Nostalgia can be a powerful force. It’s the reason that millions gather around their screens to watch “The Last Dance” every Sunday, the reason that sports pundits say idiotic things like LeBron wouldn’t have survived playing in the 80s and 90s (looking at you, Wilbon), and it’s the reason why I find myself watching YouTube clips of old Trail Blazer highlight reels at random hours of the day. Today, it was Arvydas Sabonis. Tomorrow, who knows.
Diving into nostalgia can lead hot-take stances, like the one mentioned above, but it can also lead to interesting thought experiments. Most recently, it has led me to think about which former Trail Blazers would have thrived in the modern NBA. With that in mind, here’s three possibilities.
As our very own Timmay pointed out during the rerun of the 1990 overtime thriller against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Porter would’ve been awesome in 2020. A point guard with the ability to share the ball and make the three consistently? Sign me up.
Terry Porter would have thrived in the modern NBA.— Timmay (@pdxTimmay) April 29, 2020
Porter, thriving in an era before the long ball took center stage, finished with a career average of 2.6 three-point attempts per game. Regardless of the lack of triples, he still averaged at least 17 points per game for five straight seasons as a consistent starter in Portland. As a career 39% shooter from deep, it’s not improbable to think that with around seven or eight attempts a game he would have been a 20-and-10 guy during his stint with the Trail Blazers. In 1990, his shooting was an added bonus alongside his work as a floor general. In 2020, Porter would have fit the archetype of a dual-threat point guard that could carry the scoring load on his own or get others involved.
I may be biased due to my recent Sabonis binge. Based on the stories about his days in the U.S.S.R. Sabonis would have been unstoppable in any era pre-injuries. By the time he was in Portland, he was almost 300 pounds and not nearly as mobile, but he was still pretty darn good. He was largely the reason the U.S. lost in the 1988 Olympics. He displayed a grace and touch with the basketball that was almost unprecedented for a 7-footer. The praise for him was immense—Bill Walton sums up Sabonis’ talent perfectly:
He could do everything. He had the skills of Larry Bird and Pete Maravich. He had the athleticism of Kareem, and he could shoot the 3-point shot. He could pass and run the floor, dribble. We should have carried out a plan in the early 1980s to kidnap him and bring him back right then.
Kidnapping conspiracy aside, I agree with Walton. But instead of just kidnapping him, let’s go back to 1986, fire up the DeLorean, and bring him into 2020. Presuming that he comes to the NBA at a ripe young age of 19 or so (when Walton saw him play at the European Championships), he could be an instant success similar to Mavs maestro Luka Doncic. Imagine Nikola Jokic passing and feel blended with top-shelf athleticism.
Even older Sabonis could find a role in the NBA today. What would happen if a coach tells Sabonis to shoot six threes a game (instead of his career average of one)? On the current Blazers roster, he could easily exploit defenses to assist Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in catch-and-shoot situations. Sabonis’ court vision, even with limited athleticism, could have been a real weapon in today’s game.
Sheed was the first player I thought of when I started this list. When you watch old Wallace highlights (which I have done many times), you notice that he does a lot of posting up. He still possesses an impressive perimeter game, but he doesn’t exhibit that range as often as my 2020 brain wants him to. And while he was by no means a bad offensive player during his time, nowadays a smart coach would have found a way to completely unlock Sheed.
Despite showing the ability to stretch the floor, Wallace averaged only 2.9 three-point attempts for his career. He only averaged more than five attempts once in the 2005-06 season, when he shot almost 36% and averaged 15 points per game. In his best scoring year in Portland, when he averaged just over 19 points a game, he averaged only two threes per contest.
In 2020, Wallace would have certainly taken more three-pointers in offenses that would see him face up instead of back down into the post. It is also easy to see him filling in as a small-ball center, where his defensive versatility and floor spacing would give opponents fits. Add in this era’s increased pace, and suddenly he has a chance to double his career All-Star Game appearances.
Not to mention how much fun NBA Twitter would have with Wallace’s post-game media antics. “Ball don’t lie!” and “Both teams played hard!” are still quoted today. How many more of those would’ve been captured and shared on social media nowadays?
Those are my picks for Blazers that would thrive in today’s game. Share your selections in the comments below.