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Preview: New Faces Bolster Blazers’ Forward Rotation

A look at the Trail Blazers’ forward group prior to the start of the 2020-21 regular season.

Sacramento Kings v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The 2020-21 regular season is upon us and the Trail Blazers are looking to return to the Western Conference Finals thanks to a busy offseason that re-tooled their entire roster. Before the action unfolds, Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald is running through each position group on the roster.

In an effort to keep things simple, the Blazers’ roster is split into three groups. Our first installment touched on the guard group. Today’s post looks at the forward rotation.

Robert Covington

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 12.4 | REB: 6.6 | BLK: 1.3 | STL: 1.6 | FG%: 42.2 | 3P%: 33.5

The Blazers’ offseason kicked off with a splash when Covington arrived from the Rockets prior to draft night. Covington, who earned an All-Defensive nod in 2017-18, is a true defensive specialist capable of addressing several of Portland’s key weaknesses. His lane-invading style is a bit of clunky fit in coach Terry Stotts’ conservative approach, but the former Rockets forward has proven he can adapt to new roles quickly. Steals aside, Covington is positioned to put a patch on the Blazers’ leaky defense with his shot blocking as a help defender.

Offensively, Covington’s quick decision making and ability to play within his strengths make him a stellar fit alongside the Blazers’ high-powered backcourt. From a floor-spacing standpoint, hopefully Covington returns to his Timberwolves-era shooting figures from beyond the arc. In 70 games with Minnesota, he shot above 35 percent from distance.

Derrick Jones Jr.

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 8.5 | REB: 3.9 | STL: 1.0 | FG%: 52.7 | 3P%: 28.0

Following the acquisition of Covington on the trade market, the Blazers doubled down on the forward position by reaching a free-agent agreement with Jones. The former UNLV high-flier has emerged as one of the NBA’s best finishers and he might be the most athletic forward Portland has rostered in a generation.

After Jones arrived, I delivered an overview of Jones’ on-court strengths.

Outside of dunk competitions, Jones’ physical tools yield serious results inside the restricted area. Last season, he connected on 74 percent of his 185 attempts at the rim. According to Cleaning the Glass, that placed Jones in the 94th percentile of at-the-rim finishers at his position. For comparison, Moe Harkless topped out at the 62nd percentile in his most-efficient season at the rim during his tenure in Portland (2018-19).

Defensively, Jones can cover ground quickly, which led to his success in the Heat’s periodic use of zone-based schemes. In that setup, he proved he can hold his own, at least for a single possession, against every position. Just like his finishing above the rim, Jones maximizes his athletic gifts on the defensive end. Last year, he posted per 36 averages of 1.5 steals and one block in the regular season.

Paired with Covington in the starting lineup, Jones is poised to bolster Portland’s promising defensive versatility. Offensively, the Blazers must pick up the pace to unlock the former Heat forward’s true potential.

Carmelo Anthony

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 15.4 | REB: 6.3 | FG%: 43.0 | 3P%: 38.5

After spending a year in limbo, Melo was a revelation for the Blazers. It wasn’t always perfect, but the former All-Star filled a glaring hole in Portland’s points-deprived forward rotation. Athletically, Melo has clearly lost a step. That said, he communicates enthusiastically on defense and he possesses the veteran touch to get to his spots on the offensive end.

Melo is about to embark on a new career path as a bench player in the 2020-21 season. How he adapts to that role is a must-follow storyline for the early portion of the season.

The Rest

Rodney Hood: Prior to his Achilles injury, Hood was on pace to post career-best efficiency numbers. Through 21 games, the former Jazz forward was shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 49.3 percent from beyond the arc. To start the upcoming season, the Blazers can afford to be patient with Hood’s progression thanks to their newly-formed depth at forward.

Nassir Little: Outside of Anfernee Simons’ development, Little’s place on Portland’s roster is one of the biggest mysteries. Before injuries derailed his stint in the Orlando-based bubble, there was positive buzz emerging from the Blazers’ camp regarding Little’s improved shooting. Hopefully the second-year forward can pick up where he left off once he returns to the floor.

CJ Elleby: The former Washington State star was the Blazers’ lone selection on draft night. Elleby is a high-motor player that produces in the margins, but he is at least a year away from reserve minutes inside Portland’s win-now rotation.