The day for the Blazers to make roster cuts is swiftly approaching, and after five pre-season games, general manager Neil Olshey likely has a clear picture of who’s safe, who’s gone, and who’s vying for one of the final spots on the team.
Today, I’m playing the GM.
From watching games, interviews and reading reviews, I’m evaluating every member of the Trail Blazers squad to reveal jut how safe (or unsafe) they are in Portland.
The regular season begins in ten days (Oct. 31), and Olshey will have to make his decision before then. If I was the GM of the Blazers, this would be my thought process:
- Power Forward, LaMarcus Aldridge – Role: Offensive Anchor/Captain, Stability: Maximum
- vs. GSW: 27 min, 18 pts (7-11), 2 reb, 2 blk, 1 stl; vs. DEN: 20 min, 14 pts (7-12), 4 reb, 2 blk, 2 ast; @ SAC: 30 min, 16 pts (5-16), 7 reb, 2 blk; @ PHX: 24 min, 11 pts (4-13), 10 reb, 1 blk; @ LAL: 24 min, 14 pts (4-12), 8 reb, 3 ast, 1 blk
- LaMarcus is showing steady improvement in all areas of his game. His jumper looks great, and while he can afford to grab a couple more rebounds, he’s giving a great effort when he’s on the court. We will need to lean on L.A. to provide the scoring until Damian Lillard settles into his new role. Aldridge’s ability to make the correct play when the double team comes will help us win games down the stretch, especially if our shooters make their shots.
- Shooting Guard, Wesley Matthews – Role: Perimeter Scorer, Stability: Rising
- vs. GSW: 29 min, 14 pts (3-8, 8-8 FT), 1 stl; @ DEN: 21 min, 19 pts (7-12, 3-7 3pt), 3 ast; @ SAC: 26 min, 11 pts (3-8), 1 ast, 1 reb, 1 stl; @ PHX: 22 min, 8 pts (2-7), 1 ast, 1 stl; vs. LAL: 24 min, 10 pts (4-8), 3 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl
- Wesley, too, has begun to show steady improvement in his offensive game. Last season, he was primarily a three-point shooter and transition scorer. But from the look of things so far, Matthews has been working on attacking the basket and creating space to get his own shot, all while maintaining that accuracy from downtown. This could be the year he has the breakout season we’ve all been expecting.
- Point Guard, Damian Lillard – Role: Starter/PG of the Future, Stability: Rising
- vs. GSW: 31 min, 15 pts (5-12), 7 ast, DNP @ DEN; @ SAC: 28 min, 20 pts (7-14, 4-8 3pt), 3 ast, 2 reb, 4 to; @ PHX: 35 min, 15 pts (5-13), 5 ast, 5 to; vs. LAL: 24 min, 14 pts (6-11), 7 ast, 5 reb, 2 to
- Damian has shown more poise in his first few pre-season games than I’ve seen most of out of most of these rookies, and most of that comes from the fact that he stayed at Weber State for four years. He’s made a few rookie mistakes, mainly a few bad passes/turnovers, but he’s been very solid on all sides of the floor. Lillard plays a bit shaky in the first quarters, but finds his stride once he returns to the game after taking a seat. He’s found a good shot that he likes in that high right elbow jump shot, but has to nail it for that to be his sweet spot. Lillard’s also been very adept at managing the pick-and-roll/-pop and knowing when to shoot vs. when to pass. He’s going to have to step it up to win Rookie of the Year — Anthony Davis has been killing so far for the Hornets — but as Portland’s point guard, Lillard is doing an excellent job.
- Small Forward, Nicolas Batum – Role: Three-Point Shooter/Defensive Stopper, Stability: Tapering
- vs. GSW: 30 min, 15 pts (4-10), 4 reb, 1 stl; vs. DEN: 23 min, 3 pts (1-8, 1-5 3pt), 3 reb, 1 stl; @ SAC: 36 min, 14 pts (5-16, 2-9 3pt), 6 reb, 5 ast, 1 stl; @ PHX: 26 min, 14 pts (6-14), 4 reb, 1 blk; vs. LAL: 22 min, 12 pts (5-12), 2 ast, 2 stl
- Nic signed a huge $50 million contract in the off-season and has yet to live up to the money. Unlike Aldridge or Matthews, I haven’t seen any type of significant improvement in Batum’s game in comparison to last season. He’s still a versatile forward that can shoot the three and guard the top perimeter player on the other team, but he still lacks the ability to create his own shot or even put the ball on the floor. To have commanded such a huge deal this off-season, I feel like Batum will have to step his game up, or it’ll cause some type of discontinuity in the locker room.
- Center, Meyers Leonard – Role: Starter/Defensive Anchor, Stability: Rising
- vs. GSW: 14 min, 4 pts (1-2), 6 reb, 5 fouls; vs. DEN: 16 min, 6 pts (3-3), 3 reb, 2 blk, 1 stl; @ SAC: 15 min, 3 pts, 3 reb, 1 blk, 1 stl; @ PHX: 21 min, 14 pts (5-8), 8 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk; vs. LAL: 18 min, 10 pts (4-4), 5 reb, 4 fouls
- I have really liked wht I’ve seen out of Meyers Leonard in the pre-season. Like many rookie big men, Leonard gets into foul trouble early, but he’s been a monster on the inside affecting shots. He’d probably get a lot more playing time if he stopped jumping on so many pump fakes, but I like the rookie as the starting center. He’s also been a pretty solid free throw shooter, which is hard to find in a seven-footer nowadays.
- Power Forward, J.J. Hickson – Role: Sixth Man/Center, Stability: Neutral
- vs. GSW: 22 min, 6 pts (2-3), 3 reb, 1 blk; @ DEN: 19 min, 4 pts (2-2), 4 reb, 1 stl; @ SAC: 23 min, 11 pts (4-8), 7 reb, 3 ast; DNP @ PHX, vs. LAL: 18 min, 6 pts (3-6), 5 reb, 3 blk
- Call me crazy, but I believe bringing J.J. off the bench will be a great way to switch it up for opposing defenses. Hickson is very short for a power forward, let alone a center, but he makes up for it with his strength, athleticism and soft touch around the basket. Hickson would bring a scoring punch off of a pretty dry Portland bench, and pairing him with L.A. in the front-court would be a nightmare for any interior. Defensively, his size would make him a liability against taller, bigger centers, but solid rotating and help would make up for it.
- Small Forward, Victor Claver – Role: Back-Up SF/Bench Scorer, Stability: Rising
- vs. GSW: 5 min, 2 pts (1-2), 4 reb, 1 stl; @ DEN: 13 min, 13 pts (4-8, 3-7 3pt), 3 reb, 2 ast; @ SAC: 5 min, no stats; DNP @ PHX, vs. LAL: 12 min, 3 pts (1-3), 1 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk
- I’ve seen a lot out of Victor and I believe he can be a solid rotation player for us when the season starts. He does everything: he crashes the boards, shoots the three, gets out on the break in transition and plays solid defense. He’s got a chance to earn some solid minutes behind Batum if he keeps it up. Claver has stolen any minutes that would’ve gone to Luke Babbitt and will get every chance to make an impact on the game when the season starts.
- Power Forward, Joel Freeland – Role: Back-Up PF, Stability: Falling
- vs. GSW: 18 min, 5 pts (0-2, 5-6 FT), 1 reb, 1 blk; @ DEN: 21 min, 2 pts (1-6), 8 reb, 1 stl; @ SAC: 13 min, 2 pts (2-2 FT), 4 reb; @ PHX: 18 min, 6 pts (3-5), 3 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk; vs. LAL: 12 min, 2 pts (1-4), 3 reb, 1 stl
- My faith in Joel is slowly disappearing, but I still have hope for him to turn things around. He’s been getting great looks at the basket, but the shots just haven’t been falling. He has, however, been crashing the boards pretty well, and has been a sponge when it comes to sopping up coach Stotts’ defensive philosophy. I think once he finds his stroke (and his spots), he’ll be a great addition to the rotation.
- Point Guard: Ronnie Price – Role: Mentor/Back-Up PG, Stability: Rising
- According to The Columbian, Ronnie Price (ankle) will “hopefully” make it back to the rotation for the team’s season opener against the Lakers on Oct. 31.
- DNP vs GSW, DNP @ DEN, DNP @ SAC, @ PHX: 12 min, 4 pts (1-5), 2 ast, 1 stl; vs. LAL: 16 min, 2 pts (1-2), 3 reb, 3 ast, 3 to
- There’s something about Ronnie Price that we all like. It’s in part because he’s playing much better than Nolan Smith, but he’s been running the Portland offense to perfection up until that awful ankle injury. When he gets back to full health, I fully expect Price to give Smith a challenge for the back-up PG spot. And in my eyes, he’s already got it.
- Combo Guard, Will Barton – Role: Role Player/Spark Plug, Stability: Rising
- vs. GSW: 18 min, 4 pts (2-5), 3 reb, 1 blk; vs. DEN: 19 min, 3 pts (1-5), 4 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl; @ SAC: 9 min, 4 pts (2-3), 1 reb, 1 ast; DNP (hamstring) @ PHX & vs. LAL
- Will has become somewhat of a favorite among Blazer fans, especially on Twitter. Everyone loves him, and he’s given them a reason to. The shots haven’t been falling, but Barton is in attack mode 100 percent of the time, always keeping the defense on edge. That’s something we’ve been missing for a few years now. He doesn’t, however, have the poise that Damian has, and thus dribbles himself into situations too deep for him to get out of, resulting in a turnover. Still, I believe he has potential to have a J.R. Smith kind of effect on our bench if he can get his shots to drop. He’s also been one heck of a rebounder, and has been finding ways to contribute to the offense (and defense) however he can. A great example of this was against Denver when he cleaned up Nolan Smith’s miss with a put-back jam to help trim the lead down.
- Power Forward, Jared Jeffries – Role: Role Player, Stability: Safe
- vs. GSW: 7 min, 2 pts (1-2), 3 reb; @ DEN: 11 min, 4 pts (2-6), 3 reb, 1 blk; DNP @ SAC: 8 min, no stats;
- Jared will have a similar role to that of the one he had with the Knicks. He won’t have much of a role in the offense, but will leave his mark by taking charges and playing solid defense. Jeffries has, however, knocked down quite a few mid range jumpers over the week. That’ll be interesting to run in the offense if we decide to use him.
- Small Forward, Luke Babbitt – Role: Three-Point Specialist/Back-Up SF, Stability: Falling
- vs. GSW: 8 min, 5 pts (2-3), 3 reb, 1 ast; vs. DEN: 9 min, 6 pts (2-2 3pt), 2 reb, 1 stl; @ SAC: 13 min, 8 pts (3-5, 2-4 3pt), 3 reb, 2 to; @ PHX: 17 min, 7 pts, 2 reb, 1 stl; vs. LAL: 13 min, 3 pts (1-5), 5 reb, 1 stl
- Luke hesitates too much for my liking. He passes up on way too many shots that bonafide three-point shooter wouldn’t, and he lacks the confidence in his own game to command a bigger role in the offense. He had five points late in the fourth against Golden State that show his potential — a deep three and a leaning, fading long mid-range two. I truly believe he can become a Steve Novak for the Blazer. Babbitt just has to take the same shots that Novak does.
- Point Guard, Nolan Smith – Role: Back-Up PG/Bench Warmer, Stability: Quickly Falling
- vs. GSW: 17 min, 0 pts (0-6), 1 ast, 1 stl, 3 to; vs. DEN: 31 min, 9 pts (3-11), 8 ast, 1 stl; @ SAC: 19 min, 6 pts (2-4), 4 ast, 3 to; @ PHX: 17 min, 7 pts (3-9), 3 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl; vs. LAL: 21 min, 3 pts (1-6), 4 reb, 3 ast
- At last we get to Nolan Smith. He came into training camp saying he would make Damian Lillard work for the starting PG position, but Smith has barely solidified himself in the rotation with his pre-season play. He’s been just short of terrible for us over the past few games, and has been given every opportunity to fight for minutes in the regular season. In the position battle, he’s at the bottom of the food chain behind Lillard, Price and even Coby Karl. I haven’t been impressed with anything he’s done in the pre-season, but I hope he proves me (and the rest of the Blazer community) wrong in the final two games against the Jazz.
- Small Forward, Adam Morrison – Role: Three-Point Specialist/Bench Warmer, Stability: Falling
- DNP vs. GSW, vs. DEN: 9 min, 3 pts (1-4), 1 reb; @ SAC: 5 min, no stats; @ PHX: 12 min, no stats; vs. LAL: 12 min, 9 pts (4-6)
- It’s unfortunate, but it seems as though Adam’s NBA dreams have come to an end. The only play I can remember him making is drilling a deep, deep three I believe against the Lakers. The man known only as “The Stache” may have finally reached the end of the road. He, too, is at the bottom of the SF food chain behin Batum, Claver and Babbitt. Maybe he’ll show something in the next two games to earn a roster spot, but his chances right now are not looking good.
- Point Guard, Coby Karl – Role: Prospect/Back-Up PG, Stability: Rising
- DNP vs. GSW, vs. DEN: 21 min, 11 pts (3-4, 2-2 3pt), 5 ast; @ SAC: 1 min, no stats; @ PHX: 8 min, 3 pts, 1 ast; DNP vs. LAL
- I didn’t think much of Coby Karl when the Blazers brough him in, but after that spectacular performance he put on against his father in Denver, I think he has a real shot of finally making an NBA roster. He ran the Portland offense beautifully and found open teammates almost every time he was in the game. He hasn’t played since Denver though, so I’d like to see more from him in these last two games against the Jazz. Karl is, however, placed above Nolan Smith in the position battle right now.
- Shooting Guard, Sasha Pavlovic – Role: Bench Warmer/Role Player, Stability: Neutral
- vs. GSW: 15 min, 7 pts (2-5), 3 reb, 1 stl; vs. DEN: 6 min, no stats; @ SAC: 13 min, 5 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast; @ PHX: 18 min, 3 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl; vs. LAL: 15 min, 3 pts ( 1-5), 2 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl
- Sasha hasn’t shown me a “wow” moment yet, and that’s an issue if he’s hoping to make the roster, let alone earn some minutes. The guard position is almost up for grabs after Matthews and Barton, but with Victor Claver playing so well, Stotts won’t hesitate to go big by moving Batum to the two for some stretches. Pavlovic also terribly bricked late in the fourth against Golden State. He’s been finding other ways to contribute to the team, though, so I do think he has a shot at making the final 15-man roster.
- Forward, Dallas Lauderdale; Shooting Guard, Justin Holiday; Guard, Demonte Harper – Role: Uncertain, Stability: None
- DNP or no stats in pre-season
- Will be cut or sent to Idaho Stampede
Agree? Disagree? Let me know:
Topics: Adam Morrison, Coby Karl, Damian Lillard, J.J. Hickson, Jared Jeffries, Joel Freeland, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luke Babbitt, Meyers Leonard, NBA General, Nba Pre-season, Nba Training Camp, Neil Olshey, Nicolas Batum, Nolan Smith, Portland Trail Blazers, Ronnie Price, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, Wesley Matthews, Will Barton