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Could the Trail Blazers Start a Three-Guard Lineup?

They’ve got the horses. Could they all get hitched?

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers field a trio of talented young guards in Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, and Shaedon Sharpe. Brimming with athleticism, at least two-thirds full of scoring punch, they entice...at least on paper. One Blazer’s Edge Reader wants to know if all three could morph together into a supremely-active-and-intimidating starting lineup. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Hi Dave,

Can the Blazers start a unit of Simons, Sharpe, and Henderson? That looks like an explosive, athletic team.

Blazers will struggle to find three guards like that in a trade. They might need a rebounding PF to help on the glass. I believe Skoot is gonna be a multi all star in the future.

Thanks,

Jay

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Now, on to your question...

I don’t believe those three can start together long-term. At least not for a contender.

Shaedon Sharpe isn’t a small forward, really. Defensively he’s a shade too small and slight. He’s athletic, as you mention, but he’s going to get banged around at the three more than at shooting guard. He’ll also be moved to the side of the court, which will lessen one of his natural defensive advantages: the ability to close and help. He’s going to be more effective on the perimeter, swooping in for rebounds, steals, and bothers than he is on the sideline or getting posted by opposing small forwards.

This is true on offense as well. Guards usually operate in the center of the floor, on the top, surveying the court with freedom to go any direction or just pull up. Forwards operate more on the sidelines.

Sometimes the small forward becomes a corner shooter, particularly on the weak side. Sharpe’s three-point percentage doesn’t justify that. It would waste his athleticism. Forwards also attack after the defense has been moved. Their approach is clearer and more prescribed than the guards’. This is part of why they usually score less. The opportunity doesn’t open up as much. Shaedon will probably end up a more multi-directional and frequent striker than the small forward position usually allows.

Look at the guards Portland converted into small forwards in recent years. Norman Powell and Josh Hart came into town with proven scoring ability and at least some defensive chops. Hart’s scoring fell off a cliff when he got here. Powell’s only dipped modestly, but his shooting percentages tanked. Neither one added much to the defense either. Sharpe has three inches on his veteran predecessor, but also far less experience. I don’t foresee him playing out of position, long-term, much better than they did.

Positing Sharpe as a guard in this scenario only makes the situation worse. Neither Henderson nor Simons is better suited for the three-spot than he. Simons is a far better catch-and-shoot target but the rest of his offense would be wasted just as much as Sharpe’s. His defense would be far worse. And Henderson doesn’t fit the role at all.

Ultimately, I believe the Blazers will have to choose between Sharpe and Simons. I don’t think either is a natural enough distributor to fill the point guard role. Instead they’re likely to battle to become #1 scoring options.

This isn’t a Devin Booker/Bradley Beal situation where a veteran can go out of his way to mold himself around the game of a currently-established star. Both are trying to blossom, find themselves, and make a career. I don’t see any issue with them playing together at any given point, but in the long run they’re going to prosper more away from each other than together, particularly with Henderson orchestrating the offense and taking up touches.

None of that is happening immediately, though. For the rest of the year and the near-term future, Portland doesn’t have to do a thing with either except play them. That might include running, or even starting, three-guard lineups just as you suggest. It’ll work on some nights! It won’t work every night, though, despite the talents of all parties involved. If they’re going to contend, Portland will need to find a lineup with fewer compromises and better synergy.

Thanks for the question! You can always send yours to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to get to as many as we can!