Though a few new faces dot the Portland Trail Blazers’ rotation this season, the main core of the team remains the same as it did in 2017-18. So, too, do their troubling inconsistencies. Despite a hot start out of the gate, the Blazers have reverted back to old habits that have become frustratingly familiar to their fans over the last few years. Though Portland’s present remains murky, their future remains bright thanks to the auspicious duo of Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. The only question is, how long will it take for “now” to become “later” as these promising young players find a role.
Portland’s two rookies have seen scant minutes in the early going, but perhaps a rotation shakeup is just what the team needs. That would mean taking minutes away from players already in the rotation. Both Simons and Trent are natural shooting guards, but Trent’s size (6-6, 205) allows him to play as a small-ball small forward. The likes of CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman, Nik Stauskas, Seth Curry and Evan Turner are currently patrolling those positions, and while it would be hard to imagine McCollum or Turner exiting the normal rotation, have any of the other four performed well enough to justify holding back players who figure to be the future of the organization?
Stauskas and Layman have been the most consistent of the four, but they remain streaky shooters. Harkless is as enigmatic as ever, battling injury amid nearly-nonexistent offensive production (outside of a couple of recent performances). Curry has still yet to find his footing, and to this point has been mostly a non-factor. It’s starting to look clear that the current group doesn’t have what it takes for sustained success. That argues for a shake-up.
Granted, Simons and Trent can’t be counted on for consistency as this stage, but at least they serve as an unknown commodity—something fresh that we haven’t seen before. In addition, they have more upside than Stauskas, Curry, or even Harkless. The goal for Portland is almost certainly to pair the young guys with the core of Damian Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. If the incumbents aren’t getting the job done, why shouldn’t the team give the rookies a shot with the big dogs to try and expedite the process?
In the small sample size we’ve seen so far, neither Simons nor Trent is bashful. They look like they belong, largely avoiding the “deer in the headlights” reaction we sometimes see with young players being given their first opportunity. Though they have not shot well, Simons showed that he’s more than capable during Summer League, while Trent’s track record at Duke remains encouraging. Both have shown flashes in garbage time, the only time they usually appear in games.
The youngsters likely won’t yield immediate dividends, but at the very least they can inject life into an organization seemingly stuck in purgatory. By slowly incorporating them into the game plan this year, they could be ready to contribute on a more permanent level in the next year or two, in what will likely be the last shot for the team at a championship during Lillard’s prime.
The approach the Blazers are doing now isn’t really working. Nor is it helping the team build for the future. They’re simply treading water. Even with a chance of a slight drop in bench production from playing inexperienced players, there’s enough talent on the roster to still fight for the playoffs. Waiting any longer to incorporate their untested rookies only delays the inevitable, and the only chance this group has of eventually competing for a title.