Trail Blazers’ ability to ‘go small’ is key to future success


After trading Thomas Robinson, the Portland Trail Blazers had a gap in their rotation at the small-ball-4 spot. While he struggled this season, Robinson was used to help defend faster forwards that gave Portland problems off the bench.

Dorell Wright filled in as a small-ball-4 after Robinson was traded, and he played pretty well until he broke his hand near the end of the season, furthering the Blazers’ injury woes.

Even with Wright and Robinson, though, Portland always had a problem staying with the best and most athletic “power guards,” as Bill Simmons likes to call them.

We don’t know who the Trail Blazers are going to bring back this season. Only Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Meyers Leonard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe are under contract for 2015-16, so things could get really weird in free agency. The team could look very different.

One thing is certain, though. Portland has to find a new way to match up when teams go small, especially at the power forward position, if they want to be considered a viable contender for the NBA championship.

The NBA has been trending away from the low-post, back-to-the-basket power forward, and center for that matter. With Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin poised to dominate the league for years to come, Portland has to find an answer for the uber-athletic forwards, as well as forwards who can stretch the floor.

Think about all the teams still left in the playoffs. Other than the Chicago Bulls, every team has a forward who can cause problems because of their ability to stretch the floor or get out in transition to lead the break (or both).

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I hope this doesn’t come across as an anti-LaMarcus Aldridge piece. I’m not anti-Aldridge at all. I love Aldridge. He’s been awesome for the Trail Blazers, but like all players not named LeBron, there are things Aldridge can’t do. His biggest weakness (guarding on the perimeter and pick-and-roll) just happens to be the focal point of the NBA’s offensive attack.

The Trail Blazers could avoid that matchup by moving Aldridge down to the center position for stretches and adding a small-ball-4 to help cover the pick-and-rolls.

We saw a mini-version of this right after the Arron Afflalo trade and right before Wesley Matthews‘ devastating injury. For a short window, Portland had the ability to play Lillard, Matthews, Afflalo, Batum, and Aldridge, which could have been one of the strongest offensive lineups in the postseason.

While I love that lineup, Batum is a little too small to guard the best power forwards in the game, which is what would have had to happen at some point for Portland to succeed using the strategy long-term.

I don’t have the answer for Portland finding a small-ball-4 to contribute off the bench. The aforementioned Green is the perfect fit for most teams in the league at that position, but he is a restricted free agent this offseason. A departure from Golden State is unlikely.

In the event that the Trail Blazers are unable to retain Aldridge, Kevin Love, would also be an interesting fit, if he’s willing to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and come home, but that would be more of a lateral move offensively and a significant downgrade on the defensive end.

Chances of making those additions are like one-in-a-kagillion (very, very, very unlikely), but a guy like DaMarre Carroll from the Atlanta Hawks would be an intriguing pickup for Portland. Even Amir Johnson from the Raptors could give the Trail Blazers a huge lift off the bench.

It all comes down to how Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts choose to build the team and make the necessary additions. There are guys out there that can make a difference. Hopefully, Portland plays it smart and adds some athleticism to the frontline.

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