The center position in Portland is a long-storied tragedy, wrapped in extremes and driven by fuzzy memories and hyperbolic story-telling during halftimes. Perhaps, and just perhaps, this year may be no different. Once again, fans in the Rose City may be screaming for a trade at the deadline as the Portland bench looked vulnerable in the post Tuesday night.
Joel Freeland has done an outstanding job defensively in the first four regular-season games, extending his arms, playing his hips correctly, and (mostly) avoiding fouls. But the home opener against San Antonio saw Freeland hurt, and against the Rockets Tuesday Portland sorely missed him. With Meyers Leonard still looking fresh, the improved Portland bench seemed to be missing a crucial piece — a banger.
With Freeland out, and Robin Lopez in foul trouble (or worse, injured) how can the Mo Williamses and Thomas Robinsons of the world expect to help against top-10 talent in the middle? Portland is dangerously thin at center. Meyers Leonard can absorb fouls, but at this juncture he’s still a project, he’s still learning. Teams attack him when he’s in the game — great for his development, bad for the Blazers winning percentage.
Together, two of the three Blazer centers should be able to handle even high-caliber teams like Oklahoma City and Miami down low, who operate without All-Star centers. But taking on teams with real post threats — even bad ones — may be a real issue for Portland, especially if the injury or foul bug comes up to bite them.
Portland was left with no choice but Meyers Leonard against Dwight Howard on Tuesday. Let that sink in for a moment. Leonard played 14 of his 16 regular season against the best center in the league and it went about how you would expect. Despite the new bench depth, Portland is still teetering on the edge when it comes to post players.
Thomas Robinson is an excellent choice against less athletic defenders, which he showed when Kevin McHale tried to put Chandler Parsons and Omri Casspi on him. But on defense, Robinson just isn’t big enough to help. He doesn’t play bigger than his size, like a Kurt Thomas or a Reggie Evans. With only two capable centers and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland won’t be able to defend the best post players in the league if one is unable to make it to the court.
With bench depth at the wing including Earl Watson, Allen Crabbe, CJ McCollum, and Will Barton, there’s an obvious disparity between talent available and useable minutes. Olshey knows he has a stockpile of serviceable assets. If Portland doesn’t want their new bench to go to waste, they may have to look to make one more upgrade.
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