fluid. The Blazers lack reliable players to fill the gaps between their stars. This is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

Who’s our starting power forward this year? In another mailbag you said we didn’t need more so so ones. Which one we already have is good enough to start?

Thad

You’re actually asking two separate questions: who’s good enough to start and who’s actually going to.

Repeating the earlier Mailbag you cited, here’s the list of current Blazers who logged time at power forward over the last couple years (or who project there based on college position):

  • Noah Vonleh
  • Al-Farouq Aminu
  • Meyers Leonard
  • Ed Davis
  • Zach Collins
  • Caleb Swanigan

Technically Moe Harkless and Jake Layman have played power forward minutes too.

None of those players is a bona fide starter at the four. Davis could hold the fort with the right teammates. Vonleh, Aminu, Harkless, and Leonard could serve in a situation tailored for them. Leonard and Vonleh are the most promising of that quartet long-term. But neither has shown any consistency. We don’t know enough about the rookies to render judgment yet. Barring a trade, the Blazers will enter training camp without a single, bankable starting power forward in the lot.

They have to start someone anyway, even if it’s by default. You’d have to believe Vonleh has the inside track after his strong(er) performances alongside Nurkic in the final half of the season just past. He’ll probably come into camp penciled into the starting five. But his position isn’t secure. His offensive range hasn’t developed and his general performance has underwhelmed. If someone takes his spot, nobody will mourn.

Swanigan might be a surprise candidate to overtake the field. His outside shot is confident and he can pass: two characteristics critical for the Blazers on the scoring end of the floor. They can’t afford to keep missing jumpers the defense cedes while overplaying the Big 3. Aminu can’t hit enough of them; Davis would never get out that far. Swanigan’s defense will be the deciding factor between a regular role and pine time. Even if his offense looks smooth, Portland can’t survive another gaping hole in the “D”. If Caleb can close out against shooters and keep his man off the boards, he’s got a shot. If not, they’ll have to cobble something together.

If this summer’s rhetoric is any indicator, the Blazers are hoping that Collins will fill the power forward role long-term. His advertised skills would fit perfectly: mid-range game and the ability to sink corner threes, mobility, vision, passing, rebounding, defensive floor coverage, and shot blocking. It’s easy to imagine Collins and Nurkic working together like bread and butter. BUT... is Collins who they say he is? And if so, how long will he take to develop? Given his Summer League performance, patience is warranted, if not skepticism.

Until a trade or rookie development answers the power forward question, we’re going to have to leave it where we started: without a clear answer. But that’s a perfect opportunity to throw it to you in the comment section. If you had to start one of these players in the fall, whom would you choose and why? Who do you think has the best chance of emerging over the long haul?

Let us know your answer and keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard