3 Trail Blazers ready to impress and earn a bigger role next season

As Portland's tank accelerates, opportunities for these young players will emerge.

Kris Murray, Portland Trail Blazers
Kris Murray, Portland Trail Blazers / Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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The Portland Trail Blazers’ recent play has landed the team in familiar territory: a descent to the bottom of the standings. The team’s injuries and accumulation of losses—in addition to the accessibility of televised games—have tanked the fan base’s viewership, leading to a league-worst 49% decline in local television viewership this season.

As the Blazers continue stacking up losses, the pursuit of a top draft pick may further diminish the availability of the team’s top players and the quality of the team’s play. Fans may struggle to find the motivation to keep tuning in, but the last two seasons of the Blazers’ rebuild showed one trend that should pique fans’ interest:

Increased opportunity for end-of-the-bench players opens the possibility for some to set themselves up for bigger roles in future seasons.

Last year, after coming off the bench with limited on-ball responsibilities, Shaedon Sharpe emerged as a lead ball handler with Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons sitting out. In an increased role, Sharpe flourished, averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in the team’s final 10 games.

Sharpe’s end-of-season growth exhibited his all-star-level potential and set him up to immediately become a focal point of the Blazers’ offense the following year.

The Blazers’ late-season tanks have created opportunities for players lower in the rotation as well. Two seasons ago, Drew Eubanks, who first signed with the Blazers in 2022, played well enough in a starting role to earn a spot in the team’s rotation as the backup center the following year.

Last season, the Blazers signed journeyman guard Skylar Mays, who averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 assists per game on 50/46/92 shooting splits in 31.5 minutes a game over the team’s final six games. Mays earned himself a spot on the team’s roster the following season, becoming a trustworthy contributor when multiple Blazers’ guards suffered injuries.

Key members of the Blazers’ rotation are already injured. The incentive to lose should continue creating opportunities for this season’s backups.

DeAndre Ayton is currently nursing a hand injury, which opened up a starting role for Duop Reath in the team’s Friday and Saturday night games against the Memphis Grizzlies. Reath took advantage of the opportunity, scoring in double figures in both outings and playing a key role in helping the team win the two games.

The absences of Sharpe and Malcolm Brogdon have led to playing time for the newly acquired Dalano Banton and Ashton Hagans, a recent call-up from the Rip City Remix.

Banton excelled in the team’s Friday night 122-92 victory, contributing 19 points and 7 rebounds while posting a positive plus-minus of 26. Rayan Rupert, who last played rotation minutes against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 14, made the most of his opportunity, draining all three of his threes in 14 minutes of play.

The bulk of Rupert’s on-court experience has come with the Remix, but fans should expect to see him more in a Blazers jersey as Portland reduces the minutes of its veterans.

Although Reath, Banton, Hagans and Rupert should have opportunities to earn expanded roles, three other young rotation players have a more direct path to increased minutes and roles as the season progresses.