Monday, March 19, 2012

Who will be a Trail Blazer in 2012-2013 Part II: Reserves

In the second part of this two-part series, I'll be breaking down Portland reserves' odds for making the 2012-2013 roster. For the first part, click here.

SG Jamal Crawford: After Brandon Roy's abrupt retirement following the lockout, Crawford signed a two year, $10 million contract with the Blazers. Crawford struggled early, but is starting to approach his career shooting numbers. As has been his calling card throughout his career, Crawford is a high-volume shooter that works best in isolation situations. While he has the ability to carry a team offensively through portions of the game, he can just as easily shoot you out of it. Defensively, Crawford has shown some solid effort in man-to-man, but still tends to gamble too much, which leaves others having to rotate to close up the paint.
On 2012-2013 roster: 5%. Crawford has stated he'll be declining his $5 million player option to test free agency after the season, but there's still a (very) slim chance he decides to return.

F/C Kurt Thomas: Thomas was signed to be a spot minute insurance policy in case Greg Oden or Marcus Camby missed time due to injury. Thomas has been dependable on offense, setting solid screens and hitting the 16-18 foot jumpers within the flow of the offense. At 39, Thomas has defensive limitations, as he doesn't have the lateral quickness or athleticism to alter shots. Thomas is still a solid positional defender, using his high basketball I.Q. to put opponents in difficult spots to score, as well as rotating over to take charges.
On 2012-2013 roster: 10%. If Thomas decides to return for another season (which I think is relatively unlikely), he'll likely try and sign with a title contender.

G Nolan Smith: Despite being the team's 2011 first round pick (#21 overall), Smith has largely been the odd man out with the minutes logjam in the backcourt, as its been hard for him to crack a rotation that has included Felton, Crawford, Matthews and Batum seeing minutes between the '1' and '2'. Smith has showed good effort defensively, but is struggling with the transition to being an NBA point guard, as his average ball-handling means he's probably better suited to either spot up or attack the rim as a '2'. In his first game with true rotation minutes against the Bulls this past Friday, Smith had 12 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assists on 5-7 shooting in just under 18 minutes.
On 2012-2013 roster: 90%. Smith's hard work in practice and on the defensive end of the floor have no doubt made him an organizational favorite. The only way Smith goes elsewhere is if he's involved in a trade to upgrade at either center or point guard.

F Luke Babbitt: Babbitt has garnered the nickname of "Chalupa Luke" from some of the Blazers' fanbase for his propensity to score the team's 100th point during blowout wins, earning the crowd at the Rose Garden a free chalupa from a fast food chain. Babbitt was a hyper-productive player in college, and actually has good leaping ability and solid ball-handling. Luke's problem thus far in his career has been adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, as he looks like he's thinking instead of reacting on the court. With the Wallace and Camby trades, as well as the lack of another true small forward on the roster, Babbitt will likely have a regular rotation role the last 22 games this year.
On 2012-2013 roster: 75%. Babbitt probably will never start in the league, and could be used as trade fodder to upgrade the roster, but could present himself as a solid shooter at both forward positions, and should do a decent job rebounding.

SG Elliot Williams: Williams was having a stellar training camp, but the team chose to bring in Jamal Crawford to provide the team with a veteran scorer off the bench. Williams only got garbage time minutes early in the year, but started to see first-half playing time for the better part of the past month before separating his shoulder in practice. Williams has elite-level athleticism and a great wingspan, and has the ability to become a top-level defender for both guard positions in the future. He's not, nor will likely ever be a point guard, as he has much more of a scorers mentality, but has a natural stroke from just about anywhere on the floor, and is a strong finisher at the rim.
On 2012-2013 roster: 75%. Williams will still have two years left on his rookie scale deal, and will likely be the leading candidate to replace Crawford as the team's sixth man next year, but his athleticism, reasonable contract and Portland's desire to upgrade the roster will also make him a very desirable player on the trade market this offseason.

PF Craig Smith: Smith is a wrecking-ball type power forward, using his 6'7", 265 pound frame to bully his opponents underneath the basket. He also has a solid array of post moves, but tends to over-dribble while in the post, which hampers the flow of the offense. Though he lacks ideal length, Smith does a decent job of rebounding, and also has active hands defensively, though his height is also a detriment on the defensive end of the floor. He got rotation minutes early in the season, but fell out of favor with former head coach Nate McMillan due to his defensive limitations and ball-dominant offensive game.
On 2012-2013 roster: 30%. Smith is on a one year, veteran's minimum contract, and will likely test out the free agent market, but could re-sign with Portland if the market is cold on him.

PG Jonny Flynn: Drafted by Minnesota #6 overall in 2009, Flynn struggled in then-coach Kurt Rambis' triangle offense, as Flynn is more much of a slashing guard than spot-up shooter. He has spent most of this current season as a DNP-Coach's decision with the Rockets, who acquired him from Minnesota during the 2011 Draft. With Portland, Flynn has above-average quickness for a point guard which helps him attack the basket, but too often forces things on the offensive end (40.1% FG, 2.5 TO in about 24 minutes/game career). Flynn's best chance to earn playing time (and a potential pickup of his option) will be to work hard in practice, and show that he's able to play smart basketball on both ends of the floor.
On 2012-2013 roster: 20%. Flynn, if fully healed from a hip injury that nagged him throughout the '10-'11 season, could be a good fit on this roster. The problem will be his $4.3 million team option, which will significantly damage his chances, as Portland wants to have the cap space to acquire another top-tier player to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge.

C Hasheem Thabeet: Like Flynn, Thabeet was a high lottery pick in 2009 (#2 overall to Memphis) that has yet to live up to the expectations that come with being selected that high. Thabeet was expected to be a Dikembe Mutombo-type player, whose shot-blocking and rebounding made him one of the best defensive centers in the 1990's. Instead, Thabeet has looked lost (and sometimes disinterested) when on the floor, often finding himself out of position and forced to foul (2.0 fouls in 10.7 minutes game through his career). Thabeet is a huge human being (7'3"), and does do a decent job of blocking shots, but needs to show an improved understanding of the pro game to truly start becoming a defensive difference-maker.
On 2012-2013 roster: 15%. Like Flynn, he has a big team-option that Portland needs to make a decision on ($6.4 million), and is likely a longshot to remain with the team, though he could be re-signed on the cheap afterwards, as the market likely won't be booming with offers.

F/C Mehmet Okur: In his prime, Okur was one of the best perimeter-oriented big men in the league. Sadly, injuries to his Achilles (last season) and back (this season) have robbed him of some of the mobility that made him effective. In the last year of his contract, Okur has expressed his desire to return to Europe and finish up his playing career back there (more than likely with Turkish team Besiktas), and is currently in the last year in his current contract.
On 2012-2013 roster: 1%. All indications are that Okur will indeed return to Europe, but should he decide to stay in the NBA, he'd likely seek out a contender to try and win a ring before retirement.

F Shawne Williams: Williams is a very athletic combo-forward, but plays too much like a small forward when his best position is as a "stretch-4", especially when it comes to rebounding. He also tends to float defensively, though he's long and athletic enough to be a difference-maker there if he were to put consistent effort forth. He's battled injuries this season (out for the year with a foot injury), but had a decent year with the Knicks last season (7.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 40.1% 3PT).
On 2012-2013 roster: 20%. Despite the fact that Babbitt is clearly ahead of him, I can't completely dismiss him from being with Portland next season, as he does have a $3.1 million player option that he'll likely exercise. Portland will likely be working to buy him out to keep cap space for this coming summer, but its not a total lock that he's gone before next season.

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