The Trail Blazers find themselves in unfamiliar territory with an abundance of depth on their roster.
For the first time in recent memory the Trail Blazers are in a position to enjoy the riches of a deep roster. As training camp gets under way and the team begins preparation for the upcoming 2016-2017 season, we can rest assured that this will be a fiercely competitive and intense camp. Minutes are up for grabs at multiple positions, which should make for some spirited camp battles given the youth still present on this roster.
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The Trail Blazers not only added depth and versatility to this roster – they also got younger. While Portland was already the youngest team in the playoffs last year, the additions of Evan Turner (age 27) and Festus Ezeli (age 26) coupled with the expiring contract of Chris Kaman (age 34) have made them one of the youngest squads in the entire NBA. This is a recipe for extreme competitiveness, as many of these players are still unproven and hungry. Adding players that match the career arc of franchise cornerstones Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will help maximize the roster’s potential, giving them a chance to grow together and develop the chemistry needed to be an elite team.
The Trail Blazers spent a record amount of money this offseason when you include the contract extension signed by McCollum. However, GM Neil Olshey has preached all along that player retention in a small market is crucial.
"“We had success last year, what we realized was it was imperative that we retain our better young players, and get them to commit long term to our organization.” – Olshey at Blazers media day."
With that commitment, the Trail Blazers can focus on developing a young core of players to try and maximize their potential together. Their run in the playoffs last year provided some invaluable experience for many young players on this roster, some of whom had never logged minutes in a postseason atmosphere. Playing an elite Warriors team tough in the second round was validation for some of these young players, proving that they can compete on the biggest stage. With this sudden increase of depth on the roster, how will Terry Stotts use this to Portland’s advantage?
Lillard has been one of the league leaders in minutes per game since he entered the league, and he has never missed a start outside of a seven game stretch last season. The Blazers can learn a valuable lesson from Golden State’s handling of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s minutes over the past two seasons.
Curry rested in more than twenty fourth quarters during last year’s historic season for the Warriors. Granted, it is easy to rest your stars when you are blowing teams out by 30, but it is also a testament to the depth of Golden State’s roster. Players like Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Leandro Barbosa proved to be the glue that could hold the team together with Curry and/or Thompson off the court. It provided invaluable rest for the Warriors’ stars and helped keep them fresh down the stretch of their memorable 73-9 season.
With a versatile roster that has players with different skill-sets at each position, Stotts will be able to morph the rotations and minutes for each opponent. This is an underlying key to the Warriors success over the last 2 seasons – their ability to play at an elite level with any type of lineup on the floor. It allows the coaching staff to form a game plan to expose positional matchups and force the other team to get out of their comfort zone. The Trail Blazers have a roster full of players that are looking to provide that same high-level of play in order to keep minutes down for Lillard and McCollum, and help maximize their effectiveness and longevity throughout the long season.
There is a logjam of talent at small forward with Turner, Allen Crabbe, and Maurice Harkless. Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh will bring a lot of versatility to the power forward spot. Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, and Ezeli truly give the Trail Blazers a full array of talents at center. Utilizing the depth on this roster will be key for Portland to continue their progression and growth into an elite team. If they are to see continued success again this season, the versatility of this roster must be maximized.