Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard’s status with the team is still in question, but the departure of backup center Drew Eubanks earlier in the offseason leaves a void behind starter Jusuf Nurkic that will need to be filled for the Blazers to succeed in 2023-24.
The recent acquisition of Moses Brown adds another big man to the roster alongside Ibou Badji, Jabari Walker, and John Butler Jr. But which big man is ready to take the next step?
Last season, the Blazers finished No. 28 in rebounds (40.5 RPG), No. 17 in blocks (4.6 BPG) and No. 28 in defensive rating in the NBA at 118.0.
Moreover, Portland conceded 53.3 points in the paint to opponents and allowed 13.6 second chance points – both bottom-half metrics among all teams.
None of the four backup centers looking to relieve Nurkic on the second unit have a lengthy track record, but each provides their own skill sets based off of what they’ve shown on the professional levels thus far.
Brown is an energetic center who has shown a natural feel in the pick-and-roll with an ability to score in close.
Brown’s career per-36 minutes averages of 16.0 points per game and 15.2 rebounds per night well exceed his production in regulation, but do show that the center is very efficient and productive in the minutes he receives.
In 2020-21, Brown attempted four or more shot attempts per night for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers, where he shot better than 54 percent from the field on both occasions.
Defensively, he pulled down an average of 4.4 defensive rebounds a night in 17 minutes of action. With his experience and upside, Brown may get the call early, but Walker has more reps with the team.
Walker was comfortable in the driving lanes, looking to create opportunities for himself inside off the bounce this past season. However, in 11.1 minutes, he wasn’t able to find a consistent rhythm in the rotation for much of the year.
Walker showed flashes in spurts, with six games totaling six or more rebounds and twelve games in which he recorded a blocked shot. He also displayed a promising ability to get off the floor on his second jump, where he had 13 games with multiple offensive rebounds.
Walker showed rawness as a rookie big, but with a summer league outing averaging 6.8 defensive rebounds in just over 23 minutes a night, Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups may feel comfortable featuring Walker in an expanded role, especially with the additional departure of Trendon Watford – a flex forward/center who served as a utility big off the bench.
Badji and Butler
Ibou Badji has yet to take the floor for Portland and John Butler Jr. only saw 19 games of action in 2022-23. A redeeming stat for Butler shows that the Florida State University product sent back one or more blocks in eight of his 19 games played – a metric that could expand in the event that he sees more minutes moving forward.
Portland lacks veteran presence on their bench and if looking to bring in an additional big man whether or not Lillard gets moved, Blake Griffin remains on the market as an option to keep an eye out for.
Griffin is well removed from his last All-Star caliber season in 2018-19, yet he carved out a reputation for himself as a relentless on-ball defender and hustle player as a reserve for the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics over the last three seasons despite diminished stats.
Jamychal Green has also been a key contributor for several playoff contenders including the Golden State Warriors in 2022-23 and the Los Angeles Clippers from 2018-2020.
Eubanks’ absence from the team costs Rip City a rim-protecting center that was able to recover from the weak side and block shots with regularity as well as supplement his natural athleticism on the defensive end with a consistent ability to convert dump-offs into easy deuces inside.
Portland can now stand pat with the options they have currently or look to add Griffin, Green or another viable option in the free agent market as the start of the regular season fast approaches.
Where Lillard ends up prior to the start of training camp will determine many things including cap space and freed up roster spots in the event that multiple players are traded alongside him.