Injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have pushed the Trail Blazers’ into desperate territory when it comes to assembling competent frontcourt rotations. Add in CJ McCollum’s foot fracture and the Blazers could be in position to address their lack of depth by signing a free agent.
This post focuses specifically on the Blazers’ frontcourt. Nurkic, who suffered a wrist fracture against the Pacers on Jan. 14, is on a six-week timeline to return according to the latest intel from the organization. Without Collins, who is likely out for the majority of the regular season as he recovers from ankle surgery, Portland’s internal options include Enes Kanter and Harry Giles at center. Outside of that duo, Carmelo Anthony and Robert Covington have spent time in lineups that feature them as small-ball fives. While that quartet features plenty of on-paper talent, it is clear that deficiencies exist when it comes to defense and offensive efficiency.
Before we get to the list of potential free agents, let’s take a look at the numbers attached to Portland’s reserve forwards. Unlike the Blazers’ backup backcourt, the forwards in the second unit have shown that they can produce points. Portland’s reserve forwards have averaged 25 points per game to start the season, placing them at No. 6 on the leaderboard. The efficiency tied to that output paints a drastically different picture, though. The Blazers’ reserve forwards have connected on just 39.7 percent of their attempts from the field—the second-worst percentage in the NBA. When it comes to getting teammates involved, Portland’s backup forwards have posted the lowest assist percentage in the league (49.6). In regards to overall performance, the Blazers’ backup frontcourt has the second-worst net rating in the NBA at -2.2.
With that less-than-ideal output in mind, here are four free agents that could boost the Blazers’ depth until Nurkic returns. In most cases, each one of these players could have value even after the Bosnian Beast re-enters the rotation.
Games: 63 (8 starts) | PTS: 6.6 | REB: 4.8 | FG%: 46.6 | 3P%: 36.5
Ilyasova, a 33-year-old stretch four, was waived by the Bucks when they attempted to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic in the offseason (Bogdanovic later signed with the Hawks). Buoyed by his extensive experience in a tertiary role, Ilyasova possesses the potential to earn modest minutes in the Blazers’ rotation after both Nurkic and Collins return. In the second unit, Ilysova has the floor-spacing chops to keep the paint open for Kanter and Melo. Ilysova spent his rookie year in Milwaukee under coach Terry Stotts, so there is some far-removed familiarity between the two parties.
Games: 60 (6 starts) | PTS: 7.0 | REB: 4.7 | AST: 1.8 | FG%: 47.1
Why stop at Giles? By adding Hollis-Jefferson, the Blazers could continue a trend of signing players that briefly donned red and black as they crossed the stage at the NBA Draft. Beyond that, Hollis-Jefferson is a versatile defender that hustles in the margins. Offensively, he doesn’t bring much to the table outside of his penchant for producing points off cuts to the rim. Hollis-Jefferson would not directly address Portland’s lack of size, but he would add flavor to small-ball and defense-first lineups.
Games: 60 (14 starts) | PTS: 4.7 | REB: 2.8 | FG%: 48.2 | 3P%: 34.4
Maker hit the open market after he was released by the Cavaliers in the aftermath of the multi-team deal that sent James Harden to the Nets. Since being selected with the No. 10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 23-year-old big fella has made stops with three different teams. Maker has fallen short of his pre-draft unicorn potential, but he has posted a career three-point percentage of 32.7 as a true 7-footer.
Games: 30 | PTS: 3.0 | REB: 2.0 | FG%: 42.7
Caboclo split time with the Grizzlies and Rockets last season. While he isn’t known for his statistical output, Caboclo’s physical profile remains impressive. He is 6-foot-9 and boasts an eye-popping 7-foot-7 wingspan. Even after six seasons in the NBA, Caboclo is still only 25 years old. Yes. He isn’t the most polished player on the list. But his length and athleticism could give Portland’s slow-footed backup rotation a much-needed shot in the arm.
Three More to Consider:
- Dewayne Dedmon: A 31-year-old true center that possesses a plethora of starting experience.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Another non-shooting forward that offers defensive versatility.
- Cheick Diallo: A rim-running big man that hustles for rebounds.