PORTLAND, Ore. — Barring a blockbuster trade for Anthony Davis or another star player, the best way for the Trail Blazers to improve at the trade deadline is by making smaller trades that improve the wing position or boost the team’s depth.
We covered the options available for the Blazers to upgrade at the wing last week. This week, we’ll assess what players may be available that could help improve Portland’s subpar reserve unit.
Here’s where the Blazers rank in the NBA in bench production.
- Points per game: 34.6 (No. 21)
- Plus-minus: -1.6 (No. 22)
- Field-goal attempts: 29.1 (No. 23)
- 3-point attempts: 10.7 (No. 22)
- Free-throw attempts: 5.5 (No. 27)
- Turnovers: 5.9 (No. 24)
- Minutes: 19.1 (No. 9)
Here’s where Portland’s starters rank in the same statistics.
- Points per game: 78.2 (No. 9)
- Plus-minus: +4.2 (No. 6)
- Field-goal attempts: 60.9 (No. 8)
- 3-point attempts: 19.8 (No. 13)
- Free-throw attempts: 17.3 (No. 10)
- Turnovers: 8.3 (No. 7)
The Blazers’ production declines significantly when their starters aren’t on the court together. The team’s lineup data shows the same discrepancy. Look at the net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) for the Blazers’ starting units.
- Lillard-McCollum-Turner-Aminu-Nurkic: +15.8 (*No. 2 in the NBA)
- Lillard-McCollum-Layman-Aminu-Nurkic: +9.1 (No. 9)
- Lillard-McCollum-Harkless-Aminu-Nurkic: +6.5 (No. 12)
*minimum 250 minutes
Whether it’s Evan Turner, Jake Layman or Maurice Harkless starting at small forward, the Blazers’ starting lineup has been an elite five-man unit at best and an above-average one at worst.
The Blazers’ most-used bench unit — Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard — outscores teams by 1.5 points per 100 possessions. That means Portland’s reserves give back between 14.3 and 5.0 points per 100 possessions when the Blazers’ starters sit. No other all-bench unit that’s played more than 10 minutes for Portland this season has a positive net rating.
When Portland plays either Lillard or McCollum with the bench unit, it’s better. In 65 minutes, the unit of Lillard, Curry, Turner, Collins and Leonard is outscoring teams by 7.5 points per 100 possessions. The same lineup with McCollum instead of Lillard is outscoring teams by 14.3 points.
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Reverting to staggering Lillard and McCollum to give them time with the second unit, like the Blazers have done in past seasons, is effective on the court. But the Blazers wanted to go away from that this season in order to give Lillard and McCollum more rest during the regular season so they weren’t worn out by the time the playoffs arrived.
It’s not working. Lillard ranks sixth in the NBA in minutes played this season and McCollum ranks 11th.
To be able to rest Lillard and McCollum, Portland should look to acquire a scorer to complement the reserve unit. A look at the stats previously laid out in this article, especially points per game and shot attempts, makes it clear that what the Blazers lack is a bona fide bench scorer. The Blazers’ highest-scoring reserve is Turner, who averages only 7.7 points per game.
Is there a player the Blazers could trade for who could fill that bench scoring role? For this exercise, we’ll look at high-scoring reserves on teams expected to be sellers at the deadline.
KGW is not advocating for trades for all of these players. Their inclusion on this list is because they theoretically fill a bench scoring need for the Blazers. The players are listed in no particular order.
Atlanta Hawks, guard/forward
- Height/weight: 6-5, 201
- Age: 29
- Salary: $18.1M in 2018-19; $19.3M player option in 2019-20
Bazemore was mentioned in last week’s trade targets article as a potential upgrade at wing. But there’s also the possibility that if the Blazers acquire him, Portland could continue to start Layman or Harkless at small forward and cast Bazemore as a high-usage reserve. Bazemore has averaged 11 points or more each of the past four seasons, and he’s scoring 14.0 points per game this season. He’s a career 36-percent 3-point shooter and is also a good defender. Bazemore is one of the more intriguing trade targets for Portland. The biggest question seems to be his contract. It seems inconceivable he’d decline his $19 million player option next season. A trade between the Blazers and Hawks would likely depend on whether the Hawks are willing to take back 2019-20 salary in a deal for him. If not, a deal is more difficult to put together because of Portland’s lack of expiring contracts.
Orlando Magic, guard/forward
- Height/weight: 6-7, 206
- Age: 27
- Salary: $10.5M in 2018-19
Like Bazemore, Ross was included in last week’s trade targets article as well. He fits as a potential upgrade at the wing, but he fits the role of bench scorer even more. He’s done it effectively for Orlando all season, averaging 14 points in 26.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from the 3-point line and has been dynamic at times, amassing eight games this season in which he’s scored 20 points or more. In January, he scored in double digits in 13 of 15 games and averaged 15.7 points per game. The former Jefferson High product would be a good fit for the Blazers. The Magic might be willing to take back 2019-20 salary if Portland included a draft pick in the deal. For Ross, it might be worth it.
Cleveland Cavaliers, guard
- Height/weight: 6-5, 194
- Age: 26
- Salary: $12.5M in 2018-19; $13.4M in 2019-20
Clarkson has averaged 14.5 points per game during his five seasons in the NBA. He’s come off the bench all season for the Cavaliers and is averaging 16.8 points in 26.4 minutes per game. He’s shooting 46 percent from the field and 34 percent from the 3-point line. The downside? He’s a bad defender and is coming off a terrible performance in the playoffs last season, two things that could give the Blazers pause. But he is one of the better bench scorers in the NBA. Joe Vardon, Cavaliers beat writer for The Athletic, mentions Clarkson in a list of players “most likely to be traded,” and suggests the Cavaliers are looking for future assets (draft picks) and are willing to take on “bad multiyear contracts.” Would a package of Meyers Leonard or Maurice Harkless and a second-round pick be enough to acquire Clarkson?
Atlanta Hawks, guard
- Height/weight: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds
- Age: 30
- Salary: $13.8M in 2018-19
Lin is another name linked to the Blazers, again by Deveney, who reported that Portland expressed interest in the Hawks guard. Lin is a scorer and playmaker. He’s averaged 11 points in 20 minutes per game this season for the Hawks and shoots 47 percent from the field. He’s a career 35-percent 3-point shooter and has averaged double digits every season of his career except as a rookie. It’s not a perfect fit because Lin is best with the ball in his hands, just like Turner. But he could add some scoring punch to the Blazers bench. The Hawks would probably be willing to take back 2019-20 salary but they’d require an extra asset to do so. If the price is a second-round pick, maybe the Blazers are interested. If it’s a first-round pick, that’s likely too steep a price.
Chicago Bulls, forward
- Height/weight: 6-8, 245
- Age: 23
- Salary: $20M in 2018-19; $20M team option in 2019-20
Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, fell out of favor in less than one season Chicago. He’s publicly expressed disinterest in playing defense, which is a major concern, but he’s also a gifted scorer who can play both forward positions, though he’s better suited to power forward. He’s got 3-point range and has averaged 15.2 points per game over his career. The Blazers could take a chance on him and if it doesn’t work out, they could decline his option next season. If the Bulls were willing to take back matching salaries that extend to next season (say Harkless and Leonard for Parker), it might be worth it for the Blazers. If Chicago asked for a first-round draft pick, it might not be worth the risk.
Chicago Bulls, forward
- Height/weight: 6-8, 240
- Age: 34
- Salary: $1.5M in 2018-19
While many national pundits have mentioned Anthony as a potential fit for the Blazers, there has been no indication that Portland would be interested in the former All-Star. Anthony has his weaknesses, defense chief among them, but he’d certainly qualify as a scorer off the bench if he was willing to accept a reserve role for Portland. If the Blazers were interested in Anthony, they wouldn’t give up more than a matching salary (Stauskas) and a second-round pick for him. Most likely, if they want him, they’d just wait and see if they could pick him up once he’s waived by the Bulls after the deadline. Anthony came off the bench during his 10-game stint in Houston earlier this season and averaged 13.4 points per game, with individual scoring performances of 28, 24, 22 and 17 points. His efficiency has declined the past two season. A career 45 percent shooter from the field, he made just 40 percent of his field goals last season and shot 41 percent with Houston this season. He’s inefficient and his reputation as a ball-stopper might not fit with Portland’s bench unit, but he can put the ball in the basket.
Memphis Grizzlies, forward
- Height/weight: 6-9, 227
- Age: 28
- Salary: $7.7M in 2018-19
Green is one of a handful of players the Blazers have been linked to in reports leading up to the deadline. It was the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney who reported that the Grizzlies were shopping Green and guard Garrett Temple and that the Blazers had expressed interest in “one or both players.” Could it be Green? Who knows, but he’s been an efficient scorer off the bench for Memphis this season. He’s averaging 10.3 points, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from the 3-point line. He’s also a solid rebounder and defender. If the Blazers acquired Green and didn’t start him at power forward, he’d have to supplant either Collins or Leonard in the reserve unit. A trade of Green and Ivan Rabb for Leonard works, salary wise, but for taking back an extra year of salary, Portland would probably need to add a draft pick. If it’s a second-round pick, it makes sense. A first-round pick would probably be too rich a price.
New York Knicks, center
- Height/weight: 6-11, 250
- Age: 26
- Salary: $18.6M in 2018-19
It wouldn’t be the first time Neil Olshey pursued Kanter. He signed Kanter to a $70 million max contract offer when he was a restricted free agent in 2015. The Thunder ended up matching the contract, and it’s unclear if Olshey really wanted Kanter or was just trying to drive up the price for Oklahoma City. Either way, Kanter is definitely available, and he can definitely score. He’s a liability on defense, but he’s averaged more than 14 points per game each of the past three seasons. He was a reserve for the Thunder during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons and still averaged 13.5 points in just 21 minutes per game. The question is whether the Knicks would take back 2019-20 salary in a trade. It seems unlikely, which makes it difficult to construct a trade for Portland (not enough expiring contracts to match salary). But if the Knicks can’t find a trade partner for Kanter and buy him out after the deadline, he could be an option for the Blazers in the buyout market.
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