Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

There's been some confusion among fans of the Portland Trail Blazers this season when it comes to the small forward spot. 

Maurice Harkless has been battling a knee injury all season long, and Jake Layman has filled in for him with surprising results. On offense, Layman has found his role, acting as a cutter, 3-point shooter, and rebounder. On defense, Layman is a bit of a work in progress. As such, coach Terry Stotts has opted to play Harkless as much as he can with the starting unit when the 25-year-old has been available to play.

Praise for Layman have been vocal as fans have attached to his unselfish style of play and hot shooting. Harkless remains the unquestioned natural talent of Portland's forward lineup, but Layman has worked his way into a position that’s made it harder to question his involvement. 

Meanwhile, Harkless has done the opposite. Where before he was the player cutting through the mid-post and gnashing for rebounds down low, Harkless seems a bit lethargic and out of step. His statistics are now no longer an outlier, either. Layman has matched much of Harkless’ advanced numbers while becoming a better shooter.

Contextually for these Blazers, this is the case for Layman in the starting lineup... CJ McCollum has struggled in his new role as a pure shooting guard next Damian Lillard, and Portland has struggled at times on offense. With Al-Farouq Aminu remaining a high-variance 3-point shooter, the first unit in Rip City has needed shooting at the wing and Layman provides that in spades.

Layman has taken a jump in his 3-point percentage, going from 20 percent last season to a whopping 36 percent this year. He mostly shoots above the break 3-pointers, and while it might be better if he was more effective from the corner, the pace at which he plays puts Portland in different positions to get triples.

At the same time, Harkless has regressed in terms of shooting. The St. John's product has gone from shooting 40 percent to 20 percent on corner 3-pointers according to Cleaning the Glass. As a result, Harkless’ points per shot attempt are down 40 percentile points 

We've covered how Layman has moved without the ball before, but the statistics tell the story of his breakout season. The Blazers are 11 points from assists per 100 possessions better with Layman on the floor then they are with him off of it, according to pbpstats.com. Portland’s assist percentage on 2-point field goals goes up when Layman is on the court as well, which makes sense given how much he’s willing to be on both sides of a pass.

The same can’t be said for Harkless with regard to his on/off numbers, and that’s disappointing. Surprisingly, many of his advanced statistics — assist percentage, rebounding percentage, steals — are hovering around where they’ve been in the past. It’s the shooting that’s made Harkless a less viable candidate on offense, despite his defensive impact.

This brings us back to our original question, of why Stotts has decided to stick with Harkless despite production from Layman. Is it an ego boost for the often-moody Harkless? Is it Stotts sticking with the more experienced player? Is it because Harkless is a better defender?

In any case, Harkless and Layman aren’t interchangeable in Stotts’ eyes. Harkless brings a defensive presence that Layman can’t match, although the gap between them could be narrowing. Five-man-lineup data from NBA.com actually shows that Portland’s two most-used groups have one difference, and that’s the small forward spot with Layman and Harkless as the variables. While Harkless still has the better individual defensive rating, the lineup with Layman has both a better defensive rating and net rating.

Having watched this team for some time, it seems best if Layman is on the starting unit from here on out because of his passing and 3-point shooting. The bench rotation has struggled to defend in fits and starts, sometimes acting as a cohesive unit and sometimes getting blown out only to force the starters to try and play catch-up for 30 minutes again. 

Harkless on the second unit could help create a more stable defensive identity for them as well as give Harkless additional room to operate without having to worry about blowing assists from Lillard and McCollum.

Who knows if this might happen? At this juncture, Layman is at least in the rotation for good. In recent games, with Harkless back in the lineup, Stotts has declined to bench Layman, continuing to play him somewhere around 20 minutes a night. That wasn't the case at the beginning of the season, and it goes in line with the kind of adaptation that Stotts as made with deeper rotations this season.

We are now 52 games into the NBA season, so it's time to start making some judgments about what we've seen and where this team is going. Harkless continues to battle his knee, and although he is statistically performing well outside of scoring, the Blazers have struggled enough as a unit that they need him to shoot now more than ever. 

Any further slavish dedication by Stotts to Harkless could hinder Portland's second half, and if Layman continues to shoot at the clip he does, it's clear he's the better choice as the starting small forward. Harkless is still able to bring something to the table, both on offense and defense, but if he can't get his shooting stroke back it'll draw into question where he fits in this Blazers rotation moving forward.

Outsiders Blog: Is Zach Collins' future at PF or C?

Outsiders Blog: Is Zach Collins' future at PF or C?

In yesterday's exit interviews Trail Blazers second-year big man Zach Collins wasn't shy about the impact he thinks he can make for this team in the future.

When asked if he thought he could be a starter in this league, Collins said "yeah, absolutely" without hesitation.

During this playoff run, Collins came up big over and over again. He showed a great ability to challenge shots at the rim and was noticeably more comfortable and confident on the offensive end. 

Fans were starting to clamor for him to start over Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. They liked the idea of Collins playing alongside Enes Kanter. Surely fans looked forward to next season and the potential pairing of Collins alongside Jusuf Nurkic, should Aminu, an unrestricted free agent not return. 

This idea makes sense. According to Basketball-Reference, per 100 possessions Collins played about two-thirds of his minutes his season at power forward. So it only seems natural to want to slot him alongside Nurkic or Kanter in the lineup.

However, Collins would rather play the five than the four. "I like playing the five personally because I'm involved in everything especially defensively... Personally, I would like to play the five, but we'll see."

This sounds great and all, but Collins has a Bosnian Beast sized hurdle in front of him if he wants to be the starting center. Nurkic has solidified himself as a key member of the Blazers "big three" and just last offseason he signed a four-year deal to remain with Portland as its star center.

However, Nurkic suffered a severe leg injury late in the season and is out for the foreseeable future. General Manager Neil Olshey said at exit interviews that there is no timetable for Nurkic's return, but conventional wisdom says he will miss the first quarter and perhaps the first half of the season. So the door is open for Collins to grab that starting center spot to start the season.

But what about after Nurkic comes back? If Collins wants to remain at center, he would have to be ok with being a backup. Is that something Collins is willing to do long term?

Said Collins, "there's been a lot of great role players in this league. If that's what my career's going to be defined as then that's fine. I've always wanted to be the guy, I've always wanted to be a starter, and I've always wanted to be a guy that plays a lot of minutes to help a team win. I won't stop until I get to that point."

Collins could end up being a sixth man caliber player as a career backup to Nurkic. Or, he could shift his focus to playing the four and be a career starter right next to the Bosnian Beast. 

Where he fits best within this lineup is up to Collins and the coaches. With the expected departure of Kanter, Collins will likely be the answer at center to start the 2019-2020 season. What awaits him beyond that remains to be seen. But if you ask me, I think the Blazers' future looks better him playing with Nurkic instead of backing him up.

The pairing of Collins and Nurkic would give the Blazers two defensive threats in the paint. It would give the Blazers two big men that can hit mid-range jumpers, and it would give the Blazers a power forward that can space the floor. Sure, you can look at the stats and say Collins only shot 33% from deep this season, but Aminu, Portland's staring power forward, shot just 34%. Three-point shooting aside, Collins is the future. It may be time to move on from Aminu and start the former Gonzaga star. If the Blazers bring Aminu back, it may still be time to move Aminu to the bench and give the starting job to Collins. The fact of the matter is, if Collins wants to start, which he says he does, he should be looking at the power forward spot. 

Portland Trail Blazers players say farewell to the 2018-19 NBA season

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USA Today Images

Portland Trail Blazers players say farewell to the 2018-19 NBA season

What a season! The Portland Trail Blazers season came to an end this week as the Blazers fell to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 

Now that the Blazers season is complete and the team has went through its annual exit interviews, let’s take a look at how players reflected on the past season and what is in store for the future. 

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Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

Olshey: "Everyone who comes through here has gotten better"

It was exit-interview day for the Portland Trail Blazers, the final chance for the media to interview the key players, coach and management of one of the most surprising teams in the franchise’s 49-year history.

There weren’t a lot of shocking happenings – other than President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey announcing that the team has extended the contract of head coach Terry Stotts. But that wasn’t much of a surprise, either, since Stotts had just engineered a run to the Western Conference finals for a team predicted before the season to win 42 games and miss the playoffs.

The pertinent video is on this website and I invite you to peruse it, but in the interest of time, let me hit a few of the highlights for you, in order of the players’ appearance:

CJ McCollum: “It was an incredible season based on what we went through. Expectations weren’t that high. It was a pretty incredible year.”

Meyers Leonard: “The last two games were what I know in my heart I can do. Heading into this offseason I feel very confident in what I’ve done. I’m happy to know I feel I gave the staff and the organization confidence in me. I’m going to come back next year ready for a more definite role.”

Evan Turner: “It was dope. We did a lot of great things this season. We went from being a playoff-caliber team to a potential championship-caliber team. We’re legit.”

Al-Farouq Aminu: “I’ve been here four years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever been at one organization. I don’t think you heard me complain too much.”

Damian Lillard: “People who might not have believed before, people who thought I was crazy for thinking we could push that far, now I’m sure a lot of people believe it more than they did before. We were coming off a sweep in the first round (last season). It’s a great feeling just to know, OK, we had a 15-plus lead in three of the four games. We know that we were capable of winning those games. And if those things go our way, we’re looking at going to the Finals.”

Maurice Harkless: “Overall, we have a lot to be proud of this season. We would have liked a better outcome. But that’s a huge accomplishment by us as a team.”

Enes Kanter: “It’s been an amazing experience. This team made me a better person and a better player. It was the best thing that ever happened in my career.”

Rodney Hood: “I’m not sure (about his free-agency). Obviously, we know it’s a business. We’ll see how everything works out this summer. I’m on the record with how much I love it here and I want to be back. I want to be embraced. That’s a big word that means a lot to me. Whether that equals to a dollar amount,  that’s what I’m looking for.”

Zach Collins: “(On whether he’d like to be a starter next season) Yeah, absolutely. I think this playoff run, not only for myself but for the team, it was a great experience. And now we’ve been there and we know what to expect. For me personally, going through that and being able to play a big role and help our team win a lot of games the playoffs, I’ve already learned so much, just in the last month in the playoffs.”

Anfernee Simons: “(The last game of the regular season) obviously gave me a lot of confidence. It was a good kick-start for the summer. (And in the summer league) I want to prove myself. I am young but I’m still able to play with the best of them. I can’t wait.”

Neil Olshey: “(On Stotts’ contract extension) We win every year. It’s year No. 7 – six straight playoff appearances. Two division titles. A trip to the conference finals. And we still have one of the youngest rosters in the league. But it goes beyond wins and losses. It’s alignment, partnership, Our young players develop. It’s a commitment to a longer-term view. One of the things I’m most proud of is everyone who comes through here has gotten better.”

Terry Stotts: “(On where he ranks on the list of Trail Blazer coaches) Doctor Jack (Ramsay)  is a Hall of Famer and Rick Adelman will be. I’m not going to touch those guys. They are idols of mine. I don’t even presume to be in that category. There have been a lot of great coaches here.”

Enes Kanter uses his platform for good, uses basketball as his escape

Enes Kanter uses his platform for good, uses basketball as his escape

TUALATIN – There are still many question marks surrounding Enes Kanter’s future.

The Trail Blazers center along with, Al-Farouq Aminu, Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, and Jake Layman (restricted) will all become free agents this summer.

Portland owns Kanter’s non-Bird Rights, so a team will easily be able to offer him a lot more money this summer. 

One thing is certain:

Kanter has enjoyed his time in Rip City.

Since Kanter landed with the Trail Blazers in mid-February, he has shown his appreciation and love for the organization and the city. Kanter was an integral part in Portland making it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years. 

The Trail Blazers center started off Tuesday’s exit interview by saying, "signing here was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career."

“It’s been an amazing experience… This team, this organization, the whole state, not just made me a better basketball player, but made me a better person on and off the court… From day one, they opened their arms, they gave me a warm welcome. From the first week, I felt like I was part of this team for years,” Kanter said.

Kanter also said his experience in Portland will play into his offseason decision.

The 7-footer mentioned “winning” is one of his highest priorities when thinking about his offseason decision on where he will end up next season.

Over the last few months, Kanter has been extremely vocal about the Turkish government reportedly requesting an INTERPOL "Red Notice" for him back in January because of his alleged ties to exiled U.S. based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Kanter has openly supported.

Being a professional athlete, Kanter has used his platform to educate people on what is going on in Turkey.

 “I’m going to spend some of my time in Washington DC this summer because whenever I go there most of the senators just always sit down and talk about all the stuff that’s going on back in Turkey,“ Kanter said.  

Kanter added, “I’m trying to use this platform to be a voice of all those innocent people [in Turkey] that don’t have one.”

Because Kanter cannot travel outside of the United States, he is going to be keeping busy with youth basketball camps.

Along with his usual workouts and offseason training, Kanter will be hosting over 30 kids’ camps in different cities across the US. All for free.

Kanter feels he is able to give back by not charging families money to come to his camps.

Kanter discussed at exit interviews that life has been hard with his situation, and he does feel that he has been put on the earth for a reason. He is also thankful to have basketball in his life.  

"Basketball is like my escape...as soon as I step on the court, all I care about is my teammates, basketball and winning. But as soon as I wake up in the morning... The fight begins."

Kanter will continue the fight for people in Turkey and weigh all of his options this offseason. NBA free agency begins July 1st at 9:00pm pacific time.

Trail Blazers have extended Terry Stotts' contract

Trail Blazers have extended Terry Stotts' contract

During "Exit Interview" day at the Trail Blazers' practice facility, Neil Olshey was asked about the contract situation with head coach Terry Stotts. 

Olshey responded simply that he had already been extended. 

When asked when that happened, Olshey replied, "about 20 minutes ago." 

Based on the success of this season it is not surprising that Terry Stotts got an extension on his contract. 

More to come about Stotts' situation and the future of the franchise from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson. 

Trail Blazers discuss future in exit interviews

Trail Blazers discuss future in exit interviews

The Portland Trail Blazers are officially on vacation. Following last night's loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers took part in annual exit interviews before heading into the offseason.

The players, coaches and staff talked about the team's most successful season in nearly 20 years, as well as what could happen with free agents Rodney Hood, Seth Curry, Enes Kanter, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jake Layman (restricted) this offseason. Here's a recap of videos from Tuesday morning's exit interviews. 

Portland guard CJ McCollum reflected on what was a trying season for the team. The Trail Blazers faced a lot this year: The loss of owner Paul Allen, McCollum suffered a setback before playoffs and Jusuf Nurkic sustained a season-ending leg injury. In hard times, on more than one occasion, the Blazers stuck together. 

Reports circulated early Tuesday that Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension. Lillard didn't have many thoughts on the subject when asked about it during exit interviews.

Many of the players were impressed by the play of rookie Anfernee Simons, including veteran forward Evan Turner. 

Simons shared some thoughts on what he learned in his first NBA season.  

Meyers Leonard finished the 2018-19 season on a high note. Leonard dropped "The Hammer" in Game 4, recording a career-high 30 points over the defending champs. His standout play earned him "MEY-ERS-LEON-ARD" chants in the team's final playoff game, unlike the "boos" he once heard echo throughout the Moda Center years before.

He's heading into this offseason with confidence. 

Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey had an update on Jusuf Nurkic's recovery. He said Bosnian Beast is on a "good trajectory" towards a return next. 

Olshey also had an update on Blazers coach Terry Stotts. According to Olshey, the Trail Blazers and Stotts have reached an extension on his contract. Details have yet to be revealed. 

Enes Kanter talked about his struggles off-the-court this season and why basketball has helped him get through it all. 

Rodney Hood gave his thoughts on free agency this summer and what it would mean to return to Portland next season. 

Watch all of the live streams of Blazer exit interviews here. 

Live Streams: Trail Blazer Exit Interview Day

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USATI

Live Streams: Trail Blazer Exit Interview Day

Check in here throughout the day for links to our live streams from the Trail Blazers Practice Facility. Key players plus Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey will stop by to talk to the media. 

CJ McCollum

Meyers Leonard

Evan Turner

Al-Farouq Aminu

Damian Lillard

Moe Harkless

Enes Kanter

Rodney Hood

Zach Collins

Anfernee Simons

Neil Olshey & Terry Stotts

The Portland Trail Blazers made memories worth clinging to

The Portland Trail Blazers made memories worth clinging to

Before Meyers Leonard left the arena for a final time this season, he needed to make one more stop.

He walked down the back hallway inside the Moda Center with his wife and a small group of friends and then made a hard left, dipping back into the long deserted locker room to grab a memento from a special night that concluded a unforgettable season.

Leonard snagged a final box score, which included his stat line from the best game-winner of his seven year NBA career: 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in 40:17.

He said he probably wouldn’t frame, but he wanted the keepsake.

It’s safe to say Leonard is not the only person in Rip City who will want to save the memory from this Trail Blazers run. This team played long enough and racked up enough special moments that depending on who you ask, those lasting memories are different.

For rookie Anfernee Simons it will be the first round series against Oklahoma City.

“That … that was fun,” the Blazers rookie said through a massive grin, recalling Damian Lillard’s 37-foot series-clinching dagger that sent a bitter rival packing.

For Jake Layman, it will probably be Game 7 in Denver when the Blazers climbed back from down 17 to win on the road after avoiding elimination in Game 6.

And Seth Curry will always appreciate earning the chance to go head-to-head against his older brother, Stephen, a backyard sibling rivalry turned Western Conference Finals showdown. Like Leonard, Seth Curry left with his brothers’ Golden State jersey. It was a night to leave with a souvenir.

Perhaps those aren’t the moments you’ll cling to weeks, months or years from now when remembering this iteration of the Blazers. Maybe you’ll remember a four overtime marathon capped by Hood’s heroics. Or Lillard waving goodbye to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Or CJ McCollum drilling a mid-range daggers over a helpless Torrey Craig. Or a hobbled Enes Kanter fighting off Steven Adams and Nikola Jokic with a separated left shoulder.

“On the whole probably just getting here to Western Conference Finals,” Evan Turner said when asked what will stick with him about this season. “I think that’s pretty cool when you look at it. But there’s a lot of little moments in between.”

The little moments is what made this season special, and made the big moments possible. Even the Blazers joyous and exhilarating run was dotted with heartbreak and setbacks along the way. Three days before the season Paul Allen, the team’s long time owner, passed away suddenly. Then in the waning days of the regular season, center Jusuf Nurkic fractured his leg, ending his best NBA season nine games before the playoffs. After the triumph of the first round win over, Oklahoma City video coordinator and development coach Jon Yim was in a serious car accident that caused him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.

“We lose our owner,” Lillard said. “We dealt with injuries -- CJ missed a lot of games at a crucial stretch in the season, and we just kept answering the call. And that takes a group of guys to maybe go from not playing minutes, stepping up, giving us good minutes, trusting each other, leaning on each other. It takes a real group to be able to come together in those hard times on more than one occasion, and I thought we did that.”

It was Meyers Leonard on Monday. But it had been Evan Turner in Games 6 and 7 against Denver. Rodney Hood came off the bench to deliver a game-winning at the end of four overtimes after Enes Kanter had sealed a playoff-opening win with a two crucial late-game rebounds. Up and down the roster, the Blazers answered the call.

This year was always going to be defined by what the Blazers did in the playoffs. It was a core that had proved it could be consistently good but rarely great in years past. They had been swept out of consecutive playoffs and another early exit could have led to a major overhaul. Through adversity and with Lillard’s steady leadership guiding a collective push, the Blazers dashed preseason expectations and then exorcised their postseason demons.

“We all stayed ready,” Turner said. “Nobody really bailed out if things didn’t go their way. We stayed together as a team. I think that was the most special thing. We really stayed together as a team. You can really see how, in a lot of different ways, we grew as a team. We reached our full potential. Because before the season nobody really had us pegged to do any of this.”

You cannot capture this moment again. That’s not because the Blazers can’t get back to this stage, in fact, Lillard spent much his postgame press conference explaining exactly why he thinks his team showed they can repeat their run. That’s not because the nature of the business means this team will look a little different next season. The Blazers might come back better, stronger for having made this playoff push and wiser for passing the tests along the way.

This moment isn’t repeatable because expectations mute joy. The first time with its shocking unanticipated delight is always going to be the sweetest. The Blazers won’t be able to duplicate this even with identical results.

It’s why Seth Curry made sure to swap jerseys with his brother. It’s why Leonard made that last stop to grab a box score. It was a night to savor the memories and appreciate the ride.

“When you look back at this it’s going to be special for all of us individually and as a team,” Hood said. “We made it to the Western Conference Finals. People don’t understand how hard that is to do. And to do it in the Western Conference. And to play great basketball against the defending world champions. We can’t ask for nothing better.”

Chris Haynes Report: Damian Lillard expected to get $191M supermax deal from Trail Blazers this summer

Chris Haynes Report: Damian Lillard expected to get $191M supermax deal from Trail Blazers this summer

According to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, Damian Lillard is set to get a super max deal from the Trail Blazers this summer:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Technically, Lillard needs to make an All-NBA team from this season in order to qualify, but it is hard to imagine that not happening. 

Lillard still has two-years left on his current deal.

Following what was an impressive season for the Trail Blazers, including their first trip to the Western Conference Finals in 19 years, it is no surprise that a new deal would be worked out for Portland's #1 man. 

The offseason however, remains a major question mark for this team with several key players becoming free agents, not a lot of cap space to work with, and an injured Jusuf Nurkic.

More to come on Damian's contract, the Trail Blazers off-season plans and full NBA Draft and Free Agency coverage from Insider Dwight Jaynes and Reporter Jamie Hudson this off-season.