3 free agent big men Blazers should take flier on who fit rebuilding timeline

Trendon Watford of the Portland Trail Blazers drives into Udoka Azubuike of the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Trendon Watford of the Portland Trail Blazers drives into Udoka Azubuike of the Utah Jazz. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /
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The Portland Trail Blazers have a handful of roster problems, but a talented backcourt ain’t one. It’s an almost complete lack of size – and depth – up front that was part of Rip City’s trip to the lottery last season, and general manager Joe Cronin has yet to correct the issue (in fact, Drew Eubanks left for the Phoenix Suns), so it appears the Blazers will have a similar problem in 2023-24.

It would behoove Cronin to add at least depth, if not an upgrade over the oft-injured Jusuf Nurkic. Right now, the best option head coach Chauncey Billups has at his disposal is Ibou Badji, a center who missed all of last season with a knee injury and is on a two-way contract with Portland.

Adding some veteran size to help bring Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, and to an extent Anfernee Simons, along, wouldn’t be a bad play. But if Cronin’s goal (even if he’s stated otherwise) is to kick off a full rebuild after the seemingly imminent trade of Damian Lillard, maybe scanning the free agent market for a young big man who might be able to grow with the rest of Portland’s young core isn’t a bad choice.

Here are three such players, from a familiar face to a former five-star recruit, that the Blazers could take a cheap flier on.

Option No. 1: Udoka Azubuike

Azubuike came out of the University of Kansas as a mostly finished product. There wasn’t a ton of upside left for a center who had played 87 college games, and he has yet to truly find a rotational role in the NBA.

However, Azubuike’s physical profile is just as tantalizing now at 23 years old as it was when he was the 27th overall pick in the 2020 draft.

At 6-foot-11, 260 pounds with a 7-7 wingspan and above-average athleticism, Azubuike is a major space eater and rim protector. He averaged 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks during his senior season in Lawrence.

Dok played the first three years of his NBA career with the Utah Jazz, where that interior dominance never quite caught on. He best season came in 2021-22 when he played 17 games, starting six, and averaged 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds 11.5 minutes per game.

Playing behind Rudy Gobert for a Jazz team that usually went small without Gobert on the floor, Azubuike never got a real shot. Last season, he got stuck behind rookie sensation Walker Kessler, as well as Lauri Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk.

If given legitimate minutes in Portland, even if it’s as Nurkic’s backup, Azubuike’s physicality and size near the rim could help the Blazers. His skill set as a rim-runner and finisher isn’t a bad fit alongside Henderson, Sharpe and Simons, either.