The NBA playoffs are currently in full swing, but the Portland Trail Blazers are already on summer vacation. Barring a major roster move for a difference-maker, the team is going to yet again rely on internal development to carry them past a challenging campaign and deeper into the postseason. Fortunately, there are clear opportunities for some of Portland’s players to improve. After they get a few weeks off to clear their heads and shake off the disappointing end to the 2017-18 season, this is what I hope some of the team works on this summer.
Al-Farouq Aminu - Dribbling Into Traffic
Even with his versatile defense and improved 3-point shooting, Aminu is one of biggest “yes, yes, yes, no!” players in the NBA. He is often able to drive into the lane against defenders when they decide to respect his 3-point shooting. The problem is that Aminu struggles to maintain control of the ball in the paint, frequently committing careless turnovers. He actually showed relative improvement finishing at the rim last season, connecting on a solid 60 percent of his looks from 0-3 feet, but Aminu still needs to exhibit better ability and decision making when taking it to the rack.
Imagine an Al-Farouq Aminu that could successfully drive and finish with any sort of consistency. Combined with his 3-point shooting and ability to guard four positions on the court and he becomes incredibly valuable.
Zach Collins - Eating and Lifting Weights
Blazer fans were already treated to steady improvement by Collins all season long. While he didn’t light the world on fire in his rookie season, Collins looked light years ahead of where he was in Summer League. One thing that Collins was unable to do, however, was bang in the post with the ball in his hands. Late in the season, he demonstrated a nice turnaround jumper from the baseline but, frankly, he more often struggled to take advantage of a smaller guard defending him in the paint.
All of this will improve with calories and training. Collins was so rail-thin, he said that he managed to put on about 10 pounds during the regular season. The reality of being so thin that you’re able to put on weight while burning calories at an NBA level is astounding. I have little doubt that the Blazers training staff has a plan for Collins this summer that involves a whole lot extra helpings at the dinner table and even more squats and deadlifts.
Wade Baldwin IV - Repeatedly Running the Pick and Roll
If things shake out as expected, Shabazz Napier is going to earn himself a nice little payday somewhere else. With the Blazers needing to focus on guys like Jusuf Nurkic and Ed Davis in contract negotiations, the team likely won’t be able to retain Napier. If so, look for Wade Baldwin IV to be in the rotation as a back up guard.
In his limited time at the end of the season, Baldwin was impressive. He showed an ability to use his long reach and positioning to play pestering defense against the likes of Chris Paul and James Harden. Baldwin also showed a solid touch, hitting four of five 3-pointers attempted during the regular season. With extended minutes, Baldwin will need to improve his pick and roll play. Portland runs the pick and roll extensively and Baldwin will be well-served by improving his decision making and penetration abilities coming off of screens.
Jusuf Nurkic - Putting Together One Go-To Post Move
After a slow start to the season, Jusuf Nurkic turned it on in early January. It’s no coincidence that that’s when Terry Stotts began limiting Nurkic’s touches in the post and used him more in pick and roll scenarios. Nurkic has decent footwork but he lacks a post move that he can reliably count on to get buckets. What fans frequently saw instead was what all to often looked to be a random flip up toward the hoop with little consideration for where the defender, or the rim, was
Nurk spent last offseason getting his body in shape, which was a necessary. He had stamina challenges and often got in foul trouble late in games as he faded. This summer, Nurkic needs to develop one solid post move. One that he can replicate over and over. Whether that’s a drop step, a turnaround baby hook, it doesn’t matter. But if the Blazers can feel comfortable getting some results out of Nurkic post touches, that’s a big opportunity to develop a new wrinkle in their offense next season. Nurkic is such a physical load down low that, should he be able to draw help defenders in the post, the Blazers could feast on the kick out passes that Nurkic, a willing distributor, would provide.
What do you want the Blazers to work on this offseason? Share your thoughts in the comments!