Breaking down Rip City’s backcourt
At this juncture, fans in Portland have a good idea of what their opening night roster will look like. There are a few players who could really go either way, but the rotation is largely set at this point in the process.
Like every spot on the team, the backcourt has both its upsides and its concerns. No position has found perfection in Rip City, but there’s a lot to be hopeful for when it comes to the future of the backcourt.
It’s always good to get the bad news out of the way first, so let’s start with Will Barton.
Barton showed Rip City toward the end of the 2012-13 season that he has it in him to be an efficient player. In his final six games, he played 30 or more minutes in five of them, and in those contests, he averaged 17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and four assists.
The problem is that the sample size is small, and with the summer league underway, we’re seeing things like poor shooting and bad decision making outweigh things like game-winner jumpers.
If Barton has anything going for him it’s that he continues to remain active. Even when he’s struggling to shoot the ball, he covers a ton of ground with his wiry frame, and his athleticism creates scoring opportunities on otherwise broken plays.
Baton has a chance to be a solid role player in this league, but he has to become a smarter player who can make plays on more than just energy.
While Barton deserves his own category at this point in the offseason, the truth is that there’s a bigger problem brewing in Portland—a plethora of inexperienced players at the first two positions.
Despite having a so-called veteran in Wesley Matthews—he’s a whopping 26 years old—the Blazers don’t have a guard in the rotation older than 23. Damian Lillard is 23 years old, while the rest of the crew is 22 or younger.
Damian Lillard showed us that youth and inexperience can be outweighed by solid play during his rookie year, but we can’t expect everyone to have that kind of impact. Portland has added talent, but the fear is that talent may not translate the way the coaching staff would like in 2013.
An inexperienced backcourt could be a problem for a lot of NBA squads, but when it comes to the Blazers, youth is merely a speed bump en route to a promising future.
Considering how poor the Blazers’ bench played during the 2012-13 campaign, having too many players is hardly worth complaining about. What’s going to be important is establishing a rotation in which players know their roles, and at this time, it looks as if they have the players to make that happen.
CJ McCollum is going to give the Blazers two things: a legitimate scorer and a legitimate backup. He’s also going to allow Lillard to play off the ball, and he’s going to take the pressure off of last season’s Rookie of the Year when double-teams inevitably begin to show.
Along with CJ McCollum, the Blazers have Allen Crabbe who will challenge Barton as the immediate backup behind Wesley Matthews. Don’t expect Crabbe to be a huge contributor right out of the gate, but don’t be surprised, either, if his scoring ability and NBA-ready shot earn him more minutes as the year goes on.
Scoring doesn’t always mean efficient shooting, but in the case of the Blazers, the two categories should come hand in hand.
In the case of Matthews, we’ve seen what he can do when healthy—and even sometimes when he’s not. He’s nearly a 40-percent shooter from downtown on his career, and last season he held up to that standard by shooting 39.8 percent from behind the arc.
Allen Crabbe has a scorer’s mentality, but while his mid-range game is solid, he’s widely considered one of the best shooter’s to go in the second round of the draft. The truth is that he can be a bit one-dimensional at times, but if he learns his role within Portland’s system—a system that Terry Stotts has said should include more three-point shooting—he’ll fit in right away.
Then there’s the point guards. Lillard and McCollum were both elite shooters at the collegiate level. Lillard was able to translate that shot to the professional level by completing nearly 37 percent of his long-range shots, and McCollum looks like he’ll follow the same theme if his summer league performance is any indication.
This one goes without saying, but we’d be remiss not to mention his name.
Lillard is the No. 1 reason the Blazers’ backcourt is as good as it is. Matthews does a tremendous job of playing both sides of the floor when healthy, and McCollum will do a great job of playing off the bench. However, in a league that has become competely point-guard dominated, Portland is lucky to have one of the best young floor generals around.
In his rookie campaign, Lillard played more total minutes than anyone in the NBA. That certainly won’t be the case this year with the team’s added depth, but his role will be just as important.
Lillard is a scorer, and nobody is going to take that away from him. The nice thing, though, is that he can run an offense alongside Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, and it was clear last season that the team embraced his leadership on the floor right out of the gate.
The question, of course, becomes this: Does the good in the backcourt outweigh the bad?
We know Lillard is a star in the making, and we know that scoring off the bench will be improved; but do the good aspects of this gruop outweigh the inexperience that comes with such a young roster?
At this point in the process, it has to be assumed that the answer is a resounding yes. This team is far better off than it was during 2012-13, and as long as everyone can stay healthy and happy, this group has potential.
The 2014 postseason is far from a guarantee, but the pieces are coming together to take that next step toward relevancy out West.