Portland Trail Blazers Starting Lineup: Big Man Controversy


One of the biggest questions for the season is what will the starting lineup look like come opening game. It is very obvious that Damian Lillard will start at point guard. Other than that though, we can see the rotation take on many possible forms. The biggest question comes at the power forward and center position. Last year’s starting big men of Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge are obvious playing for the Knicks and the Spurs, respectively. This leaves us with a big hole that needs to be filled.

Luckily, there are many new options on the new roster. Although they are not as proven as Lopez or Aldridge, these new options can still be great bigs for the team. The players that Terry Stotts could start at power forward or center are (in my opinion): Mason PlumleeMeyers LeonardChris KamanEd DavisNoah Vonleh, and Cliff Alexander. This is assuming they do not decide to go small and start a small forward at power forward.

The Blazers have to change their style of play significantly from last year to be competitive. They don’t have as good of a starting lineup as they did last year, at least not on paper Last year’s lineup proved to be very formable; partly because they played well together, but also because the individual talent. I’d be lying if I said that the current Blazers had that sort of talent in any of the possible lineups. However, basketball is a team game, and although this year’s Blazers might not have the best individual talent, they can still be a competitive overall team.

There have been some rumors of Blazers playing a much faster paced game, and I do expect them to take full advantage of easy transition points. This is especially effective when the team has a big man who can run with the guards in transition, and Plumlee is an athletic big man who can run in transition. He seems to be the clear starter at power forward , and this should come as no surprise. Plumlee is the most proven big man (excluding Kaman) on the team. He is entering his third year in the NBA, and was a very good contributor for the Brooklyn Nets. His stats might not show too much promise, as he averaged 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 21 minutes, but he was backing up Brook Lopez. Plumlee should find himself with a much larger role (as a starter), and a bigger offensive threat in Portland than he was in Brooklyn.

Apr 27, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) reacts after making a basket against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

In preseason so far, Terry Stotts has started Leonard as the other big man. This is only preseason, so take that as you will. However, I do think that this is the best combination. Leonard is a 7’1” player who had a 50-40-90 season last year (shot 50% from the field, 40% from the three, and 90% from the free throw line). He didn’t take a lot of shots, and this stat line doesn’t mean that he is one of the best shooters in the league. However, it is still an impressive achievement. The most impressive stat was his three point shooting, which was at 42% last year. This means he can stretch the floor really well, even to beyond the three point line. This would cause big men to have to step out of their comfort zone to guard him, or let Leonard shoot the open three.

Some believe that Leonard shouldn’t be the starter. His only averaged 5.9 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game in 15.4 minutes per game. However, people who watched the Blazers last year should know that when he had his chance to play, he produced. Also, he was rarely a focal point of the offense, as Aldridge and Lopez had more plays run for them.

Another downside of Leonard is he struggled to do some of the little things or the dirty work. His defense wasn’t good at all. Statistically, he averaged less than half a block and half a steal per game last season, but he had many issues with his defense that don’t show up on the stat sheet. However, he did get better as the season went on, and he most likely made an effort to improve his defense over the off season and through Blazer’s extended training camp.

Lastly, Leonard is a player that everyone has to be excited about. He showed all Blazer fans that he could be a great player if he was given the chance, and he definitely has his chance this year. He already has experience playing for Terry Stotts and with Lillard, which should make him a more immediate contributor to the Blazers than the other young players.

The other viable options for Blazers to start are Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh. Chris Kaman seems like he accepts his role of being a solid role player who comes off the bench, and Cliff Alexander is way too young and inexperienced for him to start the season as a starter. I think that Vonleh will not get the start either for the same reason as  Alexander. They both have a lot of potential, but shouldn’t be counted on immediately to be starting caliber players.

Davis has the more experience playing the the NBA than all of the other big men (excluding Kaman). He is starting his sixth season this year, and signed a long term contract with the Blazers. Last season, he had better stats than Leonard, with 8.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game in 23 minutes per game playing with the Lakers. However, with the transition to the new team, I don’t believe he will fit in as well as Leonard will to start the season.

Sep 28, 2015; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis (17) poses during media day at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The rotation of big men will depend a lot on if Blazers want to try going  big or small in each individual game. I think Leonard is a great fit for both systems because he is a 7’1” player who can space the floor very well, making him a big man who should be able to fit with a small lineup. Plumlee should also be able to fit with both lineup requirements. He is only 6’10”, but he can bang down and hold his own under the basket. That being said, his ability to be fast in transition makes him fit in a “small ball” lineup.

Kaman seems to fit a bit more of the traditional big man game, so I expect to see him in the rotation, but not have too many minutes. Vonleh and Davis should be solid contributors, and can even find their way into the starting lineup by the end of the season. As of right now though, I would like to see both of them and Kaman spread the minutes of coming off the bench. They can definitely contribute, but it is very hard for us to say until we see them in the regular season.