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Ranking the Trail Blazers’ Young Players

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Portland added two young hopefuls while bringing back several more. Who’s poised to make an immediate impact?

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Boston Celtics v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Fresh off of NBA Summer League, the Portland Trail Blazers are ready to see if any of their young, talented players can step up to fill minutes during the regular season. 2018 NBA Draft first-rounder Anfernee Simons, fellow rookie Gary Trent Jr,, and comparative veterans Wade Baldwin IV and Jake Layman will all compete for lower rotation spots. How that will shake out is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.

Who gets the most minutes this year: Jake, Gary Trent Jr., Afernee Simons, or Wade Baldwin? Who is the best fit of those 4 for the current squad?

Thanks to you and your team for all your hard work!

Go Blazers,

Kyle

We are down to a part of the roster where the conventional answer is “none of the above”. I expect you already know that, but it’s worth clarifying the separation between Summer League promise and actual contribution. The default setting for all of these players is “deep bench, appearing mostly in blowouts”. Anything they do north of that is either a very nice bonus or an indication that things have gone wrong for the team.

With that caveat in place, Baldwin is the most prepared to contribute. He’s spent a little time in Portland’s system, he’s played in the G-League, and he can defend. All three of those qualities will put him above the rookie guards. The Blazers won’t leave open vast swaths of minutes at point; every moment Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum leave the floor, the team will be at risk. But Portland is one previously-injured Seth Curry away from having no reserve point guard at all, drawing Evan Turner into duty there. That’s not ideal. Baldwin may be the guy to step forward and surprise in Shabazz Napier style.

Long-term hopes fall on Simons at point. A combination of mystery and offensive skill make him attractive. But 23rd picks are as close to the second round as they are to the lottery...exponentially farther in spirit from the bankable lottery players. If your 23rd pick ever ends up as a productive starter, you’ve done well.

Simons impressed with his shot and offensive poise in Summer League. His release is quick enough, but still looks low for the NBA. Defense will be the main concern. Simons feels like the kind of player that Portland’s coaching staff will like, but might also drive them crazy at first. The big test will come when real, live NBA players get up into him on both ends. I don’t see him handling that well yet.

Trent Jr. may be the sleeper here. He’s taller and could swing between shooting guard and small forward. His experience at Duke gives him a subtle, but important, edge over Simons. He can use screens, catch-and-shoot, hit from mid-range. Even though his defense is suspect, he won’t look like a deer in the headlights in the system. He’ll also have easier defensive assignments, not playing point guard. Assuming no injuries to anyone, Trent has the most natural openings in front of him of all these players.

Layman could sneak through the current confusion at reserve power forward to secure minutes, but odds are Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard will beat him out. He spent most of his time at small forward last year, but doesn’t seem natural there as a defender. More to the point, he’s not fundamentally different than he was last season, when he earned only 5 minutes per game in 35 appearances in the same basic rotation. If he’s going to get a promotion, think stretch four...but don’t bank on it.

In the end, ranking these players in any order depends on what you’re looking for.

  • Long-term development potential probably runs Simons, Trent Jr. Baldwin IV, Layman. That’s the order fans will want to see.
  • For positional needs and experience it’s Layman, Trent Jr., Baldwin IV, Simons. That’s the “on paper, regardless of talent” version.
  • Mix all of those things together with talent, skill set, and expectations and you have Baldwin IV, Trent Jr., Simons, and Layman. That might be closer to the order the coaches fall into.

Either way, the original assertion holds. If one or more of these players get major minutes, it’s either a great sign for the Blazers or a really bad one.

Thanks for the topic, Kyle! Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com! All of you, feel free to rank these four players’ potential impact in the comments!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com