Former Lives: The Once-Blazer Playoff Rankings

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The conference finals are three-quarters set and there will no doubt be more compelling basketball to come. While the 15 players on the Blazers’ roster this season weren’t able to make the playoffs, 19 former Blazers were part of teams that did participate. Here are the rankings of how these Blazers of yore have fared in the postseason.

The Old, Washed-Up Big Man Category

Juwan Howard, PF, Miami Heat

Yeah, he’s still in the league. I’m as surprised as you are.

Joel Przybilla, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Didn’t play much during the year and logged 0 minutes in the Bucks’ short-lived playoff venture.

Kurt Thomas, PF, New York Knicks

Rasheed Wallace, C, New York Knicks

Earl Barron, C, New York Knicks

Wow, the Knicks are putting together an awesome 2002 big man rotation. These guys have been solely working on their suit game this postseason.

The Slightly Less Old, Washed-Up Big Man Category

Marcus Camby, C, New York Knicks

Shavlik Randolph, PF, Boston Celtics

These guys have both played exactly 3 minutes in the playoffs. Again, is there an early 2000s quality big man the Knicks don’t have? What’s Elden Campbell up to? Is there still time to sign Scott Pollard?

Actual Guys

12. Hasheem Thabeet, C, Oklahoma City Thunder

Thabeet was basically the most unplayable Thunder big not named Perkins. Final tally: 26 minutes, -0.8 PER.

11. Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Indiana Pacers

Pendergraph graces the worst bench currently in the playoffs. He’s played 66 minutes, shot 7 for 22, and has as many fouls as rebounds. Take a seat, Jeff.

10. Patty Mills, PG, San Antonio Spurs

Mills plays exclusively in garbage time, but isn’t terrible when he does. Still, to be any higher you’d have to be able to beat out Cory Joseph for rotation minutes. 

9. Steve Blake, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

He got hurt. But, man, if he hadn’t, the Lakers still would have gotten swept. 

8. Anthony Tolliver, SF, Atlanta Hawks

Played 11.3 minutes per game and appeared in all 6 games for the Hawks. Shot 63.6 percent from 3, which is kind of crazy.

7. Jerryd Bayless, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

Bayless is supposed to be the Jarrett Jack of the Grizzlies, except he isn’t as good as Jack. He’s shooting 36.3 percent overall and 32.6 percent from 3. He’s also not a strong defender unlike most of the Grizzlies. Still, he’s an important rotation piece for a Western Conference finalist. 

6. Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers

He was unconscious (in the good way) in game 2 against the Grizzlies. He was unconscious (in the bad way) for the rest of that series.

5. Gerald Wallace, SF, Brooklyn Nets

Wallace played so well that he completely justified the trade that ultimately led to Portland drafting Damian Lillard! Ok, not actually, but he rebounded decently and finally made some shots.

4. Andre Miller, PG, Denver Nuggets

Miller had the game-winning layup in game 1 and continued to be a go-to source of offensive creation for the Nuggets. Unfortunately, his defense on Steph Curry was woeful and thus the Nuggets were ousted in the first round.

3. Raymond Felton, PG, New York Knicks

Felton may be keeping it 100 in life, but he’s keeping it 3rd in these rankings. He’s not shooting all that well, but has barely been turning it over. Plus, he’s been an important part of the Knicks’ high-powered, 3-point happy offense all season, running pick-and-rolls and attacking the basket. 

2. Jarrett Jack, SG, Golden State Warriors

Jack can be frustrating due to limited court vision, which often leads to him missing Steph Curry or Klay Thompson open on the wings. He was also atrocious on defense at times. However, Jack is a great mid-range shooter and a guy who created offense when the effects of Steph Curry’s ankle injury started to show. 

1. Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis Grizzlies

Randolph has been doing his thing, creating space under the basket and rebounding very well. He was able to beat up most of the defenders the Thunder put on him. It will be incredibly fun to watch Randolph and Marc Gasol battle against Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in the next round. 

Nic Batum and the Questions Swirling Around the Trail Blazers’ Secondary Offensive Creator

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Winds of change swept the Portland backcourt this season with the addition of Damian Lillard and the departures of Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton. While Crawford wasn’t as successful in his run in Portland as some would have hoped, he did at least fill the role of secondary creator for himself and others. With other holes in the roster, that role went unaddressed last offseason and consequently needed to be addressed from within.

Enter fifth year Small Forward Nicolas Batum, who has been a man of many hats in his time with the Trail Blazers. Nic as secondary facilitator sure had its ups, with Batum hitting his career high in Assist Percentage at 20.3% and adding a bit of flair to some of his passes. At the same time, he showed that he needs to refine this part of game; his turnover percentage crept up to 17 as he adjusted to his new role. As in previous years, he showed a tendency to telegraph passes, which resulted in deadly live ball turnovers. All the strides were nice, but there is definitely a need for a polishing process if he sticks to being this type of player for Portland.

And with the roster the way it is, he’s going to keep being this type of player. LaMarcus Aldridge was third on the team in assists. While his ability to find an open man on the money from the post is a great asset to the team, he’s not going to be creating shots from the perimiter. Spacing is becoming such a large deal with modern defenses in the NBA, and having that second guy on the floor who can be dangerous putting the ball on the floor to create for himself and others is becoming vital. Here is a breakdown of Portland’s assists this past season.

(Chart courtesy hotshotcharts.com. Check it out if you need an explination of how the chart works)

As you can see from the chart, with no surprise to anyone, no player from the bench is ready to step into this kind of role in the near future. Wes Matthews is fourth on the team, but shows real value being the team’s best spot up option from three. So, despite the increased turnovers and career low field goal percentage, Batum really is the best internal option to address these needs going forward. Breaking down what the Blazers could do comes down to this:

  1. Keep Batum in the Role:  The originization has made so much progress with Batum facilitating this season that taking him out of the role now would be counterproductive. Nic has made some really strong strides in the role, and has the potiential to fill it adequately with improved decision making. This could also give Portland flexibility to address other off season issues with free agency and the draft.
  2. Draft and Groom: The issue here is the current draft pool is relatively dry for this kind of player. Archie Goodwin, Dario Saric, Jamal Franklin, and Giannis Adetokunbo have the potential to play in this role some day, but don’t seem like great value picks at 10 (the Blazers’ projected lottery spot) as they all have some questions around them. So if Portland could trade down—or even deal all three second round picks to jump back into the first round—to select one of these guys, there could be solid value found there. They could also look into taking someone like Tim Hardaway Jr. as somone they could groom into an NBA in the second round.
  3. Free Agents: As nice as J.J. Redick would be, he more than likely wouldn’t be in Portland’s price range, as a defensive center seems to be the first team need. There aren’t too many middling priced options that seem like great fits either, so if that is how Portland would plan to address this then overpaying for a Marco Bellinelli type and hoping that it works out might be the case. It would be nice if it did, but overpaying for that type of player is way too big of a risk to feel remotely comfortable about.

It seems sticking with Batum is the best move here. First off, this would make sure that more is understood on Batum’s capabilities as a secondary creator before counteractively taking him from the role there. Also, the players who the Blazers could potential add are all modest risks as best, maybe even overstretching their ablilities completely. So what is the worst that can come from another year of data? Since nothing seems definitive at the moment, addressing other pressing needs and reassesing this at a later time seems very prudent.

The Offseason

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I do think the Blazers should acquire Blake Griffin. Great idea, Neil!

The NBA playoffs are raging on, creating nightly excitement for fans across the country. For 22 teams, however, the offseason has begun. This means that personnel decisions are right around the corner and scrutiny over every contract and cap move will be cast.

It’s hard to imagine anybody being busier during this period than my good friend Neil Olshey. Portland has 8 players that are going to be free agents or subject to team options. I’ve decided to give Neil a little help by offering my takes on how to handle some of these moves. Of course tons of information and details go into these choices that are beyond my particular pay grade (available trades and players, the handling of the draft, long-term plans, rumors, etc.), but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer the most humble of opinions.

Note: For salary comparisons and value measures, I relied heavily on basketball-reference’s win shares. 

J.J. Hickson

Hickson is an unrestricted free agent and the centerpiece of the Blazers’ offseason. We know what he does well. Hickson is a beast of a rebounder and has developed an effective offensive game with a true shooting percentage of 59.1 and a better mid-range game. However, he is bad defensively and probably playing out of position in Portland. 

Hickson’s per game numbers were impressive with 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, something other GMs are bound to notice. Basketball-reference credited him with 6.9 win shares, though the 2.3 of those that came from defense are probably overstating his impact. However, it seems like he could be in the same boat as Nikola Pekovic this offseason and could draw somewhere between 8 and 10 million dollars per year. 

Verdict: Hickson just doesn’t fit in any long-term plan for the Blazers. They need a center that can make a defensive impact. You can read here for some thoughts on who could potentially fill that role. It’s nice that Hickson might get paid in the offseason, but I just don’t think it should be by Portland. 

Eric Maynor

Maynor is a restricted free agent whose qualifying offer stands at $3.4 million. Maynor was a nice mid-season addition, taking some of the playmaking responsibility off of Damian Lillard while also being able to play along side him. He shot 38 percent from 3 in Portland, which bodes well for the 2 point guard lineups.

Maynor was good for 0.2 win shares and while that isn’t great, I think he’ll look better with more time in Portland. Plus, at 25 years old he already constitutes a solid backup and a noticeable upgrade over Nolan Smith and Ronnie Price.

Verdict: It’s hard to say whether someone will try to sign him to an offer sheet, but the qualifying offer seems fair to me. 

Luke Babbitt

How could you not bring back a guy who tied for 14th in 6th Man of the Year voting? In all seriousness, Babbitt is only 23 and is a career 36.7 percent shooter on 3-pointers. That’s only a little above average, but perhaps with a more consistent role he’ll be able to bring that percentage up. Additionally, Babbitt won’t really turn the ball over and could potentially be at least an average defensive rebounder. 

Verdict: At 0.7 win shares, Babbitt was one of the few bench players who was actually in the black. The $1.8 million he’s getting now might be a bit much, but hopefully there’s room for improvement. I would suggest bringing him back on a short, low-figure deal.

Jared Jeffries

Jeffries had no offensive value this season and was an average rebounder. He’s 31 years old and created 0.1 defensive win shares (-0.3 overall) last year while costing $1.4 million. This seems bad until you realize that Tyrus Thomas did the same thing for $8 million in Charlotte.

Verdict: The Blazers can find 0.1 defensive win shares for less than $1 million dollars, so I’d let Jeffries go and find somebody else to be the fifth big man.

Sasha Pavlovic 

Pavlovic was somewhat of a human white flag last season. He only appeared in 39 games and averaged around 13 minutes per game. He shot badly, but didn’t use very many possessions. 

Verdict: The team option on Pavlovic is for $1.4 million and considering he created as much value as guys like Kent Bazemore and E’Twaun Moore, I don’t think the Blazers should exercise that option.

Elliot Williams

Williams is a tough call due to the injuries. However, he is only 23 and a great athlete. In his one season of action he showed that, while he might not have much range, he can shoot well inside the arc and not cough up the ball. Plus, his athleticism means he has some defensive potential.

Verdict: It’s too early for me to rule him out. If Portland can bring him back at around or below the $1.4 million they paid him this past season, I would do it. 

Nolan Smith

I’m afraid he’s destined for the D-league. He hasn’t shot well (43.5 true shooting percentage) or shown an ability to create offense and played his way out of the Blazers’ bench rotation, which is saying something. Overall he was worth -0.5 win shares last season. Yes, negative.

Verdict: Hate to say it, but they probably should let him go.

Ronnie Price

Price was only slightly better than Smith (-0.2 win shares) and is five years older.

Verdict: Sorry, Ronnie.

Shawne Williams

Who?

Verdict: What are we going to do with all this extra cash?

Salary information courtesy hoopshype.com