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Which Departed Player Will the Trail Blazers Miss Most?

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Portland lost seven guys this summer. Which one leaves the biggest hole?

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers had an active summer, picking up Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, and Nassir Little to bolster their lineup. In the process, they lost major swaths of a once-familiar rotation. One Blazer’s Edge reader wants to know what the biggest cost of the transition could be, and that’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag,

Dave,

Everyone is talking about Whiteside and Baze and the players we picked up but I have a different spin? We lost alot of big minute players. Which one or ones do you think we’ll miss most? I’m thinking Chief but I want to hear your opinion.

Chris

The Blazers bid goodbye to seven rotation players this summer: Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman. I agree with you that the Blazers will miss Aminu most, for obvious reasons. Leonard was the longest-tenured of the bunch with seven seasons under his belt, but Aminu played far more minutes in his four years in the Rose City (8478) than Leonard in his entire career (6095). He started almost as many games in Portland as the other six combined.

Aminu earned his starting role as a stalwart on defense. He routinely outperformed his team’s defensive averages; only centers bested him in defensive stats, and them barely. That doesn’t make him a great defender, but he was the best the Blazers had. Nobody coming on board will replace him on that end of the court.

That praise is modified by four caveats:

  1. Aminu was a reliable defender in the team scheme, but not a game-changer in the mold of Scottie Pippen or Draymond Green. He was a player you didn’t worry about more than a player you relied on for wins.
  2. Though he’d often draw the toughest wing assignment on the court, Aminu wasn’t that special against star players, including those at his power forward position. He had good outings now and then, but he didn’t put fear into opposing superstars.
  3. Aminu facilitated plenty of regular-season wins over his four seasons, but hit a glass ceiling in the playoffs. When opponents could key on him, forcing the Blazers to go through him on offense, his limitations weighed more than his positives.
  4. The Blazers may rely on Hassan Whiteside to play a Theo Ratliff role on defense, blocking shots in the lane as perimeter defenders channel dribblers into him. Aminu would provide better defense than his replacements will, but it may not be quite as critical with a new sentry in the middle.

Combine these factors and you can see that, although the Blazers will assuredly miss their veteran forward, they wouldn’t necessarily go farther than they have with him still in tow, He was capable of getting them where they were, but wasn’t special enough to get them where they needed to go. They always knew they’d miss him, but that didn’t make him worth re-signing long term.

If I wasn’t going with Aminu, I could take two different directions. Kanter had the biggest single impact of anyone on this list and was the most unique player the Blazers lost. Turner provided a solid backdrop in the locker room. His departure was contractually-influenced, but it also indicates the team’s confidence in the leadership they retained. The Blazers not needing Turner’s cultural contributions as much as they once did is a sign of growth.

The other four players go under the category of less-influential, or at least replaceable. I’m sure they’ll be missed on isolated nights, but overall, the Blazers will be fine.

What do you think? If you had to name one of the departed seven as the biggest loss, who would you pick and why? Let us know in the comments.

We’ll ramp up Mailbags as the season approaches, so go ahead and submit questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com