The Portland Trail Blazers have already began preseason play, and the 2018-19 NBA regular season is soon to follow. Before Portland’s record begins to count, coach Terry Stotts will be tasked with molding a viable frontcourt rotation out of the current crop of players on the roster.
We have already made our way through two sections of the roster, and today we shift our focus to the big fellas. Portland’s post rotation will feature some familiar faces, but in much larger roles this year.
Our previews this year will feature input from Blazer’s Edge contributors Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald.
Let’s get to the discussion.
Jusuf Nurkic received a contract extension over the summer that will put him in Portland through the 2021-22 season. Starting with his performance this year, how can the big fella surpass the value of his contract?
Steve: Nurkic was crucial to the Blazers’ defensive improvements last season. That being said, he was played off the court against the Pelicans in the playoffs. I’m not expecting the big fella to freely switch on the perimeter like Clint Capela, but it would be a nice to see him limit the damage when he is on an island.
Staying healthy and happy are the biggest factors for Nurkic’s pursuit to play above his contract value. Both of those issues where hurdles during his tenure in Denver.
Brian: The best ability is availability. Nurkic was healthy for 79 games last year. If he is able to stay on the court at that rate, I think the contract is already a win for Portland. Guys averaging 14 and 9, that anchor the defense, and have solid court vision, are usually costing teams more than the 4 years and 48 million that Nurk agreed to this summer.
If I had to pick an on the court issue, I would love to see him become a stronger finisher around the rim. With Nurk, a ‘gimme’ is not a gimme as often as it should be. A quick, decisive, determined attack under the basket would keep the grey hairs on my head at bay.
All eyes will be on Zach Collins to fill the Ed-Davis-sized hole in the Blazers’ frontcourt. We will look at the positives first. What makes you think that Collins is ready to be the first big man off the bench?
Brian: I’m not sure this is much of a positive but I am sure that he will be the first big off the bench because who else is it going to be? When head coach Terry Stotts is looking for a sub for one of his big men, it’s going to be Collins, Meyers Leonard, or Caleb Swanigan. I don’t see this as a difficult choice for Stotts. Collins is not only the player with the highest ceiling of the three, but it also currently the most effective on both sides of the ball.
Steve: I have been impressed with Collins’ instincts on the defensive end from day one. Davis thrived off getting around post players who were more physically gifted than him, and Collins appears to possess the same set of intangibles. Along with rebounding, the former Gonzaga standout has a knack for getting in position on the defensive end. His flexibility will allow him to play next to nearly all of Portland’s other post players.
On the flipside, what is your biggest concern about Collins?
Steve: My concerns with Collins are tied to his role on the offensive end. He has to find a go-to move. He still has to perfect his pick-and-pop game, and he doesn’t have the anchor to get routine looks in the post. Hopefully Collins can find something that works somewhere between those two areas.
Brian: My biggest concern about Collins is that he doesn't have as much room to grow as Blazer fans hope. I do expect some improvements: He’ll gain some strength which will help rebounding numbers and positional defense, and I expect him to shoot the three ball better than last year. Also, more minutes and maturity will cure some young mistakes of last year. But his offensive game is very limited and I worry he’ll peak be a so-so finisher with an average jumper and no other offensive game. There is a lot of value in a great defensively player that can add a little something offensively, but I worry that expecting more out of him is a mistake.
Who will have more total minutes played by the end of the year: Meyers Leonard or Caleb Swanigan?
Brian: I’m going Meyers here (That sound you just heard was the sound of Steve’s jaw hitting the floor). And it’s true, I’ve had very little confidence in Meyers since he was drafted, and that lack of confidence has not wavered at all. But I’m not sure Stotts has seen enough from Swanigan to merit a change in the big man hierarchy. I dont have much confidence in either player. Stotts preferred Meyers last year so I’ll roll with him on this one.
Steve: Shocked might be an understatement.
Both big men have obvious flaws, but one of them is going to have to fill a few minutes per night this season. Swanigan’s lack lateral quickness is concerning on the defensive end, and his lack of height creates serious problems on both ends. That being said, there is no denying that Swanigan possess a knack for snagging rebounds in traffic.
If only there was a way to combine Leonard and Swanigan into one player.
What are you expecting from Portland’s post players this season? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.