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Who Do The Blazers Start At Small Forward?

With Josh Hart off to the Big Apple, the Blazers have a few options at starting small forward.

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers had a busy NBA trade deadline, shipping out two vets (well, maybe just one) and waiving another for younger, longer and cheaper alternatives.

Josh Hart, possibly Gary Payton II and Greg Brown III are gone. Portland now welcomes Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybulle, possibly Kevin Knox II, and Ryan Arcidiacono.

The Blazers also brought back a 2023 first round pick and potentially five second rounders in their dealings with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons.

Hart’s departure was no surprise, given the nature of his contract and the pending player option that was likely not picked up later this year.

And while his contribution through 64 games over the past 12 months was valuable, the Blazers now have the chance to promote someone with more small forward-like abilities and physical attributes.

Long-story-short, 6’5 Hart was undersized and an underwhelming long-range shooter this year in Portland.

As far as his replacement goes, the Blazers have some options, three frontrunners and two others who could play the big wing position when called upon.

One of the frontrunners is Blazers mainstay Nassir Little. The other two—Cam Reddish and Australian-American Matisse Thybulle—were brought in at the deadline. Justise Winslow and Shaedon Sharpe are our two longshots.

All five candidates meet one or both of the team’s aim of getting bigger and more athletic.

Last night, Chauncey Billups went with new arrival Reddish against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however didn’t discount Matisse Thybulle and Nassir Little. Thybulle didn’t play, which may or may not have contributed to the decision.

But let’s break down why each might be in the running.

Nassir Little

Age: 22
Height: 6’6
Wingspan: 7’1
2022-23: 34 games, 5.9 points, 40% from three, 2.3 boards, 0.8 assists

Despite Reddish starting last night, I still think Little can fulfill the role. Billups turned to the former North Carolina standout last week when Hart sat with hamstring tightness.

Last night, he was the first Blazer off the bench contributing 8 points, 5 boards, an assist and a block, playing 25 minutes over Reddish’s 17.

On offense Little offers a range of skills, currently hitting 40 percent from three (80th percentile for wings) and 62 percent (94th percentile) on twos from more than 14 feet. His athleticism and intensity on defense are noticeable but as we heard from Billups last week, Little might need to be a little more consistent on that end.

He also boasts a skill set essential to the starting small forward on this particular team — being effective without having the ball in his hands. Little’s ability to cut and stretch opposing defenses, opens up all kinds of possibilities for teammates attacking downhill.

I also wrote about the 22-year-old’s candidacy for the Blazers’ starting small forward job a couple of weeks ago before the trade deadline.

Little not only brings a bigger physical profile to the small forward position (than Hart), he’s also a willing three-point shooter, which this team definitely needs in this starting lineup. The Blazers also don’t need another starter who needs the ball in his hands, they ultimately need someone to stretch and keep the floor stretched to open up the lanes for its two offense-focused guards.

Cam Reddish

Age: 23
Height: 6’8
Wingspan: 7’1
2022-23: 20 games, 8.4 points, 31% from three, 1.6 boards, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals

Reddish is the Blazers’ biggest upside deadline addition. He’s been unable to make things work with the Atlanta Hawks and Knicks, but Reddish has the physical tools and skills to theoretically be the modern prototypical small forward.

Reddish has size, athleticism, a nice shooting stroke, defensive instincts, and above average basketball IQ. There’s a reason he was taken with the 10th pick in 2019 — 15 spots in front of Little. He might just need the right situation to capitalize on this ability.

That being said, theory and potential don’t win basketball games. Execution does. Some have already raised the point that Reddish has already played for head coaches Nate McMillan and Tom Thibodeau, two guys not known for readily playing young players. That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have cause to bench Reddish, but it’s something to consider.

This season has been particularly perplexing. He was removed from the Knicks’s nine-man rotation in early December with Thibodeau preferring the smaller Quentin Grimes.

That was an odd decision considering that, through 20 games, 23-year-old Reddish was contributing. His 54.3 percent two-point percentage was good enough for the 70th percentile for wings. He also produced 90.3 percent from the free throw line (90th percentile) and 64 percent at the rim (58th percentile).

Reddish’s 31 percent shooting from three was obviously underwhelming, but as we saw last night, the shot mechanics are there and have been proved by a more impressive 36 percent shooting split in 2021-22. This season Reddish has also blocked 0.9 percent of available shots (88th percentile) and grabbed 1.4 percent of steals (70th percentile).

His game fitness might be an issue in the short term, only playing 17 minutes last night after not walking onto an NBA court in more than two months. But for a young guy, this should be addressed pretty quickly.

Matisse Thybulle

Age: 25
Height: 6’5
Wingspan: 7’0
2022-23: 29 games, 6.8 points, 31% from three, 0.9 boards, 0.5 assists, 0.9 steals

While 6’5 Thybulle is one of the best wing defenders in all of basketball, his offense leaves a lot to be desired.

On defense, the wing has been cemented in the 100th percentile for blocks (1.3 percent of shots this season) and steals (3.5 percent of opportunities this season) over the past three seasons. He’s also a prolific rebounder for his position, particularly on the offensive end.

Thybulle’s not entirely a zero on offense, he’s just extremely limited. This season, he’s been hitting 46 percent of his two-point shots (82nd percentile), starring between 4 and 14 feet, also 46 percent, which is good enough for the 77th percentile.

Thybulle appears to be Payton’s heir apparent replacement, able to do 95 percent of what the latter offered in a bigger, younger body and on a cheaper deal.

The Australian national representative will never be a knock-down shooter but if there’s a way to rejuvenate his shot marginally, he’ll be able to contribute in a big way.

He’s also another wing that doesn’t need the ball in his hands.

Justise Winslow

Age: 26
Height: 6’6
Wingspan: 6’10
2022-23: 34 games, 5.9 points, 31% from three, 5.0 boards, 2.6 assists, 0.9 steals

Still returning from injury, we may not see Justise Winslow until after the All Star break. Winslow has the versatility, particularly on the defensive end to really complement the other four guys.

Before Little was fit enough to start — recovering from abdominal surgery and then a hip injury mid season — I wrote about Winslow’s ideal fit with the starters.

This team needs a starting small forward willing to do the dirty work and take on the tough defensive assignments, in many cases against some of the elite and big wings in the league.

Yes, Hart can score, but I just think his offensive talents can be used more effectively with the second unit. Winslow, on the other hand, has the size and demeanor to better support the starters while serving as an above average and versatile defender.

Winslow’s shooting is an issue, 32 percent from three and 29 percent from the midrange.

But it’s his playmaking from the wing that is most tantalizing, boasting a 1.15 assist to usage rate (how often he assisted given how much he had the ball), which is good enough for the 98th percentile. His offensive rebounding is also pretty impressive, getting 6.6 percent of available offensive rebounds (91st percentile).

Like Hart, Winslow is most effective when the ball is in his hands, which may make him more effective with the second unit. Not to mention his pending unrestricted free agency, which may result in him wearing different colors next season.

Shaedon Sharpe

Age: 19
Height: 6’5
Wingspan: 6’11
2022-23: 54 games, 7.6 points, 33% from three, 2.5 boards, 0.5 assists

If the Blazers are serious about fast-tracking Sharpe’s development, thrusting him into the starting unit would be a pretty big start. But at what cost? The Canadian phenom still gets lost on defense and might still be a bit undersized when taking on bigger opposing wings across the league.

Interestingly, he’s most effective from the midrange, particularly more than 14 feet out, hitting 47 percent of his shots (84th percentile) and corner threes at 42 percent (60th percentile). His leaping also helps with offensive rebounds, getting 4.5 percent available boards (86th percentile).

There may come a day when Sharpe is one of the league’s premier wings but the Blazers don’t appear to have the time to let him play through his mistakes, with Damian Lillard still on the roster.

He’s currently averaging 19.9 minutes a game and, honestly, that’s probably the maximum he should be getting at this stage of his career.


Going through the five hopefuls, Thybulle is an interesting addition, but might be better used off the bench, helping quell opposing secondary units.

Winslow is that versatile veteran presence, who—combined with Thybulle—shores up reserve unit defensive liabilities. While Sharpe is too young and slight to start at the three. That’s not to say he won’t be a difference maker down the line.

Reddish and Little are the frontrunners and relatively similar propositions on the court but the former’s size at 6’8 is crucial for me. There’s every chance I might be distracted by something “new and shiny” but I think Reddish makes the most sense for a team that has been pretty overtly undersized in recent years.

The only caveat is that if Reddish starts to show the slightest regression or disinterest, Little steps in.

Don’t get me wrong, Little is still one of my favorite Blazers, Reddish just has the size this team has been looking for at the three since Nicolas Batum was shipped off to the Hornets in 2015.