Zach Collins is going to miss at least one more game after dislocating his shoulder earlier this week. His long-term prognosis is still unknown, leaving fans to speculate whether the Blazers starting power forward will miss weeks or months.
In the meantime, the Blazers are making due with essentially nine playable guys on a night-by-night basis (i.e. 15 roster spots minus injured players Jusuf Nurkic, Pau Gasol, Zach Collins; not-yet-ready prospects Gary Trent Jr. and Nassir Little; one empty spot).
The lack of healthy big men is already leading to some interesting rotation decisions. In certain matchups, for example against Kristaps Porzingis playing stretch center, Hassan Whiteside struggles. That leaves head coach Terry Stotts with ...Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja at power forward and center. And that’s before accounting for foul trouble. Not great!
Fortunately the Blazers do have a 15th roster spot open and could sign a player to a non-guaranteed contract to bolster their depth.
What do the Blazers need from Collins’ replacement?
The Blazers will probably be able to tread water against teams that don’t cause match-up problems for Whiteside. The newly acquired center can play his 30 or so minutes and Stotts can throw together makeshift lineups for the rest of the game. Not ideal but manageable.
On defense, Collins’ absence will be felt when Portland’s drop coverage gets torched by centers with shooting range or the opposing team is adept at forcing Portland’s center to make snap decisions while guarding in space. Whiteside struggles against those gameplans so normally Collins would slide over to center and cover.
Offensively whoever is covering for Collins just needs to be able to hit an occasional jumper and make some perimeter passes to cutting wings. This is less problematic and a role that can be filled by Hezonja or even Tolliver.
Thus any short-term signee will need to fill Collins’ role on defense and ideally have at least one competent offensive skill. Shooting would be best, but someone like Jake Layman who can create offense with high-energy cuts would also work.
What about Jaylen Hoard or Moses Brown?
Portland’s two-way players Jaylen Hoard and Moses Brown could be called up from the D League’s Texas Legends. D League players are only allowed 45 days on the main roster, but with Nurkic, Gasol, and Collins all hopefully returning to action in 2020, now would be a good time to use some of those days. If neither player joins the team it suggests they are not ready for primetime — certainly a possibility.
Who’s out there?
Carmelo Anthony: Not to contribute to the theories that Melo’s been blackballed, but don’t even think about it. Anthony could, theoretically, add a bit of scoring punch, but outside of international play has never shown himself to be the competent defender needed to play center for the Blazers.
Kenneth Faried: Fun fact — Faried turns 30 next month! I thought he was way older. Faried’s probably the best player available on the open market and averaged 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds in 25 games for the Rockets last year. He’s not a great perimeter defender, however, so he probably wouldn’t slide in seamlessly to Stotts’ gameplan. There was also acrimony between the Nets and Faried over playing time last year before he landed with the Rockets.
Joakim Noah: Noah is my personal choice. He’s not the all-star he used to be, but he was serviceable with the Grizzlies last year and certainly has the know-how to play perimeter defense, even if his physical gifts have waned. He averaged a respectable 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 42 appearances for Memphis last year. Noah also shot 70 percent from the line, usually a good indicator that he’s held onto at least a teensy bit of his mid-range ability from his Bulls days.
Other options: Dante Cunningham? Amir Johnson? Zaza Pachulia? I don’t know. Here’s the list if you want to go dumpster diving.
What’s the downside to signing someone?
There is no downside to signing someone, other than the luxury tax penalty the team will incur. The Blazers have an empty roster spot so they can add someone to the team without cutting another player. If the signee is on a non-guaranteed deal General Manager Neil Olshey will have until January to cut the player and re-open the final spot if he chooses. Theoretically there could be a chemistry problem, but the Blazers have a strong locker room and, again, if the new guy causes any trouble he can be sent packing without penalty.
Sign Joakim Noah and cross your fingers.