Having a plethora of bigs is always a good problem to have for any NBA team.
It’s a ‘problem’ that the Trail Blazers haven’t encountered this season.
Portland relied on Hassan Whiteside for a majority of the year, which was to be expected with Jusuf Nurkic still rehabbing his broken left leg until Mar.
But, nobody anticipated the Blazers other 7-footer Zach Collins would suffer a shoulder injury during the third game of the season that ultimately required surgery on Nov. 5 and meant four months of rehab for Collins.
Now during the resumption of the 2019-20 season, Whiteside is not only getting help down low, he’s getting better and is also looking to make everyone else in the frontcourt better.
Competition breeds excellence, right?
The Blazer bigs came to play.
No horsing around.
(Even if Whiteisde says he has horse-like tendencies on the court and does a mean horse impersonation.)
The battles between these three, plus 23-year-old 6’9 rookie power forward Wenyen Gabriel, who the Blazers acquired mid-season during a trade with Sacramento, has meant the competition on the block is fierce.
Collins, who has always taken pride in his defense since before his Gonzaga days, explained how having so many big bodies out there has locked down the paint.
Practice is real physical in general. I think a lot of guys came in [in] shape and they’re ready to trust their bodies and get physical and actually get down and play really good defense. And on the offensive end a lot of guys – we were able to work on our game for a long time and no defense, so everybody is coming back a little bit more polished and real physical and really competitive. Obviously, with me and Nurk back there’s more bodies in the paint so it’s harder to score. It’s just been really competitive and tough to score down there. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins
[Listen to the latest Talking’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon].
Whiteside already had time to develop chemistry with Collins after the two went through training camp together last fall and played in the first three games of the season alongside each other. He believes the bigs’ chemistry is coming along. Plus, playing two bigs at all times is something he and many of his teammates are looking forward to that could lead to many favorable mismatches.
The way the Blazers play [with] two bigs – it’s easy. It’s not a thing of spacing or anything. Both of us can shoot the ball if we need to, but with Dame [Lillard] and CJ [McCollum] and them guys running around, running flow, running different actions, I think it’s great. -- Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside on the bigs chemistry
Whiteside admitted that a lot of players were sore after the first practice on Saturday.
Bodying each other up, fighting for a rebound, getting up and down the court as a big man in the NBA is not something that can truly be simulated during a four-month quarantine.
“Just getting your body back to used to pushing guys and wrestling guys for rebounds, and coming off pick and rolls, and just different things – running up and down,” Whiteside said. “You can’t substitute that at your house. You can try to try to stay as the best shape as you can, but it’s not like the real thing.”
But, what is the real thing with the Blazers right now? -- The battles down low.
Now that Whiteside and Nurkic could see time on the floor together, as Blazers Coach Terry Stotts has already noted, the two will seemingly elevate each other’s game.
Whiteside is up for the challenge.
Pushing Nurk around is not an easy feat. He got thirty, forty pounds on everybody. I got to push him around and Zach and just wrestling with them guys. Those are great scoring guys. It’s really good. -- Hassan Whiteside
Coach Stotts has not only been pleased with his big men’s physicality and competitive nature, but he also noted that by playing Carmelo Anthony at the three, Portland will not only be a bigger team than we saw this season, but there could definitely be plenty more post ups.
“I’d say they’re relatively physical just by nature of all the big bodies out there,” Stotts said. “There’s limited space on the court and those three guys out there a lot, you throw in Wenyen, Melo, who is a physical player and he’s playing the three… We’re gonna be a different looking team, but yeah, it’s not dirty or anything, but it’s like I said, a lot of big bodies.”