How Larry Nance Jr. will affect the Portland Trail Blazers rotation

Larry Nance Jr., Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Larry Nance Jr., Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Prediction for how the Portland Trail Blazers will allocate minutes with their new roster

Assuming Portland’s final roster spot is filled by someone who will not be in the rotation opening night, I would expect the team’s minutes to be distributed as follows (* designating a starter):

Lillard*: 35

McCollum*: 34

Powell*: 32

Covington*: 32

Nurkic*: 28

Nance Jr.: 25

Simons: 16

Little: 16

Snell/McLemore: 12

Zeller: 10

As expected, Lillard will play the most, followed by fellow starters McCollum, Powell and Covington, who should all receive approximately the same number of minutes. As the team’s first and second scoring options, I presume Coach Billups will try and keep one of McCollum or Lillard out there at all times, with McCollum primarily manning the second unit. Jusuf Nurkic only averaged 24 minutes a night in the 37 regular season games he appeared in last year but now that he’s fully healthy, I expect Portland will try to get his minutes up to around 30 a night, while still being cautious of his injury history and penchant for ill-timed fouls.

Note: I still have nightmares about the Bosnian Beast’s four fouls in five minutes during the third quarter of the Blazers elimination game in last season’s playoffs.

I also have Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little penciled in for 34 minutes between the two of them—a number which may wind up being conservative if Simons shows some more attentiveness on defense and Little takes another step forward in his development. I’d expect either McLemore or Snell to earn some minutes as a backup two or three, with CJ Elleby waiting in the wings. Finally, to round out the rotation, Cody Zeller should see a few minutes as a Nurkic’s replacement, however if Nurk and Nance Jr. prove to be capable of manning the five position, I could see Billups dispersing Zeller’s minutes elsewhere.

Turning to Nance Jr., the term “sixth-starter” has been used to describe the role he will play for Portland next season. I have Nance Jr. pegged for 25 minutes a night and due to his versatility, we could see him used in a number of different roles for Portland during the season. Play him at the four alongside Nurkic with Covington and Powell at the three and two, and boom! Damian Lillard is suddenly surrounded by plus-level defenders. They can use him at the five with Covington at the four and go small with a Lillard and and a combination of McCollum, Powell or Simons on the wings—giving the Blazers the option to surround Lillard with four above-average shooters without (hopefully) getting killed on the defensive end, a regularity for last season’s small-ball crew.

Despite being used in similar lineups as Carmelo Anthony, Nance Jr. will provide something entirely different than what Carmelo did for the Blazers last year. Nance is a low-usage rate player, capable of making an impact on offense without the ball. One of the things I really like about him, is that when he gets the ball on the perimeter, his first instinct is to move the ball into a more creative player’s hands. That’s not to say he’s shy about shooting the ball—he’s improved a lot as a three-point shooter over the last three seasons (35% on 2.3 3PA/G per—but Nance will look to pass the ball or take high-percentage shots that don’t require much dribbling, as opposed to Anthony who didn’t need an invitation to fire off a contested jump shot.

While Nance Jr. is not the create-something-out-of-nothing scorer that Carmelo Anthony is, he is a tremendous defender and a better rebounder than Anthony. His decision-making and hustle will be a welcome sight for the Blazers bench unit in 2021-22.

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