Trail Blazers’ four young bigs – Trying to parse playing time


With their newly acquired collection of young big men, the Portland Trail Blazers now have a myriad of options down low at their disposal. Each of the four young ones – Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, and Mason Plumlee – bring something different to the table, and this will be one of the most exciting races for playing time in the last several years.

For the past while, many of the Trail Blazers’ starters and backups were more or less penciled in before the season started. In this case, there are four young guns along with one savvy veteran (can’t forget Chris Kaman) who are all vying for two starting spots, and then whatever remaining minutes go to the backups.

Kaman is more of a known entity, and owing to the fact that the Trail Blazers decided to retain him, he’s probably safe in getting at least some minutes (although he could have also been kept in order to fulfill a mentor role). Each of the four young bigs, though, will have to scrap and compete with each other for every single minute that they earn.

Take a look at their per-36 numbers from last season compared with one another – they’re actually pretty comparable.

While there are definitely similarities, each player offers a variety of different skills and attributes. Leonard has been a Trail Blazer his entire career, and has the benefit of already knowing the Portland’s system. Davis, while still only 26, is the oldest and most senior of the group. Plumlee has explosive athleticism and a burgeoning USA Basketball career. And finally, Vonleh is just 19 with all the potential in the world.

The first easy-to-draw distinction among the four is shooters versus non-shooters. Vonleh and Leonard have both shown the ability to shoot from distance. Davis and Plumlee have not. In today’s NBA, with the intelligence and speed of defenses, it’s becoming harder and harder for an offense to thrive with two non-shooters on the floor.

For this reason, I do not expect to see Davis and Plumlee sharing the court much. While both of them are fine players in their own right, when paired with each other, the opposing defense could sag so far off of them it would make life extremely difficult for the remaining three players in the Trail Blazers’ offense.

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Beyond that, I really would not be surprised with any combination of two playing at any given time. Again, excluding Kaman, they are all so young that there can be an argument made that they should each receive minutes in order to develop. This case may be strongest for Vonleh, since he is so young, and was a top-10 pick just a year ago, but really, all four players have a need for development.

Another factor that could come into play is that Head Coach Terry Stotts may use the four of them as a kind of toolbox, in that he could play whoever is best suited for the match-up against a particular team on any given night. This would be a more valuable option to have, though, if the team were completely in win-now mode.

It is pretty apparent that the Trail Blazers are not in win-now mode, so it may be better for the long run to put winning individual games behind player development. But, this brings us back full circle to the fact that all four need time to develop, so who really knows how it will pan out?

Having young talent is an all-around good thing to have, so the Trail Blazers are blessed in that respect with regard to their developing post players. Having such a collection also offers four chances for one of them to make a huge step forward next season – something that will need to happen if the Trail Blazers want to get back to contending. It’ll be an exciting battle to watch, and surely at least one of them is up to the task of actually making that leap.

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