The Portland Trail Blazers rotation has been anything but consistent through the early part of the current NBA season. The majority of said inconsistency has been the result of injuries with the remainder put down to Head Coach Chauncey Billups experimenting with lineups on a young roster.
Earlier this week, the third-year coach provided some insight into where his preferences lie.
Billups confirmed he defaults to a nine-deep rotation and has eight players who are more or less locked in. The ninth spot will be decided on a nightly basis with Jabari Walker, Duop Reath and Moses Brown, vying for minutes at back up center.
Chauncey Billups said with everyone healthy, his preference is to play a nine-man rotation. Backup center will vary on a night-to-night basis between Duop Reath, Moses Brown and Jabari Walker, depending on matchups — Sean Highkin, Rose Garden Report.
That means that when everyone is healthy outside Robert Williams III, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Toumani Camara, Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton, Scoot Henderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Matisse Thybulle are getting minutes.
Walker, Reath and Brown’s form and the personnel on the opposing team will play a large role in who takes the court. Below we highlight the strengths and weakness of each big man and why and when they deserve minutes.
Before we do, I think it’s important to note how each forged their path to the NBA with the three individuals telling relatively unique stories.
Son of an NBA champion Samaki, Walker was taken out of Colorado with the penultimate pick in last year’s draft, and has gradually shown real maturity and a useful NBA skillset.
Sudan-born Reath, who spent his youth with me down under, has battled the past few years through lesser leagues in Serbia, Australia, China and Lebanon. He arrives in the NBA as a 27-year-old rookie with a little more life experience.
Brown went undrafted out of UCLA in 2019, building his skillset and muscle mass via various G-League stints and training camp, two-way, 10-day and non-guaranteed contracts.
23-24 stats: 27 games, 17.8 minutes, 7.3 points, 27.5% 3pt, 5.1 boards, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals
The shortest of the three, Walker has thrived as a power forward and, in smaller doses, as a small-ball center. His defense, rebounding and willingness to fight for 50-50 balls makes him an effective force off the Blazers bench. While his three-point shot might not show it in the stats, he’s been able to knock down key threes this season after simplifying his shot mechanics over the summer.
Walker’s frame, athleticism and near seven foot wingspan allow him to compete at both big man positions. His ferocity and selfless approach to the game also make him an ideal contributor for the Blazers, hunting rebounds and generating second-chance points on offense.
To me, he has the skillset of a stretch five in the body of a power forward. If he was somehow three inches taller, Walker probably competes for starting center minutes somewhere in the NBA.
As for time at the four, Walker was all but surely penciled in for Jerami Grant’s backup minutes before opening night. Enter Toumani Camara who has surprised everyone playing elite point of attack defense from both forward positions. This has squeezed Walker’s minutes, pushing him back a couple of spots in the rotation.
Walker is under team control until for a while, likely hitting restricted free agency in the summer of 2025, if he’s not extended first.
Other notable stats: Among bigs, Walker ranks 19th in corner threes attempted (99th in makes), 12th in steals and 45th in defensive rebounds.
23-24 stats: 18 games, 14.7 minutes, 8.2 points, 35.7% 3pt, 2.9 boards, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals
Reath is, by far, the best shooter of the three. He’s also the least athletic, playing predominantly below the rim. The Australian national representative is an average rebounder and defender but has the ability to stretch the floor.
Reath’s shooting is the key to his playing time and if he can maintain average rebounding, defense, passing and screen setting, he’ll be wanted in the modern NBA.
His weaknesses are pretty clear. The lack of athleticism, rim protection and elite defensive prowess is probably why he’s had to prove himself on three different continents.
Reath is still on a two-way contract and, as such, is limited to 50 games with the Blazers this season. If the franchise wants to keep him in Blazers colors, he needs to graduate to a regular roster spot.
Other notable stats: Among bigs, Reath ranks 11th in steals and 11th threes attempted (72nd in makes).
23-24 stats: 5 games, 7.0 minutes, 2.4 points, 3.6 boards, 0.2 assists, 0.2 steals
Your rim protection and rebounding option, just don’t ask him to shoot from more than three feet out. Brown has come a long way since his first stint with the Blazers back in 2019-20 where he played the permanent “deer in the headlights” role.
His standout game against the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this month was a reflection of his effectiveness if everything clicks. The six points and 12 boards he put up in 16 minutes that night came after a similar standout performance with the Rip City Remix in which he registered 26 points and 15 rebounds.
Brown’s strength and weaknesses are pretty clear. Blocks and cleaning the glass make him a nice option on defense. While he’s still pretty slender, he’s added enough muscle to try and get in the way of some of the bigger centers in the league.
Brown’s contract becomes fully guaranteed in early January and, as a result, could become the sacrificial signing to ensure Reath can continue playing with the Blazers.
Other notable stats: Per 36 minutes a game, Brown is averaging 18.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks each outing.
What do the Blazers need?
In short, Robert Williams III. But that’s not possible right now, as he’s out for the season due to injury. The Blazers need a capable back up center because Deandre Ayton can’t play 48 minutes a night.
The franchise has a slew of young bigs with pretty glaring flaws. But Reath, Brown and Walker can theoretically play the position for a few minutes a night.
With Camara playing mostly small forward, the Blazers are also in need of power forward depth. Matisse Thybulle has spent time at the four but this is no way sustainable.
If Billups wants to stick to a nine-man rotation and everyone is fit, he needs to fill both roles with one player, which makes me think Walker is best placed to play those minutes.
Unfortunately, Walker’s measurements make it difficult for him to be a full-time center, making Reath an important piece to have just in case. I’m not confident Brown is a Blazer beyond the next few weeks, but we wait and see.
Walker is more multifaceted on both sides of the ball and has consequently appeared in more games this season. He and Reath have shared the court together through the early part of the season due to injury. But when everyone is healthy, one will have to sit.
Walker is probably the ninth best best player on this team. Unfortunately, due to roster balance, he’s not always going to play as the necessary back up center because of size.
I’m not worried. As we’ve seen so far, the Blazers aren’t prioritizing winning this season. Development, good habits and deciding who hangs around long term are the names of the game.