Whether it’s a local or national perspective, discussion about the Trail Blazers inevitably starts with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Jusuf Nurkic usually joins the marquis as well, but it ultimately ends with “yeah but...” when it pertains to Portland’s wing core. It’s not a hot take or all that surprising to anyone that follows the Blazers that the wings leave something to be desired. However, how far away are Portland’s wings from being good enough compared to their contemporaries?
If you take a look at a basic “3 & D” profile (minimum parameters for 3-point attempts & percentage) you get a decent idea of the levels to this type of player. Again, this isn’t new information for a lot of Blazers fans but I think it puts into perspective where things really are when you see it plotted out.
Over the last few years the Blazers have had Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu spend time on the perimeter as their 3 & D specialist(s). Problem is, it’s been more 3 or D. Just take a look at where each of them fall against their contemporaries. You either get some solid three-point shooting (Crabbe) or you get the possibility of some defense with very “meh” shooting. When you hear so many people talk about the Blazers bumping up against the ceiling, this is often what they reference.
Just take a look at the premier guys.
It’s not just the superstar guys that everyone expects like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant- but the prototype guys of this generation; Tobias Harris, Dario Saric, Victor Oladipo, Joe Ingles, Robert Covington, Otto Porter, and Jayson Tatum. When you see these names, what’s one thing they all have in common? All of their teams are, or were, trending up and building towards legitimate competition (save the Wizards, trust me I get it).
I’m talking specifically about the wings because of how pressing the issue is. On a night where Jake Layman scores 20 in a quarter and Harkless shows up and performs admirably, there are plenty who want to hop right back on the train. I see it as more of a hamster wheel. That’s why when I see deals such as the CJ for Aaron Gordon swap (as far from reality as they may be) I’m inclined to look at them. Look at where Portland’s wings show up cumulatively over the last few years compared to the guys Portland fans covet so much.
Again, I’m not saying things people don’t know. But sometimes it feels as if the arrival of Nurkic- both as a scorer and a playmaker has allowed some folks to fall back into the mindset of “maybe this is enough.” Personally, I want to see fans hold the team more accountable. Demand that actions are taken to improve the roster now and in the future.
When you look at Portland’s roster the holes are glaring. There’s no amount of patchwork that covers them up. This isn’t to say that neither Aminu nor Harkless have a place in the NBA. In fact, that’s far from the truth. If either of those guys are the first and/or second guy off your bench your roster construction is probably fantastic and the organization is doing quite well. This is the conundrum that Portland has placed itself in.
The Blazers are in need of players that form the shallowest talent pool in the league and don’t have the necessary assets to procure them without going over the top. So the question fans and executives are probably asking right now is, do the Blazers feel comfortable enough with their current wing group to believe they can compete down the stretch and into the playoffs?
If the answer is no from those in charge then ideas like a swap for Gordon and Terrance Ross should be looked at- along with a myriad of other offers for players like Aminu (who’s deal is expiring) or Harkless who are being asked to fill holes they are not capable of doing on a consistent or highly efficient basis. This isn’t a knock on them in the way you wouldn’t use a hammer to drive screws. Sure, it may work- but there’s going to be some damage along the way, it may not always be pretty and well- sometimes it just won’t work on the harder stuff.