The Portland Trail Blazers have made their largest offseason move after months of uncertainty regarding Damian Lillard’s future. The three-team deal that sent Derrick Jones Jr. and a protected first-round pick to the Chicago Bulls does not bring another star to Portland, nor does it signal the start of a rebuild. Larry Nance Jr., on the other hand, significantly improves the team.
Nance is the type of high-end role player who makes his money on defense that former Blazers coach Terry Stotts must have been wishing for over the last few seasons. Portland was in desperate need of a defensive boost, and this infusion of versatility was just what it needed. Unlike Stotts, incoming coach Chauncey Billups will have the personnel to go small and try different coverages without being burned. Flexibility is practically a need in today’s NBA.
This is still a squad based around Lillard and CJ McCollum, but it’s starting to resemble the type of team you’d want to put together around them. Norman Powell, who was acquired at the trade deadline and has been extended this offseason, provides the Blazers with another consistent scorer. Robert Covington is a top-tier help defender and another quick-release shooter who was acquired before last season. Nance provides them with some of Jusuf Nurkic’s frontcourt passing, as well as the agility and switchability that attracted them to Jones.Last season, however, Portland’s offense tanked with Jones on the court, and its defense was atrocious when Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter came off the bench.
Nance does not live on the perimeter, but over the last three seasons, he has made 36.9% of his catch-and-shoot 3s. He’s a threat in the dunker area, can screen for Lillard, and can spread the court. According to Cleaning The Glass, Billups doesn’t have to break up the starting five (Lillard, McCollum, Powell, Covington, and Nurkic), who outscored opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions last season, but Nance can step in if one of the starters gets hurt.
Based on the Blazers’ offseason moves, which included replacing Kanter and Anthony with Cody Zeller, Tony Snell, and Ben McLemore, the front office is hoping that with a strong starting five and a more balanced, injury-resistant roster, they can show Lillard that they’re not that far away from contending.
At the very least, the strategy is now obvious. Portland made a win-now decision that cost one draft pick in the absence of an all-in move that would have cost the organization years of draft picks. Rather of trying a completely new approach this offseason, they focused on improving the execution of the one they had. Rather of completely overhauling the roster, they’ve adjusted it once more.
In basketball terms, even if Nance has an All-Defensive season, the risk is that adding him (and removing Kanter and Anthony) will not be enough to turn the 29th-ranked defense into a competent one. In the grand scheme of things, the risk is that, despite how perfectly Nance appears to match, Lillard will ask her out nevertheless. Portland has gone the incremental-improvement way year after year, relying on the foundation it has laid. This time the stakes are bigger.
Source: MSN Sports