Despite the team’s recent struggles, the Portland Trail Blazers are good at developing young talent, argues John Hollinger of the Athletic. As one of two teams in the league without a G-League affiliate—the other being the Denver Nuggets—the Blazers have to rely on their own structures to help develop players. Hollinger notes that patience is a key ingredient in Portland’s approach to player development.
Digging in, it’s notable that Portland’s and Denver’s approaches are pretty dissimilar, despite their ultimate success.
Portland doesn’t have specific player development coaches; Denver does. Portland rarely assigns players to the G League for long; Denver has been much more liberal about sending them out for a while. Portland’s successes have mostly been college upperclassmen; Denver tends to target overseas players and injury cases.
The two common threads are: 1) an organizational commitment to player development from the highest level and down through the coaching staff, and 2) patience.
Hollinger contends that a G-League affiliate is potentially overrated, and he offers up the success of the various players that have passed through Denver and Portland as proof.
Consider the evidence. In the last six years, the Blazers developed McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Jake Layman, Zach Collins, Mason Plumlee, Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier and Simons into rotation players. Denver, meanwhile, churned out Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Juancho Hernangomez, and Torrey Craig. Additionally, let’s give these franchises shared credit for Will Barton, traded from Portland to Denver just as he emerged in 2015; and Jusuf Nurkic, who took the opposite path from Denver to Portland in 2017.
Portland has dedicated its resources to an in-house model for growing players, and President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey notes that there is value in the soft skills of being in the league.
“We think it’s best that our players are practicing with us,” said Olshey. “It’s so important to us to teach them how to be pros. The exposure for Anfernee Simons to be around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum every day is incalculable. He’s not going to get that just because he’s playing 30 minutes in the G League. That’s more valuable.”
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