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Analyzing C.J. Wilcox’s Fit With the Trail Blazers

Wilcox will spend most of his time in the G League, but can join the Blazers for up to 45 days during the season.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers signed shooting guard C.J. Wilcox to a two-way contract earlier this week.

Wilcox will attend training camp with the Blazers and then be assigned to a D-League Team, according to the Oregonian’s Mike Richman. Since the Blazers do not have a D-League affiliate, Wilcox will be assigned to another team’s affiliate but Portland will retain his rights.

Why Did the Blazers Sign Wilcox?

Wilcox is a prototypical shooting guard, standing 6’5” with a 6’10” wingspan, who has been touted for his athleticism and shooting ability.

The 26-year-old has had few opportunities to prove his worth in the NBA, however, playing in only 66 games over the last three seasons for the Clippers and Magic, averaging 2.0 points in 5.7 minutes.

For the Blazers, signing Wilcox is likely an attempt to shore up their outside shooting after they traded Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets last month. Crabbe’s departure leaves the Blazers with very few 3-point marksmen — Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the oft-injured Meyers Leonard are the only rotation players on the roster who have shot better than 33 percent from deep for their careers.

It’s unclear whether or not Wilcox can be an effective outside shooter in the NBA; he has attempted only 57 3-pointers in his career, connecting on 19 of them. Nevertheless, Wilcox sits behind several other deep bench guards, including Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton, so he will only see playing time if multiple injuries necessitate a D-League call-up. Given his place on the roster, the Blazers can afford to gamble that Wilcox will live up to his reputation.

Significance of the two-way contract

(For full details on the mechanics of two-way contracts check out this excellent article from Vice.)

It’s somewhat surprising that the Blazers opted to sign a player to a two-way contract. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey was ambivalent on the usefulness of two-way deals when he spoke to the media at exit interviews in April:

Tim Quarterman was making great progress with us and we thought going to the D-League was going to maximize the foundation he had built here and it actually worked as a setback. Jake (Layman) same thing. It ended up being more of a setback. That was sending them to a place that wasn't under our direct control. They don't run the same system. It's more challenging. But we still have to figure out where would put it and how are we going to make sure that these guys don't lose touch with the Portland Trail Blazers.

You got to understand also it's a long year. If you want to rest guys like Dame and CJ and guys that aren't going to practice every day, there's still rotation guys that need to practice. Well who are they going to practice against? So unless you can have guys where they can practice here and then go play, you're hurting your main rotation players because they need guys to go against.

Since Wilcox can spend only a maximum of 45 days with the team, it’s unlikely the Blazers will be able to control his development or fully integrate him into the team’s system, and he won’t be a regular participant in practices. Those limitations, combined with his age and spotty track record, suggest that the Blazers see Wilcox as less of a long-term prospect and more as a short-term plug-and-play insurance policy.

The Blazers get two other benefits from Wilcox’s salary. First, he won’t count against the team’s salary cap for most of the season — likely an important consideration for a team that just traded a rotation player for nothing to reduce their tax bill.

Second, assigning Wilcox to the D-League leaves a spot open on the main roster in the event that the Blazers want to sign a more established veteran to a minimum contract. Several players with track records as strong 3-point shooters (e.g. Brandon Rush, Gary Neal, Anthony Morrow, and Jason Terry) are still on the market.

For Wilcox, the deal represents another chance for the former No. 28 draft pick to impress NBA scouts after he had reportedly considered heading to Europe. Concerns have been raised that two-way contracts will limit players’ opportunities to make main NBA rosters, but Wilcox’s contract is for only a single season so he will have another chance to make a 15-man roster next year, and this is likely his only way to stay on the NBA radar after more or less washing out of the league.