Terry Stotts is no doubt scratching his head, watching different lineups run the floor at the Blazers practice facility. He has to put together a new rotation this season, after Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, and Pat Connaughton hit the road this summer, only to be replaced by 3 guards. Last season the Blazers squad was more evenly balanced, though a little lopsided towards the front court end. Now, it is heavily lopsided the other way with a short handed front court. So, as Stotts watches the Blazers scrimmage he has a pickle to contend with.
Stotts has plenty of time to gameplan still with the rest of training camp and preseason coming in the weeks ahead. The starting unit is all but already decided. Stotts will no doubt, go with Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Aminu, and Nurkic, Portland’s best lineup. Stotts could shake things up and start Collins at the 4 and bench Aminu or Harkless. The problem with that is, that it leaves a bigger hole on the bench for the front court. No doubt Collins will get starts this season, but the beginning of the season will see him come off the bench.
The next thing Stotts must decide then, is whether Collins come in at center or power forward? The Blazers no longer have Ed Davis to rely on. Noting that Collins will probably be one of the first players off the bench, if not the first, he will most likely come in at PF to relieve Aminu. Though we will definately see him play minutes at the 5 as well.
The center position is a quandry for the Blazers. Behind Nurkic and Collins the Blazers have little option. Meyers Leonard and Caleb Swanigan are all that is left. This provides one of a couple important questions Stotts must answer. How will he contend with a short handed front court? He could sub Harkless out early and bring him back in at the 4. He could use Layman as a PF. (We will probably see this at some point, as the NBA is moving toward smaller lineups, though not often) Stotts will be forced to use Meyers Leonard, the Blazers big man now in his 6th year, who has struggled with self esteem issues, and has yet to prove himself. With Davis gone he will get his chance. Swanigan will be used, but sparingly and behind Meyers. He likely won’t be in the rotation.
On the other end of the floor, Stotts has a history of staggering Lillard and McCollum’s minutes together, in order to bring CJ out with the second unit. We are likely to see this again this season, though with a number of guards on the roster, we may see a true 2nd unit. This brings the other big question. Who will earn the minutes off the bench in the back court with a guard heavy roster?
The Blazers best and most used 2nd string group last season was Napier, McCollum, Connaughton, Collins, and Davis. Three of those players are gone. Who is heir apparent to Napier? Curry or Baldwin? Curry is the more offensively inclined of the two, but Baldwin who has shown flashes of great energy on both ends of the court, has claimed a guaranteed roster spot this season. Napier’s minutes are up for grabs.
It seems the idea for the second unit is to put Turner in the middle and surround him with shooters. Curry, Baldwin, and Stauskas fit the bill. Though Turner has not played well since signing with the Blazers, and has in fact hurt them on the offensive end. The Blazers have been better with him riding the bench. But, with his high price tag the Blazers have to give him another chance.
To start the season the Blazers will probably sit McCollum and Harkless early, bring in Curry and Turner. Bring McCollum and Harkless back in with a bench of Curry, McCollum, Turner, Harkless, Collins. Stauskas will sub in for Turner midway, Baldwin for McCollum. Aminu for Harkless. (Rookies Gary Trent Jr. And Anfernee Simons will have a chance to find themselves a way in) Then the rest of the starters will come back in, staggered. Stotts will no doubt look to almost always have starters in the game.
We will at some points see a true 2 unit with Curry, Baldwin, Turner\Stauskas, Leonard, Collins, but not for long minutes, especially at first. If it works out, we may see more of it deeper into the season. We will definitely see this lineup and others in preseason to measure chemistry.
With 2 two way contracts still in order (Chinanu Onuaku, Cameron Oliver, and Gary Payton II are invited to training camp) the Blazers may get a little more help in the front court. As it is the 9 player rotation looks like this.
9 Player Rotation
Al Farouq Aminu
Gary Trent Jr.
Who do you guys think will make the Blazers rotation?