3 keys to unlocking the Portland Trail Blazers roster

Portland Trail Blazers, starting lineup, NBA (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers, starting lineup, NBA (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /
1 of 3

The Portland Trail Blazers roster seems to be completed. Although General Manager Neil Olshey and the front office could elect to fill their remaining open roster spots, it seems like the team isn’t planning on making anymore significant additions.

The Blazers do have the option to use their mid-level exception as well, but it was reported that Olshey is comfortable with leaving it untouched, opting to instead stay under the luxury tax line and avoid the dreaded repeater tax.

The bench has been revamped with Cody Zeller, Tony Snell, and Ben McLemore joining the reserve unit. The starting lineup will remain the same as last season’s stretch run with Norman Powell reupping for five years. With the roster basically filled out, here’s how new Head Coach Chauncey Billups can get the most out of his talent:

How the Portland Trail Blazers can unlock their new roster

Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

1. The Portland Trail Blazers will have to rely on Nassir Little taking a leap

If the team doesn’t use their MLE or sign another veteran for the minimum, as it stands the Blazers have eight players who are a lock to get regular minutes: the starting lineup from last season, Anfernee Simons, Tony Snell, and Cody Zeller.

This will most likely be the eight-deep rotation Portland will bring into the playoffs as well, barring anymore impactful moves.

Preferably, the Blazers will go into 2021-2022 with a set 10-man rotation for the regular season. This will cut down on overworking the starters, establish chemistry among the bench in case they want to go with depth in the playoffs, and give players experience in case they need to step up due to injuries.

That leaves Derrick Jones Jr., Nassir Little, and Ben McLemore to fight for the last two spots on the bench. Jones Jr. will probably fill the four spot next to Cody Zeller. He’ll provide defense, athleticism, and, fingers crossed, acceptable floor spacing.

Relying on Ben McLemore to be a regular contributor is not a recipe for success. There’s a reason he’s bounced so much around the league already. While he does have the potential to light up from deep on any given night, it’s more reasonable to expect him to shoot around his career 36 percent rate from deep and have a negative impact on defense.

The smarter move from the jump and for the future of the team would be to trust that 10th slot to Nassir Little. That would give the Blazers a bench mob of Simons, Snell, Little, DJJ, and Zeller, giving the Blazers a great defensive reserve unit with enough offense and spacing to extend leads or mount comebacks against weaker benches.

Little hasn’t shown much so far in his first two years, but he could very well become a 3-and-D wing with upside. Giving him regular minutes could accelerate his growth as well. The Blazers bench needs a slasher and playmaker—there’s no reason that Little couldn’t one day become an initiator off the pine.

Court vision has never been one of his strengths, but in Billups’s motion offense, he’s got enough skills off the bounce and the athleticism to attack the rim to create passing lanes

To unlock the Blazers full potential, Little has to grow into a sixth man type offensive threat and facilitator.