The Portland Trail Blazers stand firmly in the mushy middle of the NBA hierarchy: too good to give up on, not quite good enough to contend seriously. They’re not likely to find major help picking 16th in the 2020 NBA Draft. They haven’t shown any indication of breaking up the roster. That leaves free agency or trade as the two paths forward, meaning a new player will carry the burden for any improvement in the near future.
Today Dia Miller and Dave Deckard talk about the characteristics they think are the most important for any addition to Portland’s lineup. Assuming a new player will fill a key role, what skills or qualities should that player possess for maximum impact on the current roster?
Dave: As we’ve discussed before, the Blazers are in transition and may make some kind of move this off-season. Let’s pretend that they do, but leave the actual deal unspecified. Maybe they trade for a significant starter. Perhaps they get a bench stalwart on the cheap. Either way, they’ll be looking for certain characteristics. Nobody knows what’s in the mind of Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts, of course, but let’s play front office for a bit. If you were to name three characteristics that define what the Blazers need in their off-season acquisition, what would your Top 3 be?
Dia: Defense. Also, defense. Did I mention defense? Defense. In my opinion, it’s been our biggest struggle this season. We had the third best offense in the league. Can you imagine if our defense had been the same caliber? But it wasn’t. It was an area that we really struggled with. If we made no other moves in the off season other than to improve our defense, we would be in great shape!
Dave: I kind of agree? But defense is second on my list and I’ll tell you why. They just tried Hassan Whiteside. I know. I know. He’s actually a fairly limited defender who looks good on paper because of stats. But he does, and can, get after it upon occasion. He looked good whenever he did so. I didn’t think the team looked that much better.
Exhibits B and C are Zach Collins and Al-Farouq Aminu. Zach has good defensive instincts and will trend towards great. Aminu became a premium defender. But the cost of neither being able to shoot consistently counterbalances the extra defense. I still have flashbacks to those mid-to-late-00’s playoffs series with Aminu standing wide open at the arc as opponents shrugged. Happens to Zach sometimes already.
I know the question is THREE things, not just one thing. We’re not talking about a single skill to the exclusion of others. I agree with you about defense, but it’s my second attribute. The first has got to be shooting. The Blazers just can’t absorb a starter who can’t shoot.
I think it’d be better to get a guy who could knock down open threes with ease even if he can’t defend than it would to get a defensive specialist who can’t shoot. It’ll hamstring Portland’s offense, their true calling card.
This may change as the league starts to evolve into more of a “skilled-big/mid-range” mode, which appears to be the next frontier. For now, though, it’s shooting one, defense two for me. What’s your second attribute?
Dia: Okay. I’ll build on that. I think we need a 3 and D player. Specifically a wing. Someone who isn’t necessarily a star, but who will play solid defense, contribute to our offense and play a support role. We have guys that are great from the mid range, and we have a healthy Nurk and a healthy Zach again to play in the low post. I think adding a good 3 and D wing would be really helpful. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that Klay Thompson is on my short list, although that’s probably highly unrealistic. Someone like Thompson or Danny Green. Robert Covington would be a great fit in my opinion. I think this is often an underrated asset. When we acquired Trevor Ariza it was a game changer. That one player made a huge difference in our defense and also contributed to our offense. If Ariza had been in the bubble, I have a hunch we might have seen even more from the Blazers. Clearly defense is still on my mind with this move, but I think it’s solid.
Dave: I really liked Green as a pick up for Portland a couple years ago. Watching him with the Lakers this year though...oof. He may be transforming into more of a 0 and D player. But I can’t fault you at all, as I started the off-season engineering a three-way with Boston and Milwaukee to bring Khris Middleton to Portland. Getting him would be the ultimate, “Jessica Alba just asked me to marry HER” moment. You say yes and don’t stop saying yes until that deal is done and you’ve got a signed contract for life.
There are others, though. Blazer’s Edge is alive with mentions of the obvious ones, but Tony Snell in Detroit isn’t bad. Neither is Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, for that matter, though he’s more “3” than “D”. I don’t see Miami giving up Duncan Robinson, but Jae Crowder could be a name to chase in free agency. Who knows what the Pacers are doing, but they’ve soured on Victor Oladipo. He’s more “D” than “3”, but he can score.
I’m not sure all of these are candidates for Portland, but it seems like it’s getting slightly easier to find 3 and D players available than it was a couple years ago.
So we agree on those qualities, but we’re not done yet. You can have any characteristic in the universe as your third. What would you choose?
Dia: By characteristic do you mean person? Because, * ahem * Danilo Gallinari. I’ve been crossing my fingers for him for the longest time. Give that man the ball and let him go to work. I would love to see someone like him who can make his own moves. We have so many good pieces. Our offense is good. It’s really good. Our defense is bad. It was one of the worst in the league last season. So that’s where I’m focused. But someone like Gallo, who is a good defensive player but also can hold his own, seems like an absolute dream for the Blazers.
Dave: LOLOL! Dia’s three characteristics are, “Defense, shooting, and must be Danilo Gallinari”! Seriously, I laughed out loud (in a good way) reading that. It’s simple, direct, and reduces this entire post to two words. This feels like the Hollywood audition when they already knew who they were going to call for the role.
Like Green, Gallinari is one of those guys I liked a couple years ago. In his case, a couple injuries ago. The man can shoot. Love that. I’m not sure he’s a defensive dream anymore, but he may be as dreamy as the Blazers could reasonably expect in a free agent pickup, so I won’t quibble.
Not that it matters anymore, but I think my ideal third characteristic would be passing. An unspoken part of Portland’s offense in recent years has been the ball going up after it touches a forward’s hands. In the case of Aminu, that was the only logical conclusion. He was a designated endpoint in the offense, the bail-out shooter. He only got it when he was wide open, and thus tasked with attempting the shot. Carmelo Anthony is a little different with the Hall-of-Fame qualifications and isolation game, but the idea is essentially the same. You kinda know what’s going to happen when he gets the rock.
Theoretically a shooter wouldn’t be left open like Aminu. It’d be nice if defenses couldn’t automatically predict he would shoot like Anthony either. You don’t strictly need everyone in the offense to be a passer, but it’s kind of fun and opens up more possibilities, especially with Jusuf Nurkic also populating the frontcourt. So for me it’s three-point range for sure, defense a very close second, and passing as frosting on the cake.
My list presumes that the roster stays intact...that the new guy is a free agent or comes as a result of a minor trade. If the Blazers trade CJ, the player coming back also has to be able to score with reasonable volume, and that would supersede passing on my list.
Dia: I agree with you on that. We have several good iso players. And having someone else who likes to pass the ball would be fantastic. I agree with you on the fact that these really go with keeping our roster as is, which we know isn’t likely to happen if we acquire anyone like we have talked about unless we draft them. I find it hard to believe that with the defense as much of a struggle as it was, we won’t be seeing any changes at all. Changing any part of the roster could really change everything. While it’s exciting, I also hate this time of year, it brings so much anxiety in waiting to see what’s going to happen!
What do you think, Dear Readers? If you could name three characteristics typifying any player the Blazers pick up, what would you go with? Let us know in the comments section!