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Greg Brown III and Keon Johnson Bring Young Energy to the Blazers

How many young, promising players can Portland keep on the roster?

Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2021-22 season has come to an end. The summer ahead will hold plenty of decisions for the club. They put 27 different players on the court during the regular season. Not all are still with the team, but enough are that there’s no way the Blazers could retain them all...if they even wanted to. A 27-55 record would argue against a high retention rate, but asterisks abound despite the dismal performance.

Into this question-filled swamp stride Dave Deckard and Dia Miller with their annual review of Portland’s roster. They talk about each player, then decide whether they would keep or yeet (toss) the player in the coming year. Performance, fit, age, salary, and team priorities/direction are all open for discussion.

Today we have a twin bill of young, promising players: Greg Brown III and Keon Johnson. Brown is a 6’9, 20-year-old forward coming off of his rookie season. He can jump out of the gym and carried averages of 4.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 13.3 minutes per game over 48 appearances this season. Johnson, a 19-year-old rookie guard acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers mid-year, played in 22 games for the Blazers. He averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 25.5 minutes per game, shooting 35.7% from the floor and 34.8% from the three-point arc. Both showed flashes of brilliance. Neither was consistent, though that’s to be expected at their age and level of experience. Does either have a sure future in Portland?

Dave: We’re getting to the lower end of Portland’s roster now. Let’s start with Greg Brown III. He has a lot of leaping ability. Playing free and easy with lowered expectations let him showcase his game more this season than would normally be expected. How do you feel about GB3?

Dia: Oh Greg Brown. Look, I know you and all our readers are so tired of me saying he’s fun to watch (You even suggested putting It on tee shirts because I say It so much) but Greg Brown is the epitome of fun to watch. If I don’t use that phrase for anyone else this season (although let’s be honest, I have, and I will), I need to use It for Greg Brown. The man just bounces and leaps all over the court. He celebrates every shot. He looks like he loves his life on the court, and you know what Greg Brown III— I love It too!

Dave: He’s a rookie and he’s springy. He’s under contract at a minimum level. All those things argue to keep him. Something special happens when he unfolds for the dunk, for sure. It remains to see if the rest of his game will catch up. His field goal percentage was ok. His three-point shooting isn’t there yet. It’s hard to judge anything but individual defense given the scenario last year. He didn’t stand out, good or bad. But then again...rookie. The Blazers probably need another round with him before they figure out which way his career is going to go.

Do you think it’d be a huge loss if the Blazers included him in a trade somewhere?

Dia: I would love to see him stay, but no, I’m not opposed to that. I think we have to be open to letting go of almost everyone if the right opportunity it’s comes. I think that’s true of a lot of players. But I also think he’s the kind of player who could very easily be someone we miss several years down the road when he’s leaping around on another team. A lot of these conversations make me wonder which direction the team is going. If we are in “win now” mode, then we should be making big changes. If we are looking forward to the future, then a guy like Greg Brown is nice to have hanging out on the roster.

Dave: This is the weird thing about Portland’s situation. There aren’t many players that make you say, “They HAVE to keep him!” But there aren’t many players where you could say, “Trading or releasing him brings a huge benefit.” Brown’s making $1.5 million. You can’t pay less than that for an NBA player. Does he jump high and dunk pretty? Might he grow in the future? Does he wear sweet, stylish goggles? Ok. Good enough for me. Keep him.

But now...what about Keon Johnson? I know you have thoughts about him.

Dia: Oh yes. I absolutely do. I think Keon Johnson was one of the biggest acquisitions we got this season. That may seem like an odd thing to say about a rookie that not a lot of people were familiar with before this season, but Keon has so much potential. It’s actually wild to me to watch him and realize this is his first season in the league. I feel like his ceiling is so high, and he’s grown a lot just this season. He is an absolute keep for me.

Dave: Defense. That’s going to determine his worth. I’m not sold on him as an offensive force yet. It’s too soon to tell. But if he can get after it on defense the way Nassir Little does, that’s going to be his ticket to playing time. But speaking off...Anfernee Simons is a keeper. Josh Hart is too. You also said Ben McLemore, I believe. Do you think Johnson can get on the floor with those players in front of him?

Dia: I absolutely do. He’s young. He’s a rookie. He’s going to continue to grow with this team. I think he held his own on the court this season, and putting him with players like that are going to elevate his game that much more. Keon has this laser sharp focus that I think is going to serve him well. He pays attention. He’s not one to mess around. He will absolutely be able to play next to those guys.

Dave: I respect your knowledge. I’m not sold, for myself. There’s too much murkiness to his game and too much talent in front of him to forecast great things. Let me ask you this, though. What aspect of his game do you expect to improve next? If we do see a blossoming Keon Johnson next season, earning a spot on the court, what is he going to show us that we’re not already seeing?

Dia: I think consistency. He has the defensive instincts and skills, and his offense is promising but needs some work. Ultimately I think consistency is going to be key. He doesn’t have to be the best player on the court. But if he can be consistent and reliable, that is valuable, and I think it’s something he’s capable of. Often that comes with experience, which he’s getting. I think we will see him become a more reliable player.

Dave: I don’t know that he’s going to get the playing time to develop consistency on next year’s team, unless the lineup changes radically. I promised myself that unless I had a true reason to keep a player off of this squad, I’d vote yeet. Johnson tests that resolve. They will keep him because he’s young and cheap. And they should. Fine...I’ll go with keep for one more year, but I don’t think it matters much. I’m ok with them trading him or doing whatever they need to.

How about you, readers? Do you foresee Greg Brown and Keon Johnson becoming important to the Blazers in the near future, or are you ok with passing on them? Comment below if you wish!

Our story so far...

Anfernee Simons: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Jusuf Nurkic: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Ben McLemore: Dave—Yeet, Dia—Keep

CJ Elleby: Dave—Yeet, Dia—Yeet

Nassir Little: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Trendon Watford: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Drew Eubanks: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Justise Winslow: Dave—Yeet, Dia—Keep

Josh Hart: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Greg Brown III: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep

Keon Johnson: Dave—Keep, Dia—Keep