The Portland Trail Blazers acquired Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan (welcome back, Biggie) in yet another trade with the Sacramento Kings on January 21. Because of the dire state of Portland’s roster, Gabriel and Swanigan might scavenge some minutes at forward or center until Skal Labissiere, Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic return from injury.
Unless he’s moved onward in another trade deadline deal – which isn’t out of the question – Ariza should get significant run for the Blazers. He’ll slide into Kent Bazemore’s spot at starting forward alongside Carmelo Anthony for a combined 32 years of NBA experience. Depending on defensive matchups, they should flip flop as small forward and power forward.
Criticism of Bazemore’s tenure with the Blazers stemmed from a tendency to try and do too much. He replaced Al-Farouq Aminu as the player who made fans wince every time he put the ball on the floor. Too frequently, drives resulted in a midrange pull up or a desperation pass; he shot 31.3% from midrange and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of one.
Portland won’t have that problem with Ariza.
Despite not playing under Mike D’Antoni since the 2017-18 season, Ariza still has the Houston Rockets’ analytic-focused offense in his DNA. For the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns last year, 654 of his 735 shot attempts (89%) came in the restricted area or beyond the arc, compared to 76.1% for Bazemore.
Ariza is playing in his 15th NBA season at age 34, yet his three-point conversion rate has remained fairly steady the last couple years, fluctuating between 33% and 37%. So far in 2019-20, he’s shot 35.2% from deep on 3.8 attempts per game.
That success rate is composed of 37.3% from above the break and 32.6% from the corners. In previous years, his corner three-point percentage buoyed his overall conversion rate. For Washington and Phoenix in 2018-19, he made 40.7% from the corners and 30.2% from above the break.
Portland’s offense should focus on providing Ariza open catch-and-shoot looks anywhere on the perimeter; he might shoot better from above the break some games and corners another – just get him the ball open on the perimeter. Last season, he knocked down 44.7% of his wide-open triples, which accounted for roughly 44% of his total outside attempts.
Because Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum attract so much of the defense’s attention, those types of open looks should be more common. The space he gets on the arc should be reminiscent of his time in Houston with James Harden as the ball handler.
Catch-and-shoot threes were Bazemore’s primary contribution to the offense, and none of Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons or Carmelo Anthony can step into the level Portland needs. Trent Jr. experienced too much inconsistency from deep, Simons impacts the offense more as a self-creator, and Anthony seems to only want to hit midrange jumpers and work in the post. So, the opportunity is there for Ariza to become that guy.
The other chunk of his offense results from shots at the rim.
Ariza demonstrates his experience on drives by making the right passes and not turning the ball over too much. Last year, he averaged six drives per game – more than any Blazers player not named Lillard or McCollum – and passed on just short of half of them. Despite the frequent decision to pass, his turnover rate remained at a tolerable 6.9%.
Lillard and McCollum rarely get open three-point opportunities not off the dribble…or even at all. Having Ariza occasionally penetrate the lane and make a reliable kick out pass provides the team’s best shooters with high-percentage looks.
The Blazers need a dependable floor-spacing wing and a player who understands his role as the fourth or fifth banana on offense. Ariza has history as a guy who loiters in the corner and can make the right judgements with the ball in his hands. Not to mention he’s 6-foot-8.
There’s still a chance Portland makes another trade and Ariza barely suits up for Portland, and there’s a chance he doesn’t return next season as a money-saving option for the organization. But on paper, the veteran forward can add a belated dimension to this Blazers team pushing for a spot in the playoffs.