There is bound to be a little bit of competition during Portland Trail Blazers training camp.
The Blazers are expected to roll out Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons in the backcourt and Jusuf Nurkic and Jerami Grant in the frontcourt, but who will grab the starting spot on the wing?
Head coach Chauncey Billups says it’s a three-man race.
“We have four guys that are gonna start for sure,” Billups said. “The big question is the small forward spot. The way I see it, it’s gonna play out in camp. There’s three guys — Josh Hart, Nas and Justise. It’s not about the best player, it’s who plays best with that unit.”
Hart, who was acquired in last February’s big blockbuster deal from the New Orleans Pelicans for CJ McCollum, is likely the favorite to land the job. The team values him tremendously on both ends of the floor and could be the best two-way player out of the trio. Last season, Hart played in 13 games for the Blazers, averaging 19.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Granted, all of these games were without Lillard, so Hart was expected to be more of a creator on the offensive end. With Lillard back, Hart will be asked to play more of a role on defense.
Little, the youngest of the bunch, is the player with arguably the highest ceiling. At just 22 years old, there’s still a lot of untapped potential in the fourth-year player and he made a big jump last season. He averaged 9.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in nearly 26 minutes of action per night, however, he only played in 42 games for the team due to injury. Whether Little starts or comes off the bench, he’ll be seen as one of the key wing players and should get a considerable amount of minutes.
“I’m expecting a lot from him,” Lillard said. “That doesn’t mean numbers, but his energy.
“I’ve worked out with Nas a lot this summer. You see a lot of guys in the NBA who just bring fake energy. The energy that he brings is really who he is.”
Winslow, the most experienced of the contenders, was a lottery pick in 2015 by the Miami Heat. Unfortunately, Winslow’s pre-draft potential hasn’t matched his career accomplishments. Winslow has turned into a mini-journeyman, playing on three teams in the past two seasons, but he may have a home in Portland. After landing in the Rose City in trade last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Winslow played 11 games with the team, averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
There are a number of directions Billups can go in when deciding which player would best fit the starting lineup, but he isn’t ready to write anybody’s name in Sharpie before the first game of the season.
“It might be a committee type of thing based on lineups and matchups that particular night,” Billups said.
It seems that the team’s versatility with different players allows the Blazers to be flexible, which is almost required for teams who want to contend and win in this iteration of the NBA.