The 2019-20 NBA season, regardless of whether or not it continues, will go down as a weird one for the Portland Trail Blazers. Injuries decimated the team, they had to sign Carmelo Anthony, they traded back for Caleb Swanigan after trading him away less than a year before, and they plummeted from conference finalists to on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
With the season suspended, we now have to find a way to fill the basketball-sized void in our lives, with our best shot being reruns of old Blazer games and the litany of basketball movies available. Our own Steve Dewald has done a great job curating Movie March Madness for us all, which has allowed me to jump back into some classics like Space Jam, White Men Can’t Jump, and one of my favorite bad movies ever, Juwanna Mann.
Watching these movies in self-isolation led me to a question: Which one of these players could’ve helped save the Blazers’ season? Which player takes them over the top or makes their playoff run that much easier? The only way to figure this out is to grind the tape and see who fits.
The only ground rules for this exercise are:
- No NBA players who acted in movies are eligible. That includes Shaq’s Neon Boudeaux character in Blue Chips and Ray Allen’s Jesus Shuttlesworth from He Got Game and several others. If they played in the NBA, they’re out.
- No player that had to steal talent to become an exceptional player is allowed either. That means no Calvin from Like Mike, no Brian from Thunderstruck, and no Monstars from Space Jam. (Sidenote: the Monstars would’ve been the obvious pick here otherwise. Any of them would’ve been great. There are some glaring red flags in terms of mental toughness [i.e. giving up a lead that was literally innumerable, playing dirty, anger issues, etc.] but I think the leadership of Damian Lillard would’ve shone through here.)
- Only movie basketball players are allowed. That rules out players like Will from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Jim Halpert from The Office.
With these rules established, let’s look at some candidates. (I’m sure there are candidates I’m missing that deserve to be on here, but these are the five I think have the strongest case).
Billy Hoyle and Sidney Deane, White Men Can’t Jump
It’s impossible to mention one without the other. Hoyle and Deane are a dynamic duo tethered together thanks to their unmistakable chemistry. There’s a scenario where the Blazers bring them in as the guards off the bench, orchestrating the offense while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum rest. Their playground roots give them a toughness that should provide the Blazers a little more edge on the court.
Honestly, the biggest worry about this duo has to be the gambling. Who’s to say that Deane and Hoyle don’t think to themselves during a critical game “Wait a minute, if I bet x amount of dollars against us so we can make y amount of dollars, we’ll be EVEN RICHER”? We know they have the propensity to do this sort of thing. What’s to stop them from doing so again?
Okay, that’s probably an outdated concern considering that’s not something the league really has to worry about (it’s easier to shave points when you’re not already making millions). Hoyle has a sweet jumper that makes up for his questionable athleticism (hence, you know, the title of the movie) while Deane could easily slide into the point guard role. Their two-man game would be so fun to watch. But do they work for Portland?
Clarence Withers, Semi-Pro
Clarence Withers is already a legend. He’s the first player to ever score on an alley-oop (according to Semi-Pro) when he did so with the Flint Tropics in the ABA. He’s been on a lot of NBA teams’ radars but showed loyalty to the Tropics when he switched at halftime back to the team just to secure fourth place for them. That is true sacrifice.
Withers is definitely the best positional fit for the Blazers. The versatile small forward fills a position of need and has shown to be a good teammate. The only question mark is how he adjusts to the more fast-paced game of the 21st century. That’s a risk the Blazers might be willing to take.
Lewis Scott, Celtic Pride
Scott has a very strong case for being the best pick available. He was a Finals MVP for the Utah Jazz who had to learn through adversity about how to be a good teammate (being kidnapped by Celtics fans will do that to you). He’s a proven all-star talent that has already taken his team over the top.
In theory, even though it might feel at times like they’re just running on the playoff treadmill, Portland wants to compete for a title. The Blazers need someone who’s been there—someone who knows what it takes to elevate a team to the next level. Scott fits the bill from that sense, but there are questions about how he fits in with Lillard and McCollum. Can all three start together? Does he willingly come off the bench? Does CJ? There’s a lot of questions, but the one thing you can’t question is Scott’s talent.
Thomas “Shep” Shepard, Above the Rim
We need to establish something right off the bat. Shep has the best single-game performance of possible candidates by far. It’s not even close. Scoring 38 points on 100% shooting (presumably) while wearing corduroys and a long-sleeve t-shirt in a very high-stakes tournament is absolutely bonkers. He clearly has burst offensively, a sweet shooting stroke and showed stellar defense on the final play. He had some blatant fouls in the tournament that went uncalled, but honestly, you could argue it just shows toughness.
(WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE IN VIDEO BELOW)
What is important to note about Shep is that while the street game is just a one-time game, it was still an unbelievable performance with no warm-up or anything. Imagine if the Blazers signed him and put him on an actual training regimen. Imagine if he could come in to provide a scoring burst off the bench that the Blazers have lacked. Imagine if they let him play in literally anything other than corduroys. He was a gosh darn security guard before this game. Put in the effort to make him a pro baller and something could work. If you are Portland, is it a risk worth taking?
So who’s the best choice here?
Okay, here comes the hard part.
My first cut may be a little surprising because I’m cutting Lewis Scott. I don’t see a three-guard lineup happening where he, McCollum, and Lillard coexist. I get that Scott is theoretically reformed as a player and might accept a lesser role (or he could replace McCollum if needed but we all know Neil Olshey isn’t trading CJ) but I still don’t see him as the best fit.
My next cuts are the most difficult: It’s Hoyle and Deane. I really didn’t want to do it because they would be so fun, but I couldn’t convince myself that they would do better in a professional setting than either Withers or Shep. It becomes a question of whether you believe in Anfernee Simons being a viable long-term option and if you want to see Gary Trent Jr. get displaced in the lineup. I can’t bring myself to do both of those things. I wanted to keep Hoyle especially because of the shooting, but if I cut one, I have to cut the other. They’re a package deal.
That leaves two options: Withers and Shep. Withers, as noted above, gives the much-needed wing depth. But Shep is an extremely talented guard who dominated his competition in the one chance he got. Which one do we go with?
Screw it, I’m going with Shep. I just can’t get over the fact that he dominated in the one game he played in WHILE WEARING KHAKIS. He’s older and the wear and tear of the NBA season might get to him, but I genuinely believe he’s more talented than Withers and could provide a savvy veteran presence for Portland. Let him come in as a sixth man Seth Curry type and he helps the Blazers immensely.
I know it’s unfair to Withers that he fits the bill of exactly what Portland needs and I’ve passed him over for a guy who didn’t even play college basketball, but I don’t care. I need to see what Shep would do against NBA competition, and in a bench role for the Blazers, he would be great. Talent always means more to me than position. Shep wins this for me. Let me know in the comments who wins for you.