We’ve seen the Blazers add new players little by little since the NBA draft on June 27th. These additions have been heralded by many as fantastic upgrades (which most are), so let’s take a brief look at them side-by-side with the former Blazers they are replacing. This will help us gage just how much better Portland is this year.
Nolan Smith: 2.0 stars / CJ McCollum: 4.0 stars
Nolan Smith was bad at… everything. He couldn’t shoot, he had decent court sense at best, and he could not stay healthy. The biggest red flag we witnessed was that instead of making a sophomore leap, he actually got a fair bit worse in his second season. He will be hard-pressed to find another NBA team willing to pick him up, which is too bad, because there is still the faintest glimmer of potential.
CJ McCollum has yet to play in a true Blazers jersey, though he was the leading scorer this year at Las Vegas Summer League. Although his facilitating is marginal, it’s not a downgrade. His scoring instincts are what make him great. Where Smith should have provided a spark, McCollum could be a full-blown lightning bolt. That’s the difference between being celebrated as a 10th pick and being a bust at 21st.
J.J. Hickson: 3.5 stars / Robin Lopez: 3.5 stars
J.J. Hickson is probably a better player than Robin Lopez overall. There, I said it. However; he was crammed into a position where he didn’t belong. Despite being undersized, he dogged it out valiantly at center, leading Portland in rebounding last season. Unfortunately, his defense was sub-par. Pair that with a height disadvantage, and Hickson got abused at the rim.
Robin Lopez fits the Blazers’ needs a little better. He’s a big guy (7’0”, 255 lbs) and knows how to protect the basket. He is also coming off of his first season as a true starter, and the first season in which he was able to stay healthy for 82 games. His offensive efficiency checks out, but it is concerning that he grabs under 8 rebounds per 36 minutes at his height. He or Leonard will have to step that up in a major way.
Jared Jeffries: 2.5 stars / Thomas Robinson: 3.5 stars
Jared Jeffries was intended to be more of a veteran voice than a real contributor, but because Joel Freeland had (is still having) such a slow start, he ended up getting more minutes than anticipated. When Jeffries is your best defender off the bench, you know you’re in trouble. He was waived as soon as the Blazers’ season ended in favor of pursuing a younger player with fewer miles.
Thomas Robinson is an elite prospect. His rebounding instincts are phenomenal and he’s only 22 years old. He’s built like a freight train and has shown more than flashes of a strong defensive game in development. He has some bad habits to break, and his offense is the opposite of polished, but I am certain that he will become a core player for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Eric Maynor: 3.5 stars / Earl Watson: 2.5 stars
Earl Watson is our only real downgrade, but that’s okay. With the addition of CJ McCollum, it is more important that the Blazers have an experienced veteran in his ear than a consistent role player competing for minutes. Watson is just that. With 12 NBA seasons under his belt and a desire to coach in the near future, his mentoring is well worth the one year contract.
Eric Maynor leaving was in exactly 0 of my fantasy plans for this offseason. He is an ideal backup point guard, and he quickly became the Blazers’ best bench player after being acquired at the February trade deadline. Now he’ll play 2nd fiddle to John Wall in D.C. (another reason to root for the Wizards), but I will miss the standout adequacy he provided during his half-season with the Blazers.
Luke Babbitt: 2.0 stars / Dorell Wright: 3.0
Luke Babbitt was probably better than I tend to give him credit for, but that is because I tend to give him no credit at all. He had one job; shoot the 3, and he did it in an average fashion. His defense was non-existent, his offense was one-dimensional, and his efficiency was terrible. Babbitt made 86 field goals last season and committed 82 personal fouls. Yikes.
Dorell Wright can not only space the floor with high quality 3-point shooting, he can finish at the rim and move on good decisions. I know; it blows my mind too. Wright has shifted from being underrated, to overrated, to right about where he belongs. He will come off the bench behind Nicolas Batum and compete for minutes with Victor Claver (though he has the advantage of experience).
Elliot Williams: 3.0* stars / Allen Crabbe: ???
Elliot Williams was actually rather impressive when healthy. I remember watching his rookie explosiveness and thinking, “I can’t wait for this guy to carve out a spot.” But, as Blazer fans know is too often the case, injuries can crush your dreams. In two years, Williams has played just 24 games. Portland can’t afford to keep him on and cross their fingers that all the potential is still there.
Allen Crabbe is one of two big question marks this coming season (we’ll get to the other one shortly). The Blazers snagged him at 31 with Cleveland’s pick in the NBA draft. He is supposed to be a fantastic spot up shooter, but the only thing Summer League affirmed was his ball handling problems. I know what he should be, but I have yet to see it in action.
Sasha Pavlovic: 2.5 stars / Terrel Harris: ???
Sasha Pavlovic was an interesting guy. Some nights he didn’t play because he would get crushed, some nights he didn’t play due to injury, and some nights he came off the bench and made some clutch plays right when we needed the points. Most often, though, he played a few minutes here and there, but was no more than a warm body. He was more of a detriment than a benefit, but not by much.
Terrel Harris has never been given much of a shot. This is probably for good reason, but after a stellar Summer League performance, I am convinced that he might have something to contribute. He came our way in the Robin Lopez deal and will likely remain little more than filler. Keep an eye on him though, because he might turn out to be a pleasant surprise. No promises.