Today’s Portland Trail Blazers look a lot different than just four-and-a-half months ago, when they were swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the Golden State Warriors.
Neil Olshey has decided to make wholesale changes around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, adding wings Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja, bringing in veteran stretch-four Anthony Tolliver, retaining mid-season acquisition Rodney Hood, and filling the Jusuf Nurkic sized hole in the middle with splashy stop-gap center Hassan Whiteside.
There are probably more preseason questions facing this team than any Blazers group since the 2015-16 season, when the team had to contend with the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge and the resulting roster overhaul. We at Blazer’s Edge will attempt to answer the most pressing of these questions over the coming days as the regular season approaches.
But bringing in a new group of players means a whole lot of departures as well. Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Enes Kanter, and Jake Layman all find themselves on new teams this season, in a variety of unique situations. Which of them will have the best season?
Aminu signed a 3 year/$29 million deal with the Orlando Magic this summer. He’s a good fit, as a veteran player who is who he is at this point; a steady and versatile defender and very good rebounder for his size. The Magic feature Aaron Gordon and budding youngster Jonathan Isaac at the forward positions, so it’s likely that Aminu will come off the bench. The team also features Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross. Both can play either guard or small forward, so look for Aminu to predominately slot in at the four.
Harkless landed with the Clippers as part of the multi-team deal for Whiteside. He still tantalizes with bursts of inspired play but also can disappear from the action for long stretches. Harkless has always seemed to be a player who needs a consistent role, and it remains to be seen if he’s found one with L.A.
The Clippers, of course, added two of the best forwards in the game this offseason in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Harkless can play a lesser, but similar version of their versatile, switching defense. But on a team with NBA Finals goals, he’s going to have to provide consistency on both ends of the floor; something that has been a challenge thus far in his career.
Also part of the Hassan Whiteside deal, Leonard leaves the Blazers after seven seasons in Portland and joins Jimmy Butler with the Miami Heat. On paper, he slots in seamlessly alongside Kelly Olynyk as one of the team’s two 3-point shooting 7-footers. Leonard is a better long-range shooter than Olynyk, but will he let it fly without hesitation? And how will he mesh with mercurial Butler?
In a swap of bothersome contracts, Turner was sent to the Atlanta Hawks in a straight up deal for Bazemore. Not nearly the shooter that Bazemore is, Turner is a comparable (slightly superior, even) defender and, unlike Baze, a solid ball handler. He’ll be expected to take some back up point guard minutes when Trae Young sits. Atlanta could also use Turner to get Young some looks off the ball.
Seth Curry/Enes Kanter/Jake Layman
After a brief stop in Portland, where he helped key a stellar stretch run, Seth Curry is back with the Dallas Mavericks for a second stint. Curry is an undersized guard with as pure a 3-point stroke as you’ll find in the NBA. He can’t do a ton else for an NBA roster, but with a Dallas team featuring Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Curry has a chance to feast on open 3-pointers.
Speaking of keying Portland’s stretch run, Enes Kanter left for the Boston Celtics. He should see minutes in a big man rotation that includes Daniel Theis and NBA meme legend Tacko Fall. Still a defensive liability (though improved), Kanter remains one of the elite offensive rebounders in the NBA. With players like Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker, and Jason Tatum not shy about letting it fly, Kanter has chance to clean up in the middle.
Jake Layman had enough variance for two seasons last year. After heating up early in the year and looking like he could be a spark plug for years to come, Layman unfortunately forgot how to shoot from the outside; the main issue that has plagued him over his career. He’ll slot behind Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington with the Minnesota Timberwolves. They could try to play him for limited minutes at the stretch-four.
Whew, that’s a lot of players! Out of everyone listed above, who will have the best season this year?
h/t to reader Blake for the topic
Which of Last Year’s Former Blazers Will Have the Best Season?
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Seth Curry, Enes Kanter, Jake Layman, etc...