• During a sprawling, at times self-serving interview with team reporter Brooke Olzendam late last month, Neil Olshey justified the willful departure of Ed Davis by recalling the Portland Trail Blazers’ widespread struggles in first round of the playoffs. To be clear, no single player shoulders more of the blame for Portland’s embarrassing sweep at hand of the New Orleans Pelicans than any other. Its failure was the result of a bad matchup – created by the season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins and the Pelicans’ subsequent trade for Nikola Mirotic, completely changing their team-wide dynamic on both ends – that maximized existing weaknesses of Olshey’s roster while minimizing its strengths.

    If there’s an on-court takeaway from that series that deserves to loom largest going forward, it’s the Blazers inability to open up the the floor for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Facing a defense that readily committed two to the ball in pick-and-roll situations while help defenders sagged off awaiting shooters to protect the paint, Portland lacked the collective skill level necessary not only to take advantage, but also force New Orleans to change its approach. Case in point: Not including Lillard, the Blazers shot an ugly 32.2 percent on 3-point attempts taken without a defender within four feet, according to NBA.com/stats.

    Time and again, there was no where for Lillard to go when he turned the corner around a pick. When they weren’t forcing the issue, splitting traps at the point of attack or pulling up for three several feet behind it, the only option available to Portland’s playmakers was finding a perimeter release valve – normally the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Moe Harkless or Pat Connaughton, players the Pelicans welcomed launching away from deep, especially compared to the imminent prospect Lillard and McCollum finding a groove. New Orleans mostly refused to give either of the Blazers’ star guards breathing room away from the ball, too.

    In the clip below, from the early stages of Game 2, Jrue Holiday face-guards Lillard on the strong-side wing as McCollum operates a high ball screen with Davis. After Ian Clak=rk recovers to the ball in rear-view pursuit and Mirotic retreats back to a rolling Davis, keeping the defensive string taut, McCollum’s only outlet is a pass to Aminu, who lifts from the corner above the break in hopes of avoiding the endless reach of Anthony Davis.

    The shot goes in, but that successful result belies the fickle nature of its process. Even after a career year from three, opponents will be happy to concede a contested triple from Aminu at the right wing if it means slowing down Lillard and McCollum. Portland needs its role players to knock down jumpers, obviously, but won’t go anywhere meaningful this season or beyond should the difference between winning and losing boil down to that proposition more than any other – even after bringing in true marksmen Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas.

    There’s only one Anthony Davis, of course, and Holiday is one of the most disruptive defenders of opposing guards in basketball. It would be remiss to discount the contributions of Mirotic, too, who fared far better corralling Lillard and McCollum as a ball-screen helper than anyone could have anticipated. But New Orleans gave the rest of the league a replicable blueprint for how to defend the Blazers regardless, a factor that could prove the difference between them making the playoffs for a fifth straight season and sitting at home come playoff time in a laughably loaded Western Conference.

    The splashy free-agency addition many Portland fans expected never materialized. Portland used its first-round pick on a teenager, and let a massive trade exception – championed by Olshey as a viable vessel of player acquisition as recently as June – expire without anything to show for it. Any prospective team-wide improvement in 2018-19, then, will inherently stem from additional continuity and individual strides taken by incumbents.

    Zach Collins probably isn’t ready to take on the latter responsibility all by himself. The 20 pounds he’s added since the beginning of last season are indeed a step in the right direction, but didn’t make much of a difference at Summer League, where he averaged just 8.0 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting. He was pushed off the block by bigger defenders, couldn’t find much traction attacking off the dribble and took just four 3-pointers in six games. Collins’ defense was typically stellar, with effective verticality at the rim, consistently early off-ball help and impressive switching ability, but any notion that he’d be a panacea for what plagued the Blazers against the Pelicans on the other end vanished in Las Vegas.

    That’s the thing about bigs with Collins’ emerging offensive skill set, though: They don’t necessarily need to put up big numbers to make a big impact. The same can’t be said, at least to a similar extent, for Davis or Jusuf Nurkic. The former attempted just eight shots outside the paint last season, while the latter, despite taking an easy career-high 19.1 percent of his field goals from mid-range, connected on a middling 37.9 percent of those attempts. Nurkic missed all seven of his long-range tries, too.

    Collins’ 3-point shooting ability, at least based on last season, is more theoretical than functional. He shot 31.0 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie, 17th-worst among the 206 players who hoisted at least 3.5 triples per-36 minutes, per NBA.com/stats. Making just 64.3 percent at the free-throw line doesn’t inspire much confidence in his jumper, either. Still, Collins has natural touch, good footwork and a quick, repeatable stroke. Olshey has talked a lot this summer about Collins re-distributing his shot selection to put a greater emphasis on the interior, but doing so wouldn’t just make Collins – and by proxy, the Blazers – easier for the opposition to stop; it would also mean a lion’s share of his minutes come at center, at the expense of Nurkic, who won’t exactly be happy sitting on the bench after inking a new $48 million contract in July.

    Despite re-committing to Nurkic, Olshey, thankfully, hardly seems married to the idea that Portland will reach its ceiling with him manning the middle. In fact, the Blazers’ head decision-maker is embracing the possibility his team will be at its best with Collins standing tallest in a more modern look up front – the same one New Orleans has adopted long-term after playing its best basketball of the season with Davis at center.

    “When you watched what Zach Collins did in Summer League, when you watch some of the issues in the playoffs we faced in terms of spacing, in terms of floor balance,” Olshey explained in July, “because of the style of play Ed plays, it put us in a position where you watched Dame get blitzed in pick-and-rolls when he shares the floor with guys. And we needed to add more shooting, more floor spacing, more playmaking out of that position. So, Ed was great, and we talked about it. During the regular season it was phenomenal. We ran into a really tough matchup in the playoffs. They blitzed every pick-and-roll; it essentially took Nurk out of a lot of the series as well. And we really felt like we needed to move on and get guys that can play a style where they can attack switches better in the low post, they can stretch the floor and shoot the ball when Dame’s blitzed if guys aren’t going to rotate to the rolling or popping or fading big.”

    Nurkic can only pop so far, and, as fans know all too well, lacks the vertical oomph necessary to finish through a crowd while diving to the rim. Davis’ offensive utility was essentially limited to crashing the glass, setting good screens and occasionally hitting the weak-side shooter after catching on the roll. Collins, meanwhile, has the length, athleticism and all-around ball skills to be among the league’s most dangerous ball-screen partners…eventually. He must continue tightening his jumper and filling out his body to make good on just a sliver of that potential, let alone all of it.

    The Blazers understand that Collins’ won’t develop into such a force overnight. Nurkic would already be playing elsewhere if that wasn’t the case. For now, though, Terry Stotts can take comfort from the knowledge that juicing a stagnant offense might be as simple as inserting Collins in Nurkic’s place alongside his incumbent starters. During the regular season, opponents are far more likely to defend a player based on his longstanding reputation than recent results, and Collins has “stretch five” written all over him. Even if his jumper isn’t falling at first, basically, it’ll be awhile before defenses adjust. The big-picture pitfalls that plagued Portland offensively against New Orleans won’t in 2018-19 with Collins at center, assuming marginal improvement since last season.

    Look at all the extra floor space playing him next to four capable shooters provides.

    None of this is to suggest that Nurkic becomes a bit player; odds are he notches far more time at center than any of his teammates. When the opponent downsizes, Stotts might often opt to put Aminu and Harkless up front while leaving Collins on the bench, affording him an easier opportunity to play three guards, best utilizing the construction of his roster. Collins, after all, played 27 total minutes at center across the regular season and playoffs in 2017-18. Earmarking even just 10 minutes a game for that lineup configuration would be a major, major departure from the norm.

    But it’s not like Portland has much to lose, either. This team was exposed in the playoffs, and unfortunately, not by an outlier; the entire league is trending the direction the Pelicans found themselves heading after Cousins’ injury. The Blazers’ status quo, it should be obvious by now, won’t be anywhere close to good enough. Does that mean making Collins a full-time five is the answer? Hardly. There isn’t one that will fix all of the issues facing Portland ahead of its most important season in years, but the speed and extent of Collins’ development at center might be its next best thing.

Fantasy News

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Pelicans and Lakers will complete the Anthony Davis trade on July 6.

    July 6 is the first day that trades can be processed and it will drastically impact the Lakers' cap space. The Lakers would rather process the trade in late July, at least 30 days after the draft, so that they will have $32.5 million in cap rather than $23.4. Wojnarowski also reported that Davis is unlikely to waive his $4 million trade kicker which will also hamper LA's cap space. If the Lakers can't put together enough for a max contract player, it'll throw a big wrench into free agency. With this story constantly evolving, stay tuned for updates.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets are considered to be the two main teams exploring trade scenarios for Clint Capela according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.

    With the biggest trade chip of the summer in Anthony Davis off the table, Capela figures to be next in line to draw significant interest around the league. In the Celtics scenario, Capela could either play alongside Horford or become his replacement depending on what Horford decides on his player option. However, seeing how reluctant they were to include some of their big assets in the AD trade, the same could be the case here. For the Brooklyn side it would be tough to imagine them pulling off a deal for Capela that doesn't involve moving Jarrett Allen, as the two have too similar of games to really play them together. This is all obviously very much in the speculation stage, but it is worth keeping an eye on both of these teams in regards to the Rockets' big man as the summer's arms race heads into full swing.

    Source: Steve Kyler on Twitter

  • Jayson Tatum - F - Boston Celtics

    The Celtics were unwilling to include Jayson Tatum in negotiations for Anthony Davis according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

    It appears that the Celtics were never truly players in the AD sweepstakes, as it's tough to imagine talk went very far without Tatum in the fold. In the wake of this deal, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Celtics are prepared to pivot to handing Tatum the keys to the franchise, especially considering their chances of resigning Kyrie Irving appear to be dwindling by the day. Tatum did not have the breakout campaign many were hoping for in his second year, but if he goes into next season as Boston's clear cut number one option perhaps he could be in line for said breakout in year three.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • David Griffin - Team - New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that multiple teams are already indicating significant interest in acquiring the No. 4 pick in next week's draft, which now belongs to the Pelicans.

    In case you missed it, the Pelicans have agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a package that includes the fourth selection in the 2019 draft, which the Pelicans may flip to get a quality roster player or another young asset. David Griffin stood firm in his requests on a Davis deal, and although he was unable to get Kyle Kuzma included in the trade, the Pelicans came away with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, two future first-rounders and the No. 4 pick in next week's draft, which could lead to more picks or additional players. Expect New Orleans to be at the center of plenty of rumors over the next few days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    Despite being traded to one of his only preferred long-term destinations, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Anthony Davis will still enter free agency next summer.

    Davis could sign an extension this summer but he will play out the string and try to maximize his earnings. The Lakers have a year to sell Davis on remaining in Los Angeles, and one imagines that playing with LeBron James and whichever other stars that duo can lure to Staples Center is a pretty good pitch in and of itself. Davis has earned the right to test the market as one of the top players in the game but it would go down as a mild surprise if he didn't end up happy in the one place he's been clamoring for since the start of the saga. Not that unexpected things haven't happened in the NBA before, of course.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Josh Hart - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    Josh Hart will be traded to the Pelicans, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Hart gives the Pelicans a third young asset to go along with three first-round picks, joining Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram in the deal. He battled knee injuries throughout last season but proved to be one of the more versatile and effective players on a laughable Lakers roster. A jack of all trades and master of none, expect Hart to fill multiple roles off the bench for a Pelicans team that hasn't gotten consistent wing production in the recent past. It's a tough spot for fantasy value, however, as he's now blocked in the backcourt by Ball and Jrue Holiday.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker - G - Charlotte Hornets

    Following Saturday's blockbuster acquisition of Anthony Davis, Marc Stein is reporting that the Lakers will make Kemba Walker one of their top targets in free agency.

    It makes sense, as point guard is a major position of weakness on the roster with Lonzo Ball headed to New Orleans. Walker and Kyrie Irving are the top of the PG class, and though Charlotte can offer Kemba a boatload of money on a supermax deal, it's impossible to argue that they give him the same shot at winning that the Lakers do now.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Brandon Ingram - F - New Orleans Pelicans

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Brandon Ingram is included in Saturday's Anthony Davis trade.

    Ingram will step right into a prominent role for the Pelicans, who have struggled to find production out of the small forward slot in recent years. His fantasy game still has plenty of holes but he should make a decent late-round flier if you're hunting for someone who can bring some points, rebounds and the occasional defensive stat. Be wary of his percentages, but a young, rebuilding squad with an eye on the long-term future is a nice spot for Ingram to land. Keep in mind that Ingram's season was cut short by deep vein thrombosis in his right arm, though he is expected to be ready for next season.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Lonzo Ball - G - New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Lonzo Ball will be headed to the Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis trade.

    Ball will be joined by Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks. There were reports last season that the Ball camp doesn't feel New Orleans is the best basketball fit for his career, though a pairing of Ball and Jrue Holiday would provide elite defense. With Ball presumably headed to a roster that will actually build around him rather than make him a role player, it's possible that he turns in a big bounce-back fantasy season. His health looms over everything, but a healthy Ball in a featured role could still deliver on all his pre-draft hype.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - Los Angeles Lakers

    The Pelicans have agreed to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 selection in next week's draft, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    This is the big domino to fall in what's expected to be a crazy offseason, and Davis heading to the Lakers will have a ripple effect that changes things drastically for numerous other teams. A Davis-LeBron James duo is about as good as it gets, and the Lakers have to be considered title contenders as they shift their attention to filling out the rest of the roster. They've now become one of the most attractive destinations for free agents and have to feel good about retaining Davis long-term, all while retaining Kyle Kuzma. New Orleans can start fresh around presumed top pick Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday, and it's possible that they dangle the No. 4 pick in the draft to help acquire a player that can provide immediate help to the roster. Getting three young players and three first-rounders is nice business for a team dealing a player who was hammering away at their leverage.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter