With Hassan Whiteside most likely seeking a lucrative contract, the Portland Trail Blazers need to search for a backup center behind Jusuf Nurkic. Whiteside gave the Blazers a serviceable backup option once Nurkic returned and kept the flow of the game going with tremendous rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. Proceeding forward, the Blazers must use their discretion in whether they want to go the experimental or experienced route.
There are a several options that the Blazers could obtain via the free agent market.
Young Centers With Potential
The former third-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to showcase his skill set, and to many looks like a disappointment. He’s played for the 76ers, Nets, and Pelicans. During his rookie year, he averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks on 50.8% shooting. It looked like he was part of their future and a safety net because of the knee injury of Joel Embiid, whom Philly drafted in 2014.
Once Embiid was cleared to play during the 2016-17 season, Okafor was stripped of his playing time until being traded to the Nets, where he spent part of one season. Last season with the Pelicans, he averaged 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 62.3% from the field in only 15.6 minutes as a reserve. He has great footwork and size that gives him a nice advantage offensively with the ability to the put the ball in the hoop. At the young age of 24, he hasn’t even entered his prime yet and the Blazers could definitely acquire him on a small contract. Jahlil Okafor would fit nicely alongside Zach Collins, who can spread the floor, and provide an offensive spark for the bench with post ups and pick-and-roll action.
The former sixth-overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft needed a home to showcase his skillset for the past several seasons. After making stops with the 76ers, Mavericks, and Thunder, Nerlens Noel has solidified what role he brings to the table. The 26-year-old experienced a revelation this past season with the Thunder being a bright spark off the bench. He posed averages of 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1 steal on 68.4% shooting in just 18.5 minutes.
Noel is athletic at 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan and an adept ability to block and alter shots. He’s also a great pick-and-roll partner for lobs with his jumping ability. With the Blazers needing help defensively, he could definitely be a serviceable replacement for Hassan Whiteside to protect the rim and run the floor. Many opposing players will think twice about driving in the paint, knowing they’ll soon be introduced to Nerlens Noel at the rim.
The former 4th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft hasn’t panned out into the star the league was hoping for, but he still has plenty of time and potential to carve out a significant role in an organization. Dragan Bender is a unique prospect, being only 22 years old. After his first three seasons with the Suns, he signed with the Bucks before ultimately landing with the Warriors. He’s 7’1” and possesses a skillset that showcases shooting from distance and using his foot-speed and mobility to get by opposing centers. He’s also able to use his 9’3” standing reach to serve as a rim protector. Bender definitely learned a few things from Brook Lopez during his short tenure with the Bucks. He’s made tremendous improvements from his days in Phoenix to Milwaukee and Golden State.
During each of his three years with Phoenix, he shot 27.7%, 36.6%, and 21.8% from three, respectively. Although he shot only 32.4% from three with the Warriors, he shot 44.4% from beyond the arc for the Bucks in the same season. Coming off the bench, he could work well paired with Zach Collins and even moments with Jusuf Nurkic, providing the space for their low-post repertoire. Bender’s versatility on both ends of the floor would fit in with the Bucks providing spacing and size. He just recently signed with Maccabi Tel-Aviv on a three-month contract with an option to play the remainder of the season. If the Blazers are able to pull of a good deal to sign Dragan Bender by the time training camp begins, this could definitely be a great steal for them.
Experienced Veteran Centers
Being the former third-overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Derrick Favors was expected to be the next big thing. Although he hasn’t panned out as a star, he has established a nice career as an extremely solid player. Last season with the Pelicans, Favors averaged 9.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, and just under at block (0.9) per game. He experienced a career-high of efficiency in his overall field goal percentage of 61.7%. The most intriguing stat he posed was his 3.2 offensive rebounds per game. That ranks 9th among all players this past season and he did so in the least amount of minutes of the top 12 offensive rebounders (24.4 minutes per game).
In this day and age, there are centers considered to be “undersized”. Although he has been primarily used as a power forward, Favors has experienced many stints at center. At a relatively young age of 29, he possesses a unique frame at 6’9” and an impressive wingspan of 7’4”. Additionally, he packs 265 lbs of weight to hold his own. He has used his physical attributes to make himself a critical presence, defensively. Even in his lone season as a Pelican, his teammate, Nicolò Melli, praised him for his defensive presence. Imagine him bullying down-low alongside Zach Collins, while Gary Trent Jr. harasses opposing guards/wings. Derrick Favors’ offensive and defensive acumen would help propel the Blazers’ second unit, being a mismatch to many opposing reserve centers.
This 6’10” Aussie doesn’t play games. He’s about business and a tough, gritty player. The 33-year-old Aron Baynes would bring even more grit to this team. He’s also disciplined with knowing his role and executing it to the best of his abilities. I mean what can you expect when he’s played for the famous Greg Poppovich. His accolades definitely prove he has a winning mentality. He won the 2014 NBA Championship with the Spurs and championships in Slovenia’s and Lithuania’s professional leagues. Having a winner of this magnitude would add much experience to this franchise.
Last season, Baynes averaged 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds on 48% shooting with the Suns. He’s also an above-average three-point shooter at a 35.1% clip. He could definitely provide some needed spacing off the bench in pick-and-pop action (with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the backup PG) so his shooting can keep the defense honest. That paired with his toughness will do wonders for the Blazers’ second unit. Imagine Aron Baynes paired alongside Zach Collins and Gary Trent Jr. All of these guys want to take candy from a baby and watch you ‘wah wah wah’ on their way to victory.
The former first-rounder in the 2008 NBA Draft Ryan Anderson has been bounced around a bit through six teams in 12 seasons, but shooters last forever and he’s still only 32 years old. Having only played 27 games the past two seasons due to lack of playing time or not being part of a team, he’s been a sniper with a career 38% three-point shooting. His shooting ability would keep the defense honest of having to stick with him, opening up driving lanes for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum during pick-and-pop action. He will space out the floor for Zach Collins to operate down-low or if he were to spend time with Jusuf Nurkic as well.
Although he’s about 6’9”, Zach Collins (7’0”) could ultimately slide to the center spot and place Anderson as the supreme stretch four-man. He can help on with rebounding as well (career 5.3 rebounds per game) and should be given more credit with doing that when he spends most of his time on the perimeter. I am sure the Blazers could sign Ryan Anderson’s on a veteran-minimum contract as there’s a possibility he’s itching to obtain a roster spot and assist a team.
A strong second unit is indispensable. It is instrumental in separating championship contenders from ordinary playoffs teams. They’ve already drafted nice pieces in the past in Gary Trent Jr. and Zach Collins, but who else can they obtain to provide more firepower? Although these are all suitable alternatives, Derrick Favors seems like the best option as he’s still only 29 and has a unique skillset on both sides of the floor compared to the rest. In Neil Olshey we trust to work his magic and have this bench revamped to be contend for a championship next season.