The Portland Trail Blazers acquired Rodney Hood last week in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While not a home run, blockbuster deadline deal, it was an easy call in that Portland sent back two non-rotation players to Cleveland in Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV. This creates its own set of problems for Stotts to solve; how to find effective minutes for everyone on the supporting cast.
You have the newly acquired Hood, a capable scoring wing that has averaged 13 points per game over his career, and the emerging Jake Layman, averaging nearly 14 a night over his last 12 games, competing for time backing up Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu - not to mention Evan Turner and Zach Collins.
A lot of fans are calling for Harkless to lose his starting spot and be relegated to a bench role. I’m not sure that’s the direction that Stotts is going to go. There’s no denying that Harkless is struggling immensely on offense, but he is still doing an adequate job defensively. It makes sense to pair his current level of production with the high-scoring trio of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. The same goes for Aminu; let the other guys score and count on their defensive abilities.
Also, as much as he’s struggling now, Harkless has historically been a complete disappearing act off the bench. Some guys need to know when and how much they’re going to play. Harkless seems to be one of those players.
That being said, Stotts does seem to be looking for combinations that will maximize his talent. On Thursday against San Antonio, Stotts went with Hood at small forward and Layman at power forward for a stretch late in the game. Against Dallas on Sunday, he tried it again in the fourth quarter before going back to Harkless midway through. Aminu never saw action in the fourth.
Collins and Seth Curry have also seen their minutes jolted by the change. Zach played only 14 combined minutes over his last two games before logging 18 against the Mavericks. Curry averaged exactly 20 minutes per game in January; he’s played less than 30 total minutes over three games since then.
The challenge that Stotts faces is that none of his options are multi-dimensional enough to completely separate themselves from the pack. Layman is close; his defense has been better, even if it’s not great, and his off-ball activity seems to make the entire team perk up on offense. But starting him would likely make Harkless go from underachieving to completely lost. Hood is new to the team and not a defensive stalwart, though he had several impressive stands against Dallas rookie sensation Luka Doncic in the fourth quarter before being pulled late. Collins still has work to do offensively and can get caught trying not to foul - a terrible headspace for a defender to be in. Curry is phenomenal at the one thing he does and can’t give you anything else on a nightly basis.
Look for Stotts to settle into a more consistent bench rotation over the next several games, while still giving himself the freedom to slightly alter things based on match ups. The Blazers play eight of their next nine on the road, and the playoffs are looming. The Rodney Hood acquisition was made with only two things in mind; finishing the season strong and getting out of the first round. Even though he was given an additional weapon, Stotts still has some work to do in figuring out how this all going to work.
Who do you think should be seeing more minutes? Fewer? Let us know in the comments!