• The most surprising aspect of the Portland Trail Blazers’ season to date has been the significance of Meyers Leonard. Almost completely forgotten following a 2017-18 campaign in which he notched more DNP-CDs than court appearances, he’s nevertheless emerged as a cog of Terry Stotts’ rotation, sometimes even playing ahead of promising sophomore big man Zach Collins. Leonard’s been almost shockingly effective relative to expectations, too, draining 46.7 percent of his three-point attempts while emerging as a dangerous aerial threat in both the halfcourt and transition. The seventh-year vet has 38 dunks through 48 games, putting him on pace to easily eclipse his career-high mark set as a rookie.

    But it’s indicative of Portland’s inherent ceiling that Leonard is in position to be getting consistent minutes at all. Neil Olshey talked all summer about the need for his team play a more modern style this season on both sides of the ball. The biggest reason why the coaching staff has been unable to implement those desired changes on a broad scale is because the Blazers still rotate three seven-footers, each of whom is best utilized playing center.

    Rodney Hood‘s acquisition could be what forces Stotts to right that wrong. He’s much better with the ball in his hands than Portland’s incumbent wings, comfortable running second-side pick-and-rolls and creating his own offense late in the shot clock. Hood is a more threatening long-range shooter than either Al-Farouq Aminu or Moe Harkless, even if his numbers this season – including 33.3 percent on catch-and-shoot triples, a career low – tell a different story. He rarely gets to the line, frequently avoiding contact in the paint, but has the length and touch to finish around the rim when the defense is scrambling.

    Hood is just a far more complete player offensively than Aminu, Harkless, or Jake Layman. His lack of a singular elite skill matters less to the Blazers than it does his previous teams, who often asked Hood to masquerade as a primary playmaker. He’s far better suited to a complementary role, one that magnifies the strengths of a jack of all trades.

    It’s unclear for now where Stotts plans on slotting him into the rotation, but it goes without saying Portland didn’t make this trade to give Hood the departed Nik Stauskas‘ spot on the bench. Aminu’s defensive versatility and overall energy is indispensable to this team, and the pressure Layman puts on the rim as a cutter, straight-line driver, and transition finisher – even when his jumper isn’t falling – has proven the same. The most common immediate assumption among team followers is that Harkless, who’s yet to regain last season’s form while continuing to deal with nagging knee pain, will be the odd man out as 2018-19 continues. Ongoing struggles from three-point range, albeit on a small sample size, decrease his value exponentially, especially with Evan Turner capable of checking star opposing forwards when Aminu is on the bench.

    But what if the Blazers went a different direction entirely, in hopes of living up to offseason promises of increased pace and space, plus an additional dose of switching defensively? Portland hasn’t had a surplus of viable wings on the roster in a long time. It would be a crime to not take advantage, particularly because Leonard, admirable as he’s played this season, isn’t exactly an essential component of the Blazers’ present and future. Lineups featuring he and Collins have barely broken even this season, and Stotts has all but completely abandoned units that slot him next to Jusuf Nurkic up front. Leonard’s size is more optical than functional, too. His utter lack of rim-protecting ability instincts means he’s normally chasing power forwards, leaving Collins as the last line defense, and it’s not like he’s beasting on the block offensively.

    Dangers of Hood taking Leonard’s place in the rotation rather than Harkless’ are two-fold: the frustrating penchant of Nurkic and Collins to get into foul trouble, and a question of whether or not the latter rebounds well enough to play center close to full-time. The first issue would be summarily addressed by dusting off Leonard for spot minutes should their propensity for fouling befall Nurkic or Collins. Simple. The next one is more complicated. The Blazers’ defensive rebounding rate with Collins manning the middle is 70.1 percent, per NBA.com/stats, worse than the Sacramento Kings’ 27th-ranked mark. Might tradeoffs of increased tempo, an additional ball handler, and the option to switch across multiple positions be worthwhile, though? The supposedly imminent stylistic tweaks Olshey, and to a lesser extent Stotts, championed throughout the offseason certainly suggests they think so.

    This would be a somewhat radical development, to be clear. Giving Hood a lion’s share or all of Harkless’ minutes would be the most seamless way to integrate him without rocking a steady boat. The Blazers are 32-20, fourth in a stacked Western Conference, after all, playing their best basketball of the season just before Stotts’ teams normally reach their peak. Maybe we still haven’t seen Portland at its best.

    But even should that prove the case, would it meaningfully increase the Blazers’ chances of winning a playoff series? Overcoming realities of this roster’s limits means confronting them head on, and shuffling in Hood for Harkless while maintaining the status quo doesn’t qualify. The chief means behind Portland’s recent improvement offensively has been a greater emphasis on ball movement and pace in the halfcourt. Why not lean even further into that strategy by moving Leonard one spot down the bench and embracing small-ball full-go?

    It would amount to a major change for the Blazers, one that indeed carries some measure of risk. But considering the realities of its current place in the conference pecking order, Portland doesn’t have much to lose, either.

Fantasy News

  • Fred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors

    Fred VanVleet needed stitches to close up a gash under his left eye that he sustained in Sunday's Game 3.

    VanVleet ended up going 1-for-11 from the field in 31 minutes, ending up in a major role with Kyle Lowry fouling out with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. He continues to have a terrible offensive postseason, though he did manage to hang tough on the defensive end for the most part. If FVV can get his shot sorted out it would help the Raptors immensely, but him playing this much is not a desirable outcome no matter what.

    Source: Josh Lewenberg on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors

    Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 36 points on 11-of-25 shooting in a game-high 52 minutes of action in a double overtime win over the Bucks in Game 3.

    Leonard scored eight points in the second overtime to finish off the win. The Raptors have now made this a competitive series and have a chance to tie it up at two games in Game 4. Leonard shot 2-of-4 from 3-point territory and added nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block to the box score. He will continue to perform well, but the fate of the Raptors rests on the remainder of the team to continuously provide him with support on both ends of the floor.

  • Pascal Siakam - F - Toronto Raptors

    Pascal Siakam had a solid stat line on Sunday, with 25 points and 11 rebounds on 9-of-18 shooting in 51 minutes of action in a double overtime win over the Bucks in Game 3.

    As expected, Siakam bounced back from his underwhelming Game 2 performance with an absolute gem in Game 3. Siakam is proving that he is a force to be reckoned with in this league as he is not shying away from the game's biggest stage. He added one assist, three steals, one block and three 3-pointers to the stat sheet. The Raptors brought the series within one game and have a chance to even up the series on Tuesday night.

  • Marc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors

    Marc Gasol put up 16 points with 12 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 3 win over the Bucks in double overtime on Sunday.

    He added seven assists and one steal to the box score in his 45 minutes of action. He shot 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. This was Gasol's first good game of the series and the Raptors won, so it is safe to say that he can be considered an X-factor for them. The Raptors have a chance to even up the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

  • Kyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors

    Kyle Lowry put up 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting with four rebounds and five assists before fouling out in the fourth quarter in a Game 3 win over the Bucks on Sunday.

    The Raptors brought the series within one game and Lowry's solid play in regulation helped them pull out the win. Fred VanVleet, who had three points on 1-of-11 shooting, filled in for Lowry in the overtimes and ultimately played well enough for the Raptors to win. Although Lowry receives extensive criticism for his lackluster playoff performances, he is an integral part of the Raptors' team success.

  • Norman Powell - F/G - Toronto Raptors

    Norman Powell put up a playoff-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 30 minutes of action before fouling out in a 118-112 double overtime win in Game 3 on Sunday.

    There were some rumors prior to the game that Powell would get an increased role for Game 3, and this turned out to be true as he played 30 minutes before the game even reached the first overtime. He thrived in his increased opportunity and was hitting some key shots down the stretch. He added four rebounds, three assists, three 3-pointers and one steal to the box score.

  • Brook Lopez - C - Milwaukee Bucks

    Brook Lopez had a solid performance in Game 3 on Sunday as he put up 16 points and six rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting in a loss to the Raptors in double overtime.

    Lopez has shown up for the Bucks in this series, but he was not able to lead them to a win like he did in Game 1. He added one assist, two steals and three triples to the box score. Lopez has played Marc Gasol very tough in this series, which has forced the Raptors to consider lineup changes. The play of Lopez should not go unnoticed in the overall spectrum of why the Bucks are as good as they are.

  • Andre Iguodala - G/F - Golden State Warriors

    The MRI on Andre Iguodala's left calf came back negative, but the swingman is considered questionable for Monday's Game 4 vs. the Blazers.

    Iguodala headed to the locker room in the first quarter of Game 3 and had the training staff check on it. If he's unable to give it a go for Game 4, the Warriors will have to dig deep into their bench and find some production from the likes of Kevon Looney or Jonas Jerebko.

    Source: ESPN.com

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo put up a unique line in Sunday's Game 3 loss to the Raptors in double overtime, with 12 points, 23 rebounds and seven assists.

    The Greek Freak also added one steal, four blocks and eight turnovers before fouling out in the second overtime. He shot just 5-of-16 from the field and 2-of-7 from the line. The fact that the Bucks were able to force this game to two overtimes with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe shooting 11-of-48 combined from the field shows how truly good of a team they are. The Bucks will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Tuesday night.

  • Malcolm Brogdon - G - Milwaukee Bucks

    Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting in 37 minutes of action in a double overtime loss to the Raptors in Game 3 on Sunday.

    The series is now 2-1 in favor of the Bucks, but Game 4 is a huge turning point as the game is Toronto and the Raptors have a chance to tie up the series. Brogdon and George Hill were on the court over Eric Bledsoe and Nikola Mirotic to end the game as they have played consistently well all series long. The dynamic duo off the bench had 44 points in this one and were the two highest scorers on the Bucks.