trailblazers

Which Portland Trail Blazers prospect has the highest upside entering 2014-15 NBA season?

Youth and Potential

When you look at the Portland Trail Blazers roster entering the 2014-15 NBA season, it’s clear that there’s a monumental disparity between what the starters have done and what the bench has done in the recent past. In fact, the second unit has been the worst in the league in numerous categories for two years running, while the starters have been No. 1 in scoring during that same time frame.

There’s no question the bench needs to step up in 2014-15, but the truth is that there are a few players who exude star potential — or at least fans hope that’s the case with the new year on the horizon.

When it comes to identifying the player with the highest upside, most of the roster is instantly eliminated. For starters, anyone in the first five will be excluded based on age and past merits.

That moves us to the bench. Veterans such as Chris KamanDorell Wright and Steve Blake miss the cut for obvious reasons, but youngsters such as Allen CrabbeVictor Claver and Joel Freeland are also looked past, as their ceilings are lower than the team’s top-tier reserves; all of whom were taken in the lottery, except one.

Meyers Leonard: Diamond in the rough, or just rough going? (Photo: Craig Mitchelldye/USA TODAY Sports)

Meyers Leonard: Diamond in the rough, or just rough going? (Photo: Craig Mitchelldye/USA TODAY Sports)

Meyers Leonard

Some fans might laugh at the thought of Meyers Leonard being a candidate in this category.  Truth is, they wouldn’t be wrong.

After all, the big man followed up his rookie season with an even less impressive showing as a sophomore, and as a result, he saw just 8.9 minutes per game in 40 total contests.

The catch is: Leonard is still a 7’1″ center with a mid-range game and an ability to run the floor better than most bigs leaguewide. It’s his low-post production on both sides of the floor that have fans nervous, and that’s why his future in Portland will be in question if he doesn’t develop a more traditional game (even just a little bit of one) over the next year.

Will Barton

Will Barton averaged 4.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game in 2014-15, all while shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor in 9.4 minutes. His stat line is far from imposing, but when he’s been given a chance, he’s shown why he has the potential to be a difference-maker in the not-so-distant future.

For instance: Barton played one minute in the series victory over the Houston Rockets. Not exactly an opportunity to shine. Against San Antonio, however, he showed what he could do with a 13-point performance (5-of-5-shooting) in Game 2, as well as a 17-point, six-rebound showing (7-of-13 shooting) in Game 4.

What Barton needs to work on is consistency. His shots have been known to make fans hold their breath, as his seemingly out-of-control style makes even the calmest of admirers neurotic.

With more minutes, however, and more maturity, he’ll be less anxious to get onto the court and make something happen right away. This will be crucial for his confidence, but until then, his upside is looked past for two of his teammates.

Thomas Robinson

When Thomas Robinson was taken fifth overall in 2012 (one spot ahead of Damian Lillard), the thought was that the former Kansas Jayhawk would be an instant contributor for the Sacramento Kings. The hope was that his rebounding abilities would cushion any adjustment period his offensive game would endure, and that he would grow to become an elite defender early in his career.

As it turned out, the big man was traded before the year came to a close, and eventually traded again during the ensuing offseason.

Now with his third team, Robinson has shown maturity in his game. Discipline isn’t the same issue it was in 2012, but it’s still a concern for those who cringe at the idea of him attempting a spin move into three defenders instead of passing back out to the perimeter.

CJ McCollum made his long-awaited debut in Week 11. (Photo courtesy of NBA.com/blazers)

CJ McCollum made his long-awaited debut in Week 11. (Photo courtesy of NBA.com/blazers)

If Robinson can adjust his game accordingly (improve his jumper, get tougher in one-on-one defensive scenarios, stop those silly spin moves, etc.), he has the potential to be an All-Star-caliber power forward. His physical attributes are off the charts, but it comes down to showing those types of improvements before he’s pushed down the depth chart.

CJ McCollum

As much potential as everyone on this list has, the nod has to go to CJ McCollum. Traditional analysis might point away from him considering he was a four-year scoring point guard out of a small school, but he seems like the perfect player to spell Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews in Terry Stotts’ offense.

If we’re considering upside as simply a player’s ceiling, Robinson probably deserves credit here. His athleticism and board-crashing tendencies make him a massive threat night in and night out, but we must also consider how attainable the ceiling actually is.

In the case of McCollum, his ceiling is extremely attainable even if it’s a notch below Robinson’s. He’s arguably one of the most intelligent players on the roster already, and his jumper is going to be a major asset moving forward, as he shot 37.5 percent from downtown in his rookie season.

With McCollum, expect to see a breakout season in Year 2 — the kind we didn’t see out of Robinson. The guard has the ability to play both the 1 and the 2, and while that versatility is crucial, health is just as important.

Coming off a season that saw the then-rookie break his foot in training camp, this is the 23-year-old’s true coming out party. Expect a more consistent campaign in 2014-15, and expect him to show improvements over the next couple of years as a result.

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About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
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