The Portland Trail Blazers have been forced to lean on the G-League to field a team as they combat their COVID troubles over the past two weeks.
Brandon Williams, Jarron Cumberland, Cameron McGriff and Reggie Perry were signed on 10-day contracts to replace absentees Ben McLemore, Dennis Smith Jr., Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller, Keljin Blevins, Trendon Watford and now Anfernee Simons.
Of the four, only Perry and McGriff have enjoyed real rotation minutes, specifically to cover for the dearth of Blazers taller than 6’7.
Perry is also the sole member of the quartet to have any real NBA experience, selected with the 57th pick in the 2020 draft, he played 26 games with the Brooklyn Nets last season.
All were plucked from G-League obscurity, each with their own path to this unique NBA opportunity.
The 22-year-old went undrafted this year after spending the 2018-19 college season at the University of Arizona. The 6’2 point guard took 2020 off to rehabilitate from knee surgery before signing with the G-League’s Westchester Knicks.
This season he’s started six of 10 games with the Knicks, averaging 17.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.0 steals in 31.1 minutes.
In his two outings with the Blazers, he’s played 12 relatively inconsequential minutes, totalling eight points, two rebounds and two assists.
Williams is currently in COVID health and safety protocols.
At 6’5, Cumberland spent four years at the University of Cincinnati before going undrafted in 2020. He finished his career seventh in Cincinnati’s history in both points (1,782) and assists (415). The shooting guard was chosen with the 12th pick by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G-League draft, debuting on February 10 this year. Two weeks later he was traded to the Raptors 905.
The 24-year-old was then traded to the Delaware Blue Coats in October, winning the MVP of the G-League’s Winter Showcase, putting up 24 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in the team’s win against the Oklahoma City Blue.
During his G-League career, Cumberland has so far averaged 6.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.1 steaks.
With the Blazers he’s seen the least amount of time, totalling 12 minutes, 2 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist in three games.
McGriff spent four years at Oklahoma State before not hearing his name called out during the 2020 NBA draft.
The 6’7 small forward consequently looked abroad last year, joining the Okapi Swarm in the Belgian basketball league, averaging 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. He returned to the US in 2021 as a training camp invite with the Charlotte Hornets, but was waived within six days. The 24-year-old latched onto the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, Greensboro Swarm, putting up 10.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 14 games.
Enjoying the most court time of the quartet, McGriff has played 47 minutes, hitting 14 points along with 15 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block in three games.
The only NBA draftee of the bunch, the former Net spent two years at Mississippi State before his second round draft selection last year. He also appeared in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American game, which interestingly saw Nassir Little win MVP.
While standing only 6’8, the 250-pound monster has played the majority of his minutes at power forward and center, averaging 3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists in 26 games in Brooklyn, including a 10 point-11 rebound double-double in January.
Before the start of the 2021-22 season, 21-year-old Perry signed a training camp deal with the Toronto Raptors but failed to make the regular season roster. He joined Toronto’s affiliate Raptors 905, standing out with 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1 block in 11 games.
In two games with the Blazers, Perry has mostly played real rotation basketball, predominantly as understudy to fellow undersized center Larry Nance Jr, totalling 40 minutes, 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists and 1 steal.
Who looks to have the most potential?
While the above bios vary in experience and production, NBA players find different ways into the league and don’t necessarily enjoy their predicted career highs.
We also have the eye test, but for those who don’t pay too close attention to college and G-League basketball, it’s extremely limited — particularly when only two players more than just garbage NBA minutes.
I might be in the minority here, but I like what I’ve seen the most from Williams. Before you start throwing stones, he’s unlikely to be a Blazer much longer. Firstly, he’s in health and safety protocols and, secondly, the Blazers would never ever sign another undersized guard — or would they — with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons and Dennis Smith Jr. already on the roster.
At 6’2. Williams “almost” looks like a competent point-of-attack defender, Again, it’s against lower level competition. My reaction could also be a symptom of me watching Lillard and McCollum, yell “toro toro” at their respective opponents for eight years, then seeing someone with a modicum of defensive wherewithal. What an extravagance?
Williams is only 22, he can get to the rim and pass. Again, this is really just a stab in the dark, but Williams passed the eye test from the first time he stepped onto the court against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
Whom should the Blazers take?
Perry is clearly the choice here. He’s young with NBA experience and at a position of need for the Blazers.
Even before COVID struck this team, the Blazers were thin at the four and five, particularly with Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller and Larry Nance Jr. carrying significant injury histories.
Perry, though undersized, seemed to be able to his own against players like Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, both of whom have at least four inches on him.
For someone like Perry, who’s enjoyed a year in the league but has had to fight his way back, he might be self-aware enough to accept a team-first smallish role, that earns him a reliable reputation.
Let‘s be clear, none of these guys are making this team, unless something miraculous/devastating happens. The future of this roster will be decided over the coming weeks with trades almost certain to be executed to either turn this team’s fortunes around or set it up for next season.
But if we’re being purely hypothetical, it’s Perry, someone who can fill that big man void when one of the frontline frontcourt players goes down.
Honestly, though, I’d rather Interim General Manager Joe Cronin keep the spot open.