By Matthew Zimmer
Before the first days of free agency, the Portland Trail Blazers had eight roster spots. Now they have one spot open.
Portland president of basketball operations Neil Olshey held a press conference on Monday, and he says the team has no plans to fill that roster spot because the team is just below the tax line, and any contract would put them over the top.
Let’s meet (or re-meet) the seven players Portland added this weekend. Let’s start with the real new guys.
In a trade with the Houston Rockets, the Blazers added some serious defense to their roster while also getting younger on the wing.
Trevor Ariza (35) isn’t old, and he hasn’t lost a step. However, Robert Covington (29) now sits in the perfect age range with Portland’s three stars — Damian Lillard (30), CJ McCollum (29) and Jusuf Nurkic (26) — and RoCo brings a similar skillset to what Ariza brought.
Covington averaged 12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game for Minnesota and Houston last season. He had a down year shooting the three ball last year (33.5 percent) but he’s still a 35.6 percent career three-point shooter.
The calling card for Covington is his solid defense. I mentioned his 1.6 steals per game, but he also had 1.3 blocks per game a year ago.
Overall, Covington essentially provides a younger version of Ariza to provide the Blazers with much needed defensive help.
The Blazers needed to add some young depth at small forward, and Derrick Jones Jr. fits the profile. He signed via the midlevel exception.
“Getting a guy like Derrick who is an elite athlete, protects the rim, he’s a great finisher, rates in the 80th percentile in blocks and steals was a big win for us,” Neil Olshey said during his press conference on Monday.
He’s only 23 years old, and he’ll be entering his fifth NBA season. For his career, Jones is averaging 19.4 minutes per game with 6.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. Last year, Jones was above his career averages for minutes (23.3), points (8.5), rebounds (3.9) and steals (1.0) per game.
Olshey mentioned in his press conference the Blazers desire to play with the ability to switch on defense. Jones provides a lot of advantages and opportunities for Portland on the wings.
Originally drafted by Portland in 2017, Harry Giles was sent to Sacramento for Zach Collins. Now, Giles signs on a minimum contract to join the Blazers for real.
In two seasons, Giles has struggled with injuries. However, he has good upside, and if nothing else he gives Portland depth at power forward and center — should they need it like last season.
Giles averaged near 14 minutes while scoring about seven points and grabbing nearly four rebounds per game. If he gets playing time in Portland, it will probably be sparingly, again barring significant injuries to the Blazers front court.
The rookie out of Washington State was seen by some experts as a reach, but Olshey mentioned a DC Comics super hero for why the Blazers picked the now-former Coug.
“We loved his size. He’s a stat monster, you know the analytics guys call them ‘Green Lanterns’ which means the entire analytics side of his profile on the defensive end — steals, blocks, deflections, defensive efficiency — lit up like all in green,” Olshey said. “We think he’s going to be a good shooter at this level. He can handle, he can make plays.
“If you look at his numbers, he went from being a facilitator as a freshman to a go-to, featured scorer as a sophomore. He’s young, and we’ve had a lot of success with guys that are just really good basketball players in the second round,” Olshey said. “I think that’s what he’s going to bring. I think he’s a really good basketball player.
Olshey would also say he expects this season to be like an “apprenticeship” for Elleby, allowing him to compete with the other young guys. He finished on Elleby saying “I think he’s another guy that as a second round pick, late in the second round has a chance to have a very long NBA career.”
For reference, Portland hasn’t “officially” drafted a ton of second round guys who panned out. On draft night, the Blazers acquired picks/players that turned out well.
Since Olshey took over in 2012, Portland has ended up with Will Barton (who they did draft), Allen Crabbe (trade with Cavs), Pat Connaughton (trade with Nets), Jake Layman (trade with Magic), and Gary Trent Jr. (trade with Kings).
They have drafted a few duds in the second round, but the names listed above are all still playing in the NBA in some form or another. Obviously, only Trent is still with the Blazers.
Also, technically, most of those picks were made by the other team mentioned because the NBA requires team to make draft pick trades before a deadline, instead of just letting the picks be traded at any time during the draft.
Now let’s look at the returners.
After an awkward free agency divorce last year, the Blazers got Enes Kanter back home in a trade with Boston.
Home Sweet Home ❤️🖤
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) November 20, 2020
Home Sweet Home ❤️🖤
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) November 20, 2020
Last year with the Celtics, Kanter came off the bench and averaged 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game.
In 2018-19, he was a solid backup center for Portland until Jusuf Nurkic got hurt, and then he was a good starter for Portland leading to and in the playoffs.
Kanter averaged 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in 23 regular season games, including eight starts. In the 2019 postseason, he averaged 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 16 games (14 starts) in the 2019 postseason.
Offensively, it will be nice to have Kanter as the backup to Nurkic. Defensively, we know Kanter isn’t Nurk, but as long as he can be serviceable, the Blazers will take it.
Technically an addition because he opted out of his player option, but Rodney Hood coming back to Portland isn’t a surprise.
Hood’s achilles injury derailed a career-year for the 27-year-old. He was averaging 49.3 percent from three through 21 games, easily his best.
One nitpicking point would be Hood wasn’t a consistent scorer. He averaged 11 points per game, but he had three games with 20-plus and eight games above the 11-point average.
However, Hood also had six games where he played 29 minutes and scored less than 10 points.
Hood fills an important wing role for Portland. Hood is a plus-defender and he’s solid from three. So, pairing Hood and Covington will make things easier for Lillard and McCollum on the back end.
Olshey mentioned that Hood is tracking towards playing on opening night.
The future Hall of Famer chose to return to Portland after some speculation he might return to New York.
Melo decided he wanted to reward Portland’s belief in him last year and rejoin the Blazers for the upcoming season.
In 2019-20, Anthony started every game he played for the Blazers. He averaged around 15 points (15.4 regular season, 15.2 postseason) and 5-6 rebounds per game (6.3 regular season, 5 postseason).
The forward position is a little crowded, when everyone is healthy, but Anthony should still find decent playing time even if it’s off the bench.
Melo joins Covington and Collins at the power forward position. If he played small forward, he’d be competing with Hood and Jones, Jr. If nothing else, Anthony can give the Blazers instant offense and a guy to take the final shot if necessary. Or at the very least, a veteran who can educate the young guys on the team.
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