We are beginning a new feature today at GBB with Five Questions. A GBB writer will be reaching out to various members of the SB Nation NBA galaxy before certain Memphis Grizzlies games to gauge the current temperature of their team. For our first guest, we welcome Peter Sampson of the Portland Trail Blazers blog Blazer’s Edge. Without further adieu, here’s our first Five Questions!
- Portland currently has one of the worst defenses in the league. Are there any changes you think can be made lineup/scheme-wise to improve this without a major roster change?
Portland has focused on being more consistent in their defensive execution of late, but ultimately, this team is defensively flawed as constructed. I think you can win with a back court of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but there need to be defensive-minded bigs that are highly effective against the pick and roll behind them. Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Meyers Leonard are not these players. Stotts has the team defend the 3-point line and at the rim, and allows semi-contested mid-range jumpers by design. However, none of the aforementioned players does an adequate job of flashing out to the mid-range to contest.
Festus Ezeli would be the perfect center to pair with Lillard and McCollum, along with Portland's pair of versatile defensive forwards in Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, but it looks increasingly unlikely that he will play a significant amount of games for the Blazers this season, if he suits up at all.
Ultimately Portland has a lot of depth, but not the kind that meets the team's needs. Some sort of consolidation trade is the only way for the team to drastically improve on defense, but the team can't just pull the trigger unless a good deal actually becomes available.
2. The Evan Turner signing was pretty widely criticized in the offseason, and he was dead last in RPM when the numbers were released. Has he been as bad as the numbers indicate, and is there anything to be done about it?
As bad as the numbers have looked, Turner was probably even worse than that for the first 10 games of the season. It seemed as though every possession that he took part in would involve him pounding the ball for 8 seconds before turning it over or missing an 18 footer.
Over the last 10 or so games, however, Turner has really come around. He’s averaging nearly 12 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while cutting his turnovers to fewer than one per game. Most importantly he's no longer stagnating the offense, and he’s playing adequate defense on the wings.
Now, was he worth that contract? There's a saying, "If you can get it, you're worth it." That saying definitely doesn't apply here. But with Portland's unique cap situation, they had money available that was going away next season (when McCollum's max extension kicked in) whether they spent it or not. Once Chandler Parsons decided to sign with Memphis, Portland quickly moved to get some sort of impact player.
3. Chandler Parsons appeared to have some pretty serious interest in going to Portland before he signed with Memphis. Given Parsons' injury problems to this point in the season, are you relieved the Blazers missed out, or would you still rather have him, bad knees and all?
I think Blazer fans are definitely relieved, in terms of whiffing on Parsons. On one hand it was frustrating to miss out on yet another free agent, since the team has never really had a high-profile free agent signing in their history, but after the Oden/Roy years, fans are VERY leery about players with iffy knees. I wish him nothing but the best though.
4. Who's the most likely piece to get moved in a deal, and how early/late do you think that happens?
That's a hot topic in Portland. Turner can be moved on Dec. 15, Allen Crabbe on Jan 15. However, no one in the league will take that Turner contract, and by nature of Crabbe being a re-signed RFA, he can turn down any proposed trade, not to mention the 15 percent trade kicker he would receive. McCollum would bring back serious value, but he's considered a "poison pill" contract, one that counts his max deal as far as salary matching goes, but the other team can only send out his current salary + 50% in return. That basically means Denver or Philadelphia, as far as teams that have that flexibility.
Mason Plumlee is an expiring contract, but is due for a massive payday in the offseason, so Portland likely isn't willing to jump well into luxury tax territory to retain him, though I'm not sure what value he brings back for what may be a rental. That leaves Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis. Both players are on incredibly team-friendly contracts and are known quantities. Aminu is a versatile defender that can guard 1 through 4 and Davis is your prototypical hustle guy that feasts on the offensive glass and shoots a high percentage without needing plays run for him.
I wouldn't expect a deal until closer to the deadline since there's not a clear trade target available at this time. I expect GM Neil Olshey to wait and see what potential deals develop while hoping that Harkless continues to develop and that Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh show anything. That will make parting with other, more established players a lot more palatable.
5. Memphis is currently shorthanded due to serious injuries. Is there any way they can score with Portland, or will they have to rely on getting defensive stops to have a chance to win this game?
Unless Marc Gasol runs wild on Plumlee and the bench combo of Davis/Leonard (a real possibility) they are going to want to slow the game down and force Portland's guards to work for their buckets. Lillard is going to get his, but he can be forced into going 6-19 to do so. The biggest mistake opponents make is doubling Lillard or McCollum without trapping at half court. The trap works decently against Portland, but doubling tends to get teams burned more often than not since everyone on the team is good at passing the ball around to find the open man at the 3-point line. Plumlee is especially effective at this, ranking up with Gasol in terms of assists from centers.
Aminu has just returned from injury, but couldn't hit the side of a barn when he went down. If Memphis does choose to hedge off of one defender, they may want to consider forcing him to show that he can hit the open jumper.
Thanks to Peter for joining us! Be sure to check out Blazer’s Edge here.