A surprising Trail Blazers lineup that could play important minutes this year

Chauncey Billups (left); Matisse Thybulle, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Chauncey Billups (left); Matisse Thybulle, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers are readying themselves for a rebuilding season, which could give head coach Chauncey Billups the chance to experiment and tinker a bit. With little-to-no expectation of contending (or perhaps making sure there’s no contending), Billups can run out all kinds of lineups to see what works and what doesn’t.

The headliner of the Damian Lillard trade, from a Portland perspective, was Deandre Ayton. General manager Joe Cronin then added Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams III from the Boston Celtics in the subsequent trade involving Jrue Holiday.

Brogdon is one of the roster’s wily veterans at the ripe old age of 30. Jerami Grant, who re-upped with Portland on a five-year, $160 million deal, is 29. Matisse Thybulle, he of the 2019 draft, is 26 and now an old piece of this Blazers roster.

Every minute of every game can’t be allocated to 19- and 20-year-olds like Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, and there will come times when the Blazers need experience on the floor to close games. It’s not a well-kept secret, either, that Portland has struggled mightily on defense the past few seasons.

Cue the 30-for-30 theme music: What if I told you… there was a way for Chauncey Billups to help the Portland Trail Blazers win games on the OTHER end of the floor?

The Trail Blazers could finally field a stifling defense with this five-man lineup

While the word “Blazers” hasn’t been synonymous with the word “defense” in awhile, Billups’ Detroit Pistons teams during his playing days – one of which beat the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal Lakers to win an NBA Championship – began with defense.

Chauncey was the 2004 Finals MVP on a Larry Brown-coached team that featured Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Corliss Williamson and Lindsey Hunter. That team held the Lakers to 81.8 points per game during the ’04 Finals, which is wildly low, even for that era of basketball.

What if Billups could turn back the clock a little and run out a Blazers lineup this season that looks like this?

Point guard: Malcolm Brogdon

Shooting guard: Matisse Thybulle

Small forward: Jerami Grant

Power forward: Robert Williams III

Center: Deandre Ayton

Thybulle is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and Williams is one of the most explosive shot-blockers. Both have been named to all-defense teams.

Brogdon is a big, strong guard at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. Grant has been a switchable defender capable of guarding either forward spot since he entered the league. And if Williams isn’t the last line of defense at the rim, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Ayton – who averaged more than a block a game during the Phoenix Suns’ run to the 2021 finals – would be.

And when this group gets a stop, it has enough rebounding to finish the possession. Ayton averages 10.5 rebounds per game for his career, and Williams pulled down 9.6 boards a night in 2021-22, his healthiest season and the one in which he was named Second-Team All-Defense.

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Maybe Billups simply leans into youth this year. This lineup won’t score a lot of points, either, so he could want someone like Simons or Henderson involved. But there’s no question this quintet would lock up opposing offenses if the Blazers ever need a stop.