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Blazers Questions at the Break: Auditions for the Future

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Can the players at the bottom of the Trail Blazers’ roster inspire hope for the future in the final third of the season?

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star Break is in full swing and due to an unfortunate groin injury, the Trail Blazers’ presence at the event was limited to Damian Lillard’s musical performance. Prior to returning to action on Feb. 21, we have a series of questions that loom for the Blazers.

The topic of this post highlights the competition at the bottom of the Blazers’ roster. Even with injured players returning, the players at the end of the bench should have plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills before the season concludes. Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel are competing for another NBA contract. Outside of those two, rookies Jaylen Hoard and Moses Brown are fighting to move off two-way contracts to traditional deals. Of those four players, who is best positioned to bolster their chances in the final stretch of the season?

Of the quartet mentioned above, Swanigan has the largest body of work. The former first-round pick has appeared in 11 games (one start) since rejoining the Blazers prior to the trade deadline. So far, he is averaging 3.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Portland’s lack of big bodies creates a mixed bag when looking at post-centric advanced stats. Even after taking that into account, Swanigan’s rebounding rate is favorable. According to Cleaning The Glass, the former Purdue star is snagging 21.3 percent of defensive rebounds available to the Blazers when he is on the floor. That rate puts Swanigan in the 80th percentile at his position group.

Rebounding aside, Swanigan faces the same hurdles that stalled his progression during his first stint in Portland. He has yet to show a marketable offensive skill in halfcourt sets and his lack of lateral quickness makes him a liability on defense. Regardless of those deficiencies, Swanigan should continue to receive minutes as Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins work back into the rotation. Can he parlay those minutes into a second NBA contract?

Gabriel, a lengthy forward out of Kentucky, was the final piece that arrived in Portland just before the deadline. Despite a limited amount of time on the court, Gabriel has shown he has the size and athleticism to impact the game at both forward spots. Unfortunately, he has struggled to stay out of foul trouble. In seven games with the Blazers, Gabriel’s per 36 foul average sits at 6.3. Looking past the fouls, his raw potential fits the mold of player worthy of a longer look.

Outside of the newcomers, Brown and Hoard have spent the majority of the year in the G League. Brown, who stands at 7-foot-2, has the size that teams covet at the pivot spot. Hoard, who is working past a forgettable year at Wake Forest, has shown glimpses of the multi-faceted skills that made him a top recruit. Both players should factor into the Blazers’ future, but salary cap implications should keep the youngsters on two-way contracts for this season.

Of the four, which player at the bottom of the roster is most likely to take advantage of a longer look?