It’s not a stretch to say that the 2019-20 Portland Trail Blazers had one of the stranger rosters in recent memory. They somehow ended up with future hall-of-famer Carmelo Anthony, an often maligned big man in Hassan Whiteside, and a cadre of other strange personalities that made this roster...interesting to say the least. If I had handed a list of this year’s team to a random Blazer fan before the 2019 free agency period, they would be terribly confused as to how they ended up with such a squad.
But while the final roster was unique in and of itself, plenty of players departed along the way to make the lineup possible. I figured it would be fun to rank them based on what they contributed to the Trail Blazers before their departure. Here’s the definitive ranking of the Blazers left behind this year.
No. 4: Pau Gasol
This was the easiest one . When you play zero games, that generally means you didn’t contribute much to the team, and although Gasol surely has a space in Springfield carved out for him, it will not be because of his time with Portland. While I’m not sure that he does much to actually help the Blazers even if healthy, it would have been cool to see the veteran in a Rip City uniform. Oh well, we’ll just have photoshop preseason photos to satisfy that need.
No. 3: Anthony Tolliver
The Blazers were put in a tough position when Zach Collins went down with a shoulder injury back in October. They had an 11-game stretch where options were limited at the 4 spot between Tolliver and Nassir Little. The Blazers chose Tolliver — who struggled mightily in his first few games in Portland — to fill the void until Carmelo Anthony’s arrival. It did not go great.
Portland added Tolliver on a veteran’s minimum assuming that he could stretch the floor and provide a few passable minutes when needed. But when Collins went down, the end-of-the-bench option was suddenly a starter. That’s just a recipe for disaster. Tolliver became a stretch-big who didn’t shoot the ball well and wasn’t very big. He only made 33% of his threes this year and was often exposed on defense. Per Cleaning the Glass, Tolliver played 51% of his minutes at center while he was in Portland. The 6’8” veteran was a whopping -15.4 during that stretch.
It’s partially unfair to expect Tolliver to have truly thrived in such a hard position. Like Steve Dewald said in his season review, Tolliver is a “break glass in case of emergency” kind of player, not the kind that sees consistent minutes in a rotation. But that’s not how the Blazers used him. Shipping him off to the Sacramento Kings to get players who could satisfy Portland’s needs ended up for the best. Tolliver was a vet minimum guy thrust into a role those guys usually don’t get, and he performed about as expected.
No. 2: Kent Bazemore
I was initially excited for Kent Bazemore to join the squad. He’s always had a reputation as a solid defender who can hit shots from outside. He shot 39% from three in 2017-18. The Blazers hoped he could bounce back from his 32% clip from the 2018-19 season. Trading Evan Turner straight up for Bazemore was sensible. Unfortunately, he struggled during his tenure in Portland.
Bazemore never got out of his funk and shot an atrocious 35% from the field. He made fewer than 37% of his shots inside the arc and just under 33% outside it. He was technically one of the better defenders on the team, but he was often tasked with too much on that end. He averaged almost a steal and a block per game, but at 6’5” he was often undersized in the matchups he was given. He spent 81% of his time at small forward when he really should have been guarding shooting guards with the occasional undersized 3.
The most notable thing that Bazemore did for Portland was providing the key matching salary that brought in Trevor Ariza and company from the Kings. He did well for himself in Sacramento too, finding his shot more consistently (38% from three). Honestly it’s nice to see him figuring it out. There might have been a universe where he did that for Portland, being a pest defensively while hitting corner threes like nobody’s business. Unfortunately, we are not in that universe.
No. 1: Skal Labissiere
I would like to start my defense of Skal Labissiere as the best player that left the team early by stating that I have a large soft spot for the Haitian Sensation. I’ve written multiple features about him, including why he was an excellent bench option when the Blazers needed one most at the center spot and why it was a mistake to let him go at the trade deadline. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, he was one of my favorite Blazers this year, and I was sad to see him depart.
Labissiere was solid off the bench. He had a career-high 4.6% block rate and was averaging almost two blocks per 36 minutes. He had an interesting face-up game that made him a multi-dimensional scorer, breaking double digits in eight games where he saw significant minutes (including 22 against Milwaukee). At times he would even close games instead of Hassan Whiteside! That might be more of an indictment of Whiteside than a compliment to Labissiere, but it was still a huge step up for the “broken” former Kentucky player.
There were reasons why Portland shipped Labissiere off to Atlanta. He had a fairly significant knee injury, the Blazers had potential replacements in Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan, and it saved Portland $4.7 million. Labissiere would have played limited minutes whether or not anyone else cracked the rotation. Still, he was a solid bench player who almost always did what was asked of him, and for that I see him as the best of the early departures.
It’s possible you don’t think the same way! Do you disagree with my rankings? Or do you agree so wholeheartedly that you just can’t hold it in? Let us know in the comments.