A few weeks ago, I wrote about which teams might be after the Blazers’ free agents. Since that time, the Blazers have drafted Nassir Little, and swapped Evan Turner for Kent Bazemore. While Little might not be ready for minutes right away, these moves would indicate (to me) that the Blazers are preparing for the departure of Rodney Hood, and possibly Al Farouq Aminu. Here are five players who are flying a bit under the radar who could fit into the Blazers’ plans next season, either as fill-ins for Jusuf Nurkic, or as replacements for Hood, Aminu, and Seth Curry.
Numbers of Import: Career Box Plus Minus of 1.8, Win Shares/48 of 0.126
Kyle O’Quinn is a longtime advanced analytics darling coming off a down season. 29 years old, O’Quinn struggled in Indiana after years in New York, posting lower efficiency and rebound rates than previous seasons. However, he was not alone in struggling offensively on the Pacers last year, and is a strong rebound candidate for the next couple seasons. O’Quinn is an excellent passer for a big man, someone who could replicate a little bit of Jusuf Nurkic’s playmaking for the Blazers. He’s a solid rebounder, a usually efficient scorer (albeit on low volume), and provides at least some presence at the rim on defense. He can probably be signed for cheap this summer, and would be a very nice complementary addition to the Blazers’ big man group.
Numbers of Import: 0.9 RPM last season, 2.4 Box Plus Minus
Khem Birch was one of the unsung heroes of the Magic’s run to the playoffs last season. While Nikola Vucevic received his first All-Star appearance, and Terrance Ross got some Sixth Man of the Year buzz, and Jonathan Isaac gained momentum as one of the best young defenders in the NBA, Birch just quietly plugged away as one of the best backup centers in the NBA. In just his second NBA season, Birch established himself as a well above-average defender and strong finisher around the basket. Somewhat limited offensively, Birch is good at traditional big man things: rim protection, rebounding, and dunking. While he was excellent last year, the devaluation of big men in today’s NBA combined with the Magic’s investment in young big men could mean Birch is available for a not-exorbitant price. If so, the Blazers should jump.
Numbers of Import: 38.4% three point shooting over last three seasons, 2.04 attempts per game
Bring Dante back to Portland! I don’t know if any Blazers fans are still attached to Dante, who left the Blazers nearly a decade ago, but I think he’d be a nice replacement for Al Farouq-Aminu if AFA were to leave. Like Aminu, Cunningham is a bigger wing who’s reluctant to shoot threes, and can defend multiple positions. He’s not as good a defender or rebounder as Aminu, but he’s a very competent wing with a good locker room reputation, and can hit outside shots if left open. On the minimum or for the Bi-Annual Exception, Cunningham would be a nice backup wing to fill in for the departed Aminu.
Numbers of Import: 2427 playoff minutes played, over $150 million earned salary
Luol Deng fell off the radar for a couple years as the owner of one of the worst contracts in the NBA, given to him by a hideously bad Lakers front office in 2016. He barely played for the Lakers, and most people forgot about him except as a punchline. The laughter only got louder when Tom Thibodeau brought him in for the Timberwolves last season in his attempt to bring back the 2011 Bulls. However, something surprising happened: Deng played well when given minutes. He’s not the All-Defense caliber player he used to be, but he’s a highly experienced veteran wing who can still take on tough defensive assignments and create his own shot as a tertiary ballhandler. Deng has made enough money in his career (and he’s still getting paid by the Lakers for years to come due to his contract getting stretched) that money is probably not as important to him as fit and situation. With the Blazers, Deng would get minutes off the bench, and would be on a team with a chance to make a deep playoff run.
Numbers of Import: 40% from three on 1272 career attempts, averages 10.1 attempts per 36 minutes
Troy Daniels has languished as a reserve on bad teams for years now, and deserves to play minutes that actually mean something for a playoff team. Daniels is one of the premier outside shooters in the NBA, a player who can hit shots from 28 feet out from all angles of the court, and has an extremely quick release that is difficult to contest. The rest of Daniels’ game is very limited, but he could certainly replace Seth Curry’s shooting if Seth becomes too expensive for the Blazers to keep. He’s also somewhat larger than Curry, so even though he’s not a very good defender, he’s at least a bigger body to throw at wings when he plays next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
What do you all think? Which of these guys would you most like to see in a Blazers’ uniform next year?