A Portland Bench Shuffle

Nassir Little's had a rollercoaster of a career in the NBA, from seeing spotty minutes for development, to the almost periodic injuries he's suffered over his 3+ years of professional basketball; it really seems unfair. However, he's not the only player on the Blazers roster over the last decade who has suffered similar misfortunes; Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins share this in common with Nas. All three of them have shown flashes of brilliant basket while playing in Portland, they just couldn't do it on a consistent level for the team because of the health issues they battled.

A myriad of injuries, a bruising schedule, questionable coaching decisions, and the regression of players energy and focus have all contributed to a tail-spin in the team's performance. Hope springs eternal though with the impending returns of Damian Lillard, the seasonal debut of Gary Payton II, and the recovery of the team as a whole. While I believe a mostly healthy roster will help keep them above .500 in the rankings, it's impossible to ignore the loss of Nassir Little for the next 8 weeks. Yes I know it's set for 6 weeks - frankly, his season-ending injury from 2021-2022 and the abdominal surgery during the summer seemed to linger and hamper his on-court production, all the way up until his femoral head impaction fracture.

Coach Billups could fill the 48 minutes at SF with: Hart, GPII, Winslow and Sharp. It's certainly do-able, the problem is all 4 of those players are either streaky or low attempt-per-game 3 point shooters. With some of the free agents who signed this off-season becoming available on December 15th, I thought it might be interesting to explore some ideas for shoring up the bench rotation. Take a look at the candidates below, and if you have other's in mind, or find an interesting statistic or article you'd like to share about one of the players I propose, please share it in the comments.

Portland Trail Blazers:

Keon Johnson - $2.6 million (x4) years / Injury: Hip - Return: 2 weeks?

Nassir Little - $4.1 million (x5) years / Injury: Hip - Return: 6 - 8 weeks?

Toronto Raptors:

Otto Porter Jr. - $6 million (x2) years / Injury: Dislocated Toe - Return: 4 - 5 weeks?

Position: SF / Height: 6'8 / Age: 29

Career Stats (

MPG: 18 / FGA: 8.5 / FG% .47 / 3PA: 3.3 / 3P% .39 / FT% .79 / TRB: 5.0 / AST: 1.5 / STL: 1.1 / BLK: .4 / PTS: 10.5

Like the Blazers, the Raptors have struggled with injures and currently sit at 11-11 on the season. OPJ didn't have a stellar start with Toronto and with the addition of his most recent injury, it's possible they may be interested in parting ways with him. He did manage to play 63 games for the Warriors last season off the bench and was a strong part of their championship run - much like GPII - which is encouraging.

When healthy he's a solid defender who can efficiently provide 10+ points off the bench in 20 minute spans. Don't expect him to be the starting SF on a regular basis, but more of an energetic and steady presence off the bench who can guard multiple positions. Keon can provide depth and defense behind VanVleet and Trent Jr. If Nas is given enough time to recuperate and Toronto likes the idea of playing him spot minutes, he could be a young and decent role player for them.


Portland Trail Blazers:

Justice Winslow - $4.0 million (x1) / Healthy

Indiana Pacers:

Aaron Nesmith - $3.8 million (x2) years / Healthy

Position: SF / Height: 6'5 / Age: 23

2022-2023 Stats (

MPG: 21 / FGA: 7.0 / FG% .36 / 3PA: 4.1 / 3P% .35 / FT% .79 / TRB: 3.2 / AST: 1.3 / STL: .7 / BLK .6 / PTS: 7.6

Some Blazers fans will immediately write this trade off because we'd be offering up Winslow. I'll faithfully admit I had to eat crow on my take about Justice, he started off the year with incredible energy and determination. I've been concerned with the amount of minutes he's playing considering his injury history, and he's so unreliable on offense it really limits what the bench can do to keep themselves in the game. While he's still healthy though, he has more trade value than players like Nas and Keon.

Indiana sits a few games above .500, they also have a plethora of players who can play the SF slot on their team: Hield; Mathurin; Duarte; Brissett; Jackson. Other reasons include his poor decision-making on shots inside the arc as evidenced by his low FG%, and although he is showing himself to be a plus on-ball and off-ball defender, he still has a tendency to sometimes gamble on plays or not get himself into the best floor position to defend. The good news is those issues aren't too dissimilar from Little's, and they can be fixed. Which means he could replace what Nas provided, and then some.


Portland Trail Blazers:

Keon Johnson - $2.6 million (x4) years / Injury: Hip - Return: 2 weeks?

Greg Brown III - $1.5 million (x2) years / Healthy

2024 Atlanta 2nd Round Pick

Charlotte Hornets:

Jaylen McDaniels - $1.9 million (x1) years / Healthy

Position: SF-PF / Height: 6'9 / Age: 24

2022-2023 Stats (

MPG: 25.8 / FGA: 8.2 / FG% .43 / 3PA: 3.5 / 3P% .36 / FT% .85 / TRB: 4.6 / AST: 2.1 / STL: .9 / BLK: .5 / PTS: 9.7

Kai Jones - $2.9 million (x3) years / Healthy

Position: Center / Height: 6'11 / Age: 21

2022-2023 Stats (

MPG: 8.5 / FGA: 2.6 / FG% .47 / FT% .62 / TRB: 1.8 / AST: .2 / STL: .2 / BLK: .5 / PTS: 3

The Hornets are another team who've been bitten hard by the injury bug and it's evident in their 7-16 record. With both LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward out indefinitely, Charlotte could be in the market to try out a few players on longer contracts. A healthy Keon may be an alternative in the event J. Bouknight doesn't work out, and Greg Brown III gives them a look at a PF with 3pt shooting potential, decent rebounding instincts, energy and athleticism who may benefit from a change of scenery and all the minutes he can handle.

Jalen McDaniels' stats are coming due to injuries to other players and the 25MPG he's averaging. I expect once he's on the Blazers, the biggest challenge for him will be putting up similar numbers in perhaps less minutes. If his brother (Jaden McDaniels - Timberwolves), and similar players like Trey Murphy III and Jarred Vanderbilt are any indication for what he could grow into, Jalen's worth a shot. Kai Jones is admittedly filler in this trade and more of a project-player. If he's ever given the same minutes as Eubanks - I also ate crow on my take with him - it's possible he'd average similar numbers.

While these weren't flashy trade deadline ideas - we're not quite there yet - I do think they help shore up an injury riddled Blazers squad. I proposed the players I did because the assets given up in exchange weren't too high and what they provide is what Portland needs off their bench. As always though I don't see every player in the NBA, so if there are other's you can think of who are available to be traded, please list them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!