Spotlighting and Breaking Down Portland Trail Blazers' Shooting Guard Position
Here's a good-looking number out of context: 18.5 points per game.
It should also be acknowledged that those four players combined to average 69.2 points and were the only quartet in the NBA to go for at least 14 PPG each in 2012-13.
The three not named Lillard are also among the best defenders at their positions. Why, then, did the 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers lose 49 games?
That 18.5 PPG belongs to their entire bench.
Now that you have the context, consider the implications of a number like that. Every time Portland's bench would "go off" for 26, it would be countered with a 10-point showing, or three 12-point performances in order to maintain that average.
However, this problem was so severe and obvious that it actually made things relatively easy for Portland this summer. Adding bench scoring was the number one, two and three priority, and improving a bench is so much easier than improving a starting lineup.
The team has since added depth across the board, but the position at which the Blazers are most dramatically improved is shooting guard.
Timeline of Improvement
No team was more active during the 2013 draft on June 27 as the Blazers. Portland made a draft-high five picks, two of which were dedicated to the off guard position.
At No. 10 overall, the Blazers added CJ McCollum, a combo guard who figures to see the majority of his minutes at SG.
After trading for the No. 31 pick, the Blazers selected Allen Crabbe, a pure two guard.
In free agency, Portland added two players—Mo Williams and Dorell Wright—who will not play their primary minutes at shooting guard but will compete with the two rookies for minutes.
Throw the incumbent starter Matthews and backup Will Barton into the mix, and it sounds like a potential logjam.
Considering last season's disgusting lack of production, there's no such thing as too many options.
Matthews hovers a curious line between versatility and one dimensionality.
On one hand, the 26-year-old guard has averaged 14.9 points on 39.6 percent three-point shooting and 83.4 percent free-throw shooting during his three years in Portland while playing smart, hard defense.
On the other, Matthews has only averaged 3.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and a PER of 14.6 over that time and almost always guards the weaker of the opposing team's two wing players.
The fact is that Matthews is simply not very skilled. He struggles when putting the ball on the floor, is a very limited passer, doesn't crash the boards well and doesn't move laterally on defense.
He's still far and away the best two guard on the team, but it's not impossible to envision that changing by the end of this coming season.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
76 GP, 29.9 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 43.8 FG%, 39.7 3PT%, 85.1 FT%
Many have compared McCollum—Portland's 2013 first round pick—to Lillard, the team's top 2012 selection.
This comparison is not unwarranted. Both players are combo guards from small schools with excellent outside shots who were selected in the lottery. Beyond that, however, the two differ greatly. Which is both good and bad for Portland.
The good is that their diversity of talents make McCollum's selection less redundant. Lillard is a better ball handler and passer than McCollum but an inferior shooter, in terms of both self-created attempts and catch-and-shoot situations.
The bad is that McCollum does not have nearly the same range of offensive skills as Lillard and would struggle mightily at the point.
For this reason, he'll play shooting guard, but he isn't a better outside shooter than Matthews right now and will be abused on defense due to his lack of size (6'3", 197 pounds) and strength.
Still, his mid-range shot and ability to attack the rim will make it hard for Portland not to give him rotational minutes.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
69 GP, 15.9 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 45.9 FG%, 37.2 3PT%, 83.3 FT%
Crabbe is by far the lesser talked-about rookie shooting guard of the two in Portland, but the UC Berkeley product could have a similar impact early on.
McCollum is a more viable option at SG right now due to his ball skills and ability to attack and finish at the rim, but Crabbe does have superior size and strength, two factors that will help him make a quicker transition to the NBA.
Offensively, Crabbe's 6'6" frame, deadly release and absurd range will make him the Blazers' top three-point threat. Think of him as a less-polished Danny Green on that end.
While his defense was lackluster at times in college, wingspan is something that NBA coaching staffs know how to exploit, and Crabbe's 6'11" reach and ability to move laterally will help him quickly emerge as the Blazers' best defensive option at shooting guard.
Minutes will not be handed to Crabbe, but he'll force his way into them very soon after the season begins.
Projected 2013-14 Stats
74 GP, 9.5 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.2 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 45.2 FG%, 40.4 3PT%, 83.9 FT%
Will Barton, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams and Damian Lillard
Barring injury or completely inept performances, Portland's shooting guard minute demands will be satisfied by Matthews, McCollum and Crabbe.
The thing is, injuries and inept performances aren't too far fetched.
Matthews is coming off an ankle injury, while McCollum broke his foot last year. Crabbe has struggled with both his feet and ankles.
Even if they're all healthy, the two rookies could flop.
This would create a void in the lineup, but it's one that Portland would have little trouble filling.
How Strong is Portland's SG Position?
Barton, last season's backup SG, appears to be the fourth in line. However, the presence of the veterans Wiliiams and Wright (both far better shooters than Barton) mean that the position will be filled largely by committee.
In the event of an injury to Matthews, It's possible that Lillard would take over the starting shooting guard job, with Williams taking over the point.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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