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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Jabari Walker

Walker, who emerged as a reliable starter midway through the season, has recently fallen back to the bench due to dips in shooting and production. In the second year of a three-year contract (the third year is non-guaranteed), the rest of the season represents an important time for Walker to establish himself as a part of the Blazers’ long-term plans.

Walker showed fans how his skill set can translate to winning in January. Over the course of the month, Walker averaged 9.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and upped his 3-point percentage to 33.3 percent, starting the majority of games.

Three attributes proved essential to Walker’s success: 3-point shooting, defensive versatility and playmaking. As an improved 3-point shooter during that span, Walker showed the ability to consistently stretch the floor, allowing him to play alongside paint-bound bigs like Ayton and Moses Brown. Without consistent 3-point shooting, Walker’s presence on the floor clogs up the team’s offense and inhibits his ability to play either forward position.

A tough, gritty defender, Walker is strong enough to defend bigger forwards and quick enough to hang with some guards. Although quicker guards will leave him in the dust, Walker adds value as a defender with his understanding of team defense, help concepts and verticality.

Walker’s aptitude for being in the right spot at the right time informs his most valuable skill: rebounding. At his best, Walker helps Portland’s bigs secure defensive rebounds and creates high-value shots with offensive rebounds and putbacks near the rim.

As a pick-and-roll partner for Anfernee Simons, Walker has shown promise as a short-roll playmaker. Since Simons is one of the most blitzed players in the NBA, his pick-and-roll partners often have an opportunity to take advantage of power plays when they catch the ball in the middle of the floor.

Walker has demonstrated an aptitude for taking advantage of uneven numbers, either by using his strength to attack the basket and finish at the rim or by drawing a defender and passing the ball to an open teammate.

Walker’s recent dip in productivity, particularly his 3-point shooting, is concerning, given his lack of contractual security. However, since the Blazers’ young core is stacked with guards, Walker will have ample opportunity for the remainder of this season to cement his role as a big wing who can complement Portland’s smaller ball handlers.