Blazers starters tonight vs. Mavericks could hint at a shocking lineup evolution

If Chauncey Billups sticks with a recent trend, it could be huge news for two critical young players.

Shaedon Sharpe (left), Scoot Henderson; Portland Trail Blazers
Shaedon Sharpe (left), Scoot Henderson; Portland Trail Blazers / Ron Schwane/GettyImages
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After some early struggles, Scoot Henderson has settled into a comfortable role coming off the bench and running the second unit for the Portland Trail Blazers. Shaedon Sharpe, meanwhile, has been a lock for head coach Chauncey Billups' starting five all season when healthy. The return of Anfernee Simons seemingly set those roles in stone.

When Sharpe suffered a core muscle injury and missed five games and Simons missed time during that same stretch, Billups was forced to insert Henderson into his starting group. Surely, though, when the Blazers' backcourt returned to full health, Scoot would resume his place as the team's backup point guard.

When Sharpe returned against the Phoenix Suns on New Year's Day, he was understandably on a minutes restriction. He came off the bench again two nights later in a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks. As he works his way back into game shape, he'll likely get his spot back as Portland's starting two-guard alongside Simons. Right?

Is Scoot Henderson taking Shaedon Sharpe's spot in the Blazers starting lineup?

It would be easy to look at the last two games and assume Billups is just being cautious with Sharpe as he comes back from an injury. Since the 20-year-old's minutes increased from 18 in his first game back to 22 in his second, that may be the case.

But there are reasons to keep Henderson in the starting lineup permanently, despite how well things were going for him as a sixth man.

First and foremost, Scoot is playing really good basketball. He was nominated for the Western Conference Player of the Week Award last week after putting up 20.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game while shooting 44.4 percent from three. Over his last 12 games, he's averaging 15.2 points and 5.7 assists while hitting 41 percent from deep.

He's still committing too many turnovers and isn't shooting efficiently, but he's improving in both of those areas and is still a 19-year-old with 24 NBA games under his belt.

Secondly, keeping Scoot in the starting lineup allows Simons to shift to his natural position. Ant has improved as a playmaker and is posting a career-high 5.1 assists per game this year, but he's a score-first guard who happens to be playing point guard.

With Henderson next to him, Simons can play off the ball where he can run around screens, pick his spots and get more catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than worry about how and when to get his teammates involved.

Thirdly, Sharpe has struggled since mid-December. Across his last six games, the 20-year-old's scoring has dipped into the single digits (7.5 ppg) and he's shooting just 30 percent from the field and 22 percent from three. Could it be injury-related? Sure. But as good as Shaedon has been this season, he could benefit from a bit of a break.

Sharpe's scoring and shot creation would fit well in a sixth-man role, especially next to a veteran guard such as Malcolm Brogdon. He would get more opportunities to play as a No. 1 offensive option like he did to begin the year when Simons, Henderson and Brogdon were either injured or struggling.

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It'll be interesting to see what Billups does with his backcourt against Dallas. Does he revert to starting Sharpe next to Simons, or does Scoot become the Blazers' starting point guard again, at least for the time being? If there is a change, what would that mean for both players moving forward?