The Portland Trail Blazers will head into NBA training camp and preseason next week. As they prepare for the 2018-19 season, here are three story lines to watch.
Maurice Harkless Playing the Four
The more I look at the Blazers roster, the more I feel like Portland is going to give this experiment a go. Why? Well, with no Ed Davis and Neil Olshey determined to play Zach Collins at the 5, someone has to play the four besides Al-Farouq Aminu, and it doesn’t look like Coach Stotts is going to go back to Meyers Leonard at the four anytime soon. So the options are, go with Harkless whom Stotts is familiar with and has faith in or then untested Jake Layman or Caleb Swanigan.
Layman and Swanigan both performed admirably in Summer League, but is that enough to garner actual rotation minutes? Probably not. Still, Stotts will almost certainly give it some time during camp and the Preseason just to make sure.
As for Harkless, the real question here is can he provide the consistency and rock steady example for Collins that Davis did. Anytime Collins made a mistake, Davis was there to either bail him out or pick him up. Teachable moments is the phrase tossed around quite often. Heretofore, that steadiness hasn’t exactly been Harkless’ M.O. Asking him to shepherd Collins too may not be the best idea. On the flip side, perhaps that faith and responsibility is what enables Harkless to firmly and finally stake claim to his role with the team.
Zach Collins Mans the Five
Olshey has said that Collins will play closer to the rim this year. He’s also likened Collins to Rasheed Wallace, Kevin McHale and LaMarcus Aldridge - so, yeah I’m not buying it wholesale quite yet. Regardless, I’ve resolved myself to the fact that Collins will get time as the only real big on the floor and that has the chance to have a massive impact on team. What kind of impact is yet to be determined.
What better place to test that impact, good or bad, than in preseason games that just don’t matter? I would expect one of the first wrinkles we get to see is Collins at the center position. The next one will be how well Collins can play with Nurkic for a sustained period.
My expectation is that Collins gets the largest chunk of his minutes at the four, with little morsels of time at the five. In tinkering with potential lineups I came up with this.
Coach Stotts is certainly not shy about mixing up lineups. As a player, if you show you’re capable and you put the work in, Stotts will give you a chance. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed over and over. Throw in the fact that the offense is most an “equal opportunity offense” and it’s not exactly surprising that guys are willing to work for their chance at some early season burn.
Save injuries, Stotts probably won’t play with the starting lineup- but there is a unique opportunity to perhaps see a true second unit. No Damian Lillard. No CJ McCollum. Dun, dun duuuuuun! Even if Stotts does opt to give it a go, and run a unit of Seth Curry, Gary Trent Jr., Evan Turner, Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard - or something resembling that- that lineup will have the shelf life of gas station sushi. With positioning in the Western Conference perceived to be precarious, Stotts isn’t going to feel entirely safe experimenting on the edges without either of his stars on the floor.
Those are the three things I’m looking at going into the Preseason- what are you looking for as the action commences next week?