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The Trail Blazers Sport a New Rotation, but are they Really Better?

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Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood are better than the players who preceded them. How much difference can they make?

NBA: New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs seeding run with two new players likely to earn significant playing time: Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood. Both trade-deadline pick-ups will bolster the roster, but how much? That’s the topic of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

What is your final judgement [sic] on how much better the team is with Enes and Rodney on board? It makes a difference but how big? Big enough to send them through the playoffs? Could this be the shifting gears we’ve been waiting for?

Skye

I’m going to summarize the way I did yesterday on the radio with Chad Doing and Travis Demers: acquiring Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood made the Blazers the best possible version of themselves they can possibly be. Within the parameters they’ve set for themselves, they could hardly have done better.

Hood can swing between shooting guard and small forward. He’s able to start or come off the bench. He can catch and shoot or dribble into his shot.

Kanter is as close to Jusuf Nurkic as any (available) center in the NBA. The Blazers won’t have to switch the system as much moving from first to second units. Kanter also brings a little range, so they can fold in Meyers Leonard-ish play as well. He should fit in smoothly and generate stats.

Neither player is known for defense. Portland’s second unit won’t thrive on that. But let’s face it...they weren’t anyway. The task of the second unit will be to extend scoreboard margins if they can, hold them at minimum. That can be accomplished with offense. Their bench punch is exponentially better now than it was before those deals.

I’ll also repeat something I said in an earlier Mailbag. Do not laugh: if something happens to the Warriors, the Trail Blazers could take the #1 seed in the West. Assuming Golden State does not cede that position, Portland could still finish #2. If things don’t bounce right for them, they could also slip into the lower half of the bracket.

The new acquisitions make that slide less likely. The Blazers have solidified their bottom end. They’ll be less devastated by injuries to anyone not named Damian Lillard. They’ll be less vulnerable to offensive droughts.

Acquiring Hood and Kanter doesn’t raise the ceiling as much as the floor, though. The Blazers may be the best possible version of themselves, but they’re not a fundamentally different team. They’re still having to choose between offense and defense. They’ll still suffer from matchup vulnerabilities and field players who can’t be trusted with the ball. These things won’t show up much in the regular season; that’s part of the floor-raising. The playoffs are just as dicey now as they always were.

No matter where the Blazers are seeded, they can’t be comfortable facing their first-round opponent. The Houston Rockets present scary mismatches. The Utah Jazz are a coin flip. Hopefully the Blazers could take the San Antonio Spurs or Los Angeles Clippers, but are we sure about that?

Barring a huge upset, Portland wouldn’t be favored against their second-round opponent, even with Hood and Kanter in tow. It’s not inconceivable that they could make the Conference Finals, but that wasn’t entirely inconceivable before those moves either.

Kanter, Hood, Seth Curry, and Al-Farouq Aminu all have expiring contract this summer, while Jake Layman reaches a pivot point in his rookie deal. The Blazers are obligated to $126 million in salary against a projected $109 million cap without any of those players. Unless they do GREAT this spring, this incarnation of the team is not likely to last beyond July.

Kanter and Hood were smart additions. Keeping in mind context, the Blazers did great at the trade deadline. Their impact isn’t likely to change the team’s current, or ultimate, destiny. Thanks to these moves, Portland’s cup is more than half full. The carrying capacity is still nowhere near the refillable 64-oz monstrosities that contenders gulp from.

As we said yesterday, this is the final week for Blazer’s Edge Night donations. We need more tickets if we’re going to send everybody who has asked! Please consider donating a couple to send kinds in need to see the Blazers play the Nets on March 25th! Here’s how.