Who fills the gap at Center for the Portland Trail Blazers?

Who Goes Big for Portland in 2012?

It’s been a whirlwind week for the Portland Trail Blazers. Desperately trying to fill the void at center, it was announced Monday the team’s offer to RFA Roy Hibbert is going to be matched by Indiana. Then comes Wednesday, when it was announced that Euro league big man Joel Freeland will officially be making his way to Portland on a three-year deal.

Decisions decisions.

The free agency market still features some interesting fives, but didn’t Portland also draft Illinois center Meyers Leonard…?

As I said, decisions.

Center is a big need for Portland, but they’re a team with a lot of choices. Looking to fill the void, here’s my take on the route Portland should take to going big.

Free Agent: Brook Lopez or JaVale McGee

Though GM Neil Olshey has said they might be moving their attention away from free agents, it’s hard to deny the two men still on the board.

The first of which is Brooklyn Nets RFA Brook Lopez.

Unfortunately for the Blazers, Lopez just signed a 4-year deal with the Nets a few hours after this post went live.

Though he played in just fives games in 2012, Lopez remains one of the predominate big men in basketball. At just 23, he holds career averages of 17.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He’s incredibly athletic, showing a strong post game and effective defense.

He also represents a cog in any Dwight Howard sign and trade, so the Blazers chances are slim—though they can make a run with a max offer.

The second possible target is RFA JaVale McGee.

Standing at 7’0 and 237 pounds, McGee is a freak athletically—boasting one of the largest arm spans in the NBA. He’s not a score first center—though he’ll make you pay if you don’t defend him—but his defense and presence can be a game changer. He was dominate in the playoffs, flashing the upside he can offer.

Unfortunately, McGee’s career has been plagued with a myriad of bone headed goofs. His game did become a lot sharper upon his midseason trade last year. McGee responded well to the culture change in Denver (breaking out of the monotony of losing over 70% of your games can do that to a player).

Portland would have to fight hard to win over either of these players, but it could certainly be worth it.

Joel Freeland

It was announced today that 25-year old Joel Freeland has officially signed a 3-year deal with Portland, and we’ll be heading over from Europe for the 2012 season.

Six seasons out from being drafted by Portland, Freeland has become one of the premier centers in the Euro league. His last two seasons—split between the ACB and Euro leagues—have been his best, as he’s averaged double digit points and over 6 rebounds per game.

It’s yet to be seen what kind of role Freeland will play with the club. He is a forward-center, holding his own at each position.

Offensively, Freeland makes his living in the paint. He lacks an amazing jumper, and is much more a play off the rim/glass kind of player. Despite his size, Freeland still touts some amazing athleticism. He uses that to his full advantage on defense, racking up rebounds on both ends of the court while chasing the ball and making blocks.

One of the biggest concerns over Freeland was his lack of fundamentals and knowledge of the game, which at times has made him foul prone. His studying has seemed to pay off, as he’s averaged just 1.95 fouls per game this year.

The biggest thing going against Freeland is how quickly it takes him to adjust to the NBA. He’s 25 years old and in his prime, so adaptability is the biggest variable for success.

Meyers Leonard

If the team doesn’t upgrade through free agency, Leonard appears the favorite to start at center in the upcoming season.

One of the true 7-footers in this years draft, Portland felt more comfortable drafting Leonard at No. 11 than taking a risk with Andre Drummond at No. 6.

Meyers Leonard

Will rookie Meyers Leonard play a big role for the Blazers this season?

Whether that trust pays off is yet to be seen.

With Leonard, the Blazers aren’t getting a particularly scary offensive threat. Despite averaging 13.6 ppg at Illinois, he features pretty raw scoring skills. He can seem timid about taking contact, but when he uses his size he’s very good in the paint. His jumper is admirable, and works very well with the pick-and-pop—a play Portland loved with Marcus Camby.

The true value here is defense. Leonard is a big dude, and combined with LaMarcus Aldridge creates a lot of height and length under the basket. He’s a solid rebounder and shot blocker. He shows great mobility, so if opposing players can’t get over him chances are they can’t get around him either.

There’s plenty of upside here, and his defensive abilities alone can make him a game changer. Only question is if he can continue to improve after the jump to the next level.

The Verdict:

It’s hard to find any clear cut favorite here.

With Roy Hibbert, the Trail Blazers were looking to form the nucleus of their own “Big 3,” consisting of L.A., Hibbert and potentially Damian Lillard. Now that that dream has passed, it’s hard to find a center that fits the mold.

Of the list above, the only player of that caliber would be Brook Lopez. He’s a great scorer and defender, and can be considered an elite center. Despite upside from McGee, Freeland and Leonard, all three are defend first score second type players. They’ll make excellent compliment players to the team’s core, but their ceiling’s aren’t high enough to build a franchise around.

With Freeland, I see the second coming of Joel Przybilla. He’ll be aggressive and a solid defender, but his offensive short comings will limit him to role playing off the bench.

The chances for Portland to land Lopez are slim. As said, he’s instrumental to the Net’s pulling off a Dwight Howard trade. The Blazers have money to make the Net’s life difficult, but fat chance they lose out on Howard because they can’t retain Lopez. He’s out.

That leaves Leonard and McGee. Arguably the two best defenders in the group above. Like I said, though both have flashes of scoring ability neither player represents a primary threat. Athleticism, size and defense is what makes these guys game changers.

At this point, it seems much more likely that Portland stays with Leonard. Both players feature similar makeup, but Leonard comes cheaper, younger and wouldn’t involve a bidding war with Denver.

This is in no way a loss for Portland. Sure, Leonard is no Roy Hibbert, but he fits their playing scheme very well. He’s huge and defensively minded, making him a perfect fit with L.A.. Though limited, he has the potential to play big in the paint and is suited for the pick-and-pop.

He’s not going to be a franchise changing player, but his contributions will certainly be felt.


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About Jonathan Irwin

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  • NWSportsBeat

    I hope Leonard is ready for PDX’s sake.

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