Portland Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has his work cut out for him this summer. It’s easy, when referring to roster balance, to point out that the team needs upgrades at both starting forward spots. While it’s true that the Blazers need help at the three and the four, these aren’t the only positions where Portland could use some extra firepower. Specifically, Olshey needs to figure out whether or not he envisions Pat Connaughton as Portland’s back up shooting guard of the future.
I’m not sure that he should be.
To be fair, Connaughton, a second round pick out of Notre Dame in 2015, has managed to improve his game significantly since entering the league three years ago. For the majority of his first two years, he looked like he didn’t quite belong on an NBA court. The athleticism was there. But the decision making and defense weren’t up to snuff.
Not that it was entirely his fault. Due to team injuries, Connaughton was supposed to play a significant amount of time at power forward during his time at Notre Dame. Not only was he undersized (though he performed admirably), but I’ve long been a believer that this limited his growth as a perimeter defender. Connaughton deserves credit for growing his game this last year. In the summer of 2017, it seemed as though he would sit on the bench for one more season and then would be forced to try his hand at baseball when he inevitably didn’t get another guaranteed NBA contract.
But then Patty C. showed that he had grown his game. He showed better decision making, defense, and shooting (his numbers were down compared to 2016-17, but the ‘small sample size’ alert applies). Credit where credit is due. But is Connaughton’s ability shooting enough to be the back up shooting guard on a team with playoff aspirations? If you ask me, it’s not.
After all, we’re still talking about a player who averaged just over five points per game in 18 minutes a night. That’s not great production no matter how you measure it. You can maybe live with that sort of production out of a veteran that has gone deep into the playoffs multiple times and is basically acting as another coach on the team, but that’s not the case here. While the Blazers do need to improve their production at the forward spots, they need to find some more scoring punch out of the back court reserves as well; especially if Shabazz Napier doesn’t re-sign with the team.
Connaughton is a restricted free agent this summer and, as enjoyable as his rare highlight dunks are, Olshey needs to look for an upgrade at the back up shooting guard slot. Everyone is hoping for the home run deal this summer, but the odds of that happening simply aren’t that high. If you can’t hit a homer, you’ll live with an RBI triple. Heck, at this point, I’d take a two out double with no one on base.
That’s what a move like replacing Connaughton for a more offensively gifted reserve guard would be. It wouldn’t be flashy, but it could pay real dividends. Tyreke Evans, Mario Hezonja, Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, Ian Clark, and more are out there this summer. Yes, Olshey needs to juggle the cap, the luxury tax apron, fan expectations, and pressure from Paul Allen and the Vulcans. That’s not going to make any move easy to pull off. But if he isn’t able or willing to pull of a clear upgrade to the starting lineup, he can at least fortify the bench unit at a reasonable cost.
I like Pat Connaughton, and I respect the work he put in to parlay his second round selection into a three-year NBA career, but it’s time for the Blazers to find some more scoring punch on the bench, preferably with some playoff experience. This team needs to get better wherever they have the opportunity.