With Mo Williams officially signing a 2-year / $5.6 million contract (player option for the second year), here are my quick reactions.
Deep Depth: It is clear that Blazers GM Neil Olshey saw a depth problem with the Blazers’ roster last year, and to say he attacked it head-on is an understatement. A bull-rush might be the better metaphor here. The bench was vastly improved and oozing with potential even before this signing, but now Williams is just the cherry on top. Under-the-radar development to pay attention to: the Blazers could literally have no draft picks next season. If their first round pick is outside of the top-12, it will go to Charlotte, and their second round pick will go to Denver no matter what. These were necessary sacrifices, but represent a large loss of potential flexibility during the next offseason.
Guards Galore: Between incumbent Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, CJ McCollum and now Williams, the Blazers look to have a pretty set four-guard rotation. The flexibility and mix and match capabilities with this group of four are so vast I’m almost giddy. At least on paper, all four players could play the shooting guard, and all except Matthews could run the point. This should have head coach Terry Stotts salivating, especially since I have pegged him as more of a strategist type of coach (rather than more of a motivator or preacher).
The benefits continue, though: this will greatly ease the burden on Lillard and his unsustainable minutes from last season, something that absolutely had to be addressed. It will also allow him to be on the floor more without having the ball in his hands, which also represent lower intensity minutes. Lastly, with the aforementioned lineup flexibility, if the Blazers make the playoffs (fingers crossed) the likelihood of them finding a particular lineup or matchup that can exploit the other team skyrockets. It’s all about maximizing the potential for this to happen.
Will Barton and Allen Crabbe Looking In: For the moment, it looks like Will Barton and Allen Crabbe will be on the outside looking in regarding the Blazers’ guard rotation. This is wholly unconcerning. I am decidedly not on the Barton train (not to say that he couldn’t improve), and I am a big fan of allowing rookies time to develop before being forced to shoulder too much responsibility, as it looks like will be the case for Crabbe. They also represent depth that is imperative to have, because that four-guard “on paper” lineup I just discussed had MAJOR injury issues last season: McCollum (foot), Matthews (ankle / elbow), and Williams (thumb), all had injuries that caused extensive missed time. The factor that is difficult to peg in all of this is Earl Watson’s role. He would appear to officially be the third string point guard (behind Lillard and Williams), but as a 12-year veteran, he was likely signed primarily for his mentoring capabilities, not his on-court play.
Shrinking Sizes: Mo Williams is 6’1”, McCollum is 6’3”, and Lillard is 6’3”. If any of these three do end up playing minutes at shooting guard instead of Matthews, the Blazers would most certainly be at a size disadvantage. On one hand, the simplicity of a size advantage was never more apparent than during these past playoffs, whether it was Jarrett Jack abusing Ty Lawson or Roy Hibbert and David West bruising the Heat’s excuse for a frontcourt. On the other hand, when guards are undersized, the ability of an offensive player to post them up is normally mentioned. Have you seen the (lack of) post games in the NBA today? It’s laughable. This is especially exacerbated among guards, where competent post players are very few and far between (I believe in no small part due to AAU). Additionally, these three would not be playing starter minutes at shooting guard; it would just be a temporary backup lineup. What definitely does concern me is rebounding. Stotts needs to be very careful in this area, because surrendering offensive rebounds is brutal, especially with regards to the mental aspect of a young team such as the Blazers.
When it’s all said and done, this offseason was a considerable success for the Blazers. While we are all Blazer fans and thus overly optimistic by nature, I am rapidly becoming more and more excited for this season. I would love to see Rip City back in the playoffs, especially since the home court advantage in the Rose Garden is so massive. It will not be easy to make the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference, but now more than ever, it’s certainly possible.