As a deafening silence rings throughout Rip City, it’s become apparent that the Blazers’ offseason has concluded. With the roster set, there are some strong suits, like all rosters will have, but how concerning is it when taking a magnifying glass to the weaker spots of the nightly rotations?
For starters, a starting five of Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkić is a tremendous upgrade from what Portland has had for the more significant part of the last five seasons. A true mix of scoring, playmaking, and defensive wings with the ability to create for themselves, Joe Cronin is more than deserving of applause for that core group. That said, going further down the totem pole could leave fans concerned as they evaluate the roster as a whole. But is the concern warranted?
It’s easy to stagger the minutes of Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons so the lack of a true backup point guard should not raise a red flag. Having a trio of Nassir Little, Justise Winslow, and Gary Payton III gives Coach Billups more than enough room to experiment with different match-ups and schemes on a night-to-night basis. It comes down to how well a duo of Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkić can do on manning the middle, and just how long is it sustainable on their shoulders alone?
To close the season, Drew Eubanks had a couple of solid outings as he averaged 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in 22 games with the Trail Blazers. Alongside Eubanks, Trendon Watford would be the one to round out a thin frontcourt rotation. Watford was more than impressive in the Trail Blazers’ Summer League, more so a revelation to those who weren’t tuning into games on a nightly basis.
The idea of Eubanks and Watford producing valuable minutes and providing a spark is not out of the realm of possibility, and truly that notion should not be met with as much doubt as it has been. Both high-energy rim running bigs could be utilized in a couple different ways. Eubanks proved to be an adequate roll man in a half-court setting, being assisted on 76 makes at the rim in the final 22 games of the year. Watford comes in a more versatile package as he has the ability to play from a couple different spots as a screener and now looking to expand his game beyond the arc.
Eubanks’ struggle to protect the rim could be the turning point in several match-ups over the course of the year. When put in the position to have to guard the pick n’ roll, or to catch defenders downhill, Eubanks’ lacks the defensive impact to prevent buckets in the paint. In 70 games last season, with the Spurs and Blazers, opponents shot 61.5% on Eubanks within six feet.
Watford’s defensive potential is there, but how unrealistic is it to presume that Watford will not become a main target when opponents start to develop schemes against the Blazers? At just 21 years old, it’s natural for defensive lapses to come early in a young player’s career. With the structure of the roster being built around two dynamic guards, how much room for error is there in the frontcourt?
With a new era of Blazers basketball being issued this year, constant developments when dissecting this roster will be at the forefront of every conversation. Being so many new aspects of this team, it is hard to have an idea of what to expect which leaves the answers to come on the fly. Under second-year head coach, Chauncey Billups, how the Blazers adapt when these faulty spots of their roster come to light will ultimately be the deciding factor in a large portion of their games.