With training camp underway, the Portland Trail Blazers are preparing in earnest for the 2018-19 regular season. Following Media Day, Dan Marang talked about one of Portland’s strong themes being lineup experimentation. Such adjustments are not new, but in today’s NBA, which features less minutes from starters and more varied rotation experimentation, they are more important than ever.
As the Blazers approach the season, here are three interesting lineups that could see time for the Blazers next season, and why I’d like to see them in action.
Lineup 1: Just play the five best players
Damian Lillard - CJ McCollum - Al Farouq Aminu - Zach Collins – Jusuf Nurkic
While all these players were on Portland’s roster last year, they never appeared together in one lineup. And that might be for a good reason: both Aminu and Collins are playing a position down from those that fit best. But still, it’s an intriguing lineup, because it puts the Blazers’ best players together on the court together. Or at least, these will be the Blazers’ five best players if things go according to plan.
If Portland plans to make up for past losses in an improved Western Conference, they need Zach Collins to take a step forward from promising rookie to strong rotation player. At 7’0”, he’s a bit large to play power forward full-time, but last season he demonstrated the ability to switch positions on defense. If Collins takes another step as a shooter, he could help space the floor for Nurkic to work in the post, making the fit work on offense as well.
This lineup could have some weaknesses. If Collins doesn’t improve from deep, or if Aminu reverts to his streaky outside shooting, the lineup could lack spacing. Teams that go small could run the Collins-Nurkic duo off the court. That said, there’s something to putting your best players on the court, and this lineup could be really interesting on both ends of the court.
Lineup 2: Give air time to the reclamation projects
Wade Baldwin - Seth Curry - Nik Stauskas – Jake Layman – Meyers Leonard
Now this could be fun. The Blazers picked up Curry and Stauskas this summer. Both of them need strong seasons to reestablish themselves as NBA players after rough 2017-2018 campaigns. Baldwin was waived by the Grizzlies last October just one season after being their 1st round draft pick, and spent most of last year in the G-League. Layman was the Blazers’ 2nd round pick a couple years ago and has barely played, while Leonard has largely been written off after a season where he also largely rode the bench. All five guys have something to prove.
The actual on-court fit could be combustible – in both directions. On offense, Baldwin is a steady hand at point guard, someone who can really get an offense going and share the ball. Curry and Stauskas are both very good shooters at the NBA level, and are quite capable of getting hot in a hurry. Layman is unproven, but he was a plus threat from deep in college, and should help space the floor as well. If nothing else, Meyers Leonard can shoot threes better than most big men. This lineup could run a true five-out offense with the floor fully spread, providing room for Leonard to dive to the basket, or for Baldwin to attack off the dribble. The trouble might come at the other end. Stauskas and Curry are below-average defenders, and Leonard is no rim protector. Baldwin is energetic at the point of attack, and Layman had some defensive promise in college, but this lineup will likely bleed points on defense. Still, they would be fun to watch, and would have a chance to outscore opponents due to their shooting.
Lineup 3: To heck with it...switch-everything
Wade Baldwin – Evan Turner – Mo Harkless – Al Farouq Aminu – Zach Collins
The Blazers probably won’t have many lineups getting extended minutes without Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum...the best shooters and shot-creators on roster by far. However, this combination of players could approximate the “switch everything” defense that the Warriors and Rockets have popularized in recent years. Baldwin stands 6’4” but has a lengthy wingspan, while Collins is tall, but very quick for his height. Turner, Harkless, and Aminu are all classic “switchy” defenders who are fully capable of guarding multiple positions.
The offensive potency of this lineup isn’t great – the Blazers three best scorers (perhaps even four, with Seth Curry) are on the bench – but Turner and Baldwin do provide ball-handling, and the other three are capable of spotting up and nailing shots on the perimeter. With enough motion to sets and some smart play-calling, they could make things work. Better, their hopefully-strong defense could lead to some easy buckets in transition. Just like the other two, it’s probably not a group that will get a ton of run together, but I think it could work well.
Do you have any intriguing or wacky lineup suggestions for the new-look Blazers? Share below!