High-profile injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have put the Trail Blazers on uneven footing as they attempt to keep pace with the rest of the competitive Western Conference in a condensed regular season. Add in Zach Collins’ season-long absence and you have a situation that will force coach Terry Stotts to get creative with his starting and backup rotations.
This post focuses specifically on the Blazers’ McCollum-less backcourt. The former Lehigh standout is roughly four weeks away from having his foot fracture re-evaluated. Even with that date in mind, there is no clear indication of what his timeline could look like after that process unfolds. To start the season, the Blazers’ list of internal options outside of third-year guard Gary Trent Jr. have been uninspiring. That reality could shift Portland’s focus to the free agent market.
Before we get into potential options on the open market, let’s take a look at how the Blazers’ reserve guards have performed through 14 games. The backup backcourt has averaged 15.4 points per game thus far, the fifth-lowest average in the NBA. In regards to efficiency, the Blazers’ reserve guards have connected on 35.6 percent of their attempts—the worst percentage in the league. Even Portland’s penchant for three-pointers couldn’t rescue the reserve backcourt’s effective field goal percentage. The Blazers’ backup guards have the third-worst eFG% at 48.8 percent. Coupled with questionable defense, Portland’s backup guards have the worst net rating in the NBA at -2.9.
Pause. Your eyes will stop bleeding in a moment. Moving on, here is a look at four free agents that could fit inside an emergency guard rotation until McCollum returns.
Games: 54 (2 starts) | PTS: 7.3 | AST: 2.1 | FG%: 46.2 | 3P%: 34.5
Mudiay, the former No. 7 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, has suited up for three teams since entering the league. Regardless of his inability to stick with one franchise, he has consistently improved his scoring efficiency each year. Last year, with the Jazz, he produced career-best numbers in both three-point and overall field goal percentages. In Utah, Mudiay’s production managed to stay relatively consistent in a smaller role. His per 36 averages for points and assists only receded slightly compared to his final season with the Knicks. Mudiay isn’t the flashiest name that comes to mind, but he is only 24 years old and has experience in multiple roles.
Games: 47 | PTS: 4.3 | FG%: 38.7 | 3P%: 34.8
Daniels has carved out a nice career as a shooting specialist since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in the 2013-14 season. Last year, the 29-year-old guard split time with the Nuggets and Lakers. While his shooting numbers dipped last season, Daniels possesses a career three-point percentage of 39.5 percent. Outside of his shooting, he is not a ball stopper—a potential bonus for Portland’s reserve unit that is filled with high-usage players.
Games: 24 (9 starts) | PTS: 4.5 | FG%: 48.8 | 3P%: 44.7
Lee, a veteran of 12 seasons, is firmly in the twilight of his professional career. That said, he still has value as a tertiary wing contributor. Prior to hitting the open market, Lee completed a 46-game run with the Mavericks that spanned portions of two seasons. That experience inside coach Rick Carlisle’s system could serve as a foundation with the Blazers. Lee would not address Portland’s lack of ball handling, but he could boost the second unit’s efficiency and spacing.
Games: 25 (3 starts) | PTS: 7.3 | AST: 2.8 | FG%: 35.3 | 3P%: 34.4
Knight has bounced around the league in the aftermath of his lucrative deal with the Suns. Injuries have taken a toll on his athletic ability, but Knight is still a capable floor general off the bench. His shooting efficiency has significantly declined overall, but his three-point shooting has managed to hover around respectability. At a well-traveled 29 years old, Knight might have enough left in the tank to fulfill spot-duty minutes until McCollum returns. When the Blazers get back to full strength, his veteran presence at the end of the bench could prove useful.
Three More Players to Consider:
- Shabazz Napier: A score-first guard that has experience inside the Blazers’ system.
- Ky Bowman: A second-year guard that undertook a larger-than-expected role with the Warriors last season. Bowman could be headed to the G League bubble with the Clippers’ affiliate, though.
- Levi Randolph: A combo guard with size that has done a bit of everything in the G League.