The 2019 NBA trade deadline came and went, and the Portland Trail Blazers failed yet again to make a big-time move. General Manager Neil Olshey was on the horn trying to get a big deal done, and he told NBC Sports Northwest’s own Dwight James that he had the green light to push forward on a couple of trades that never happened.
Now, Blazers fans will have to settle in with what Portland did get in Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere.
Hood is the obvious choice to make a big impact this season. The Blazers are already weak at the wing position, particularly with Maurice Harkless struggling to find his footing. Jake Layman has played well in his stead, but is more of an offensive weapon than anything else.
Hood is a bit of a reclamation project after a couple of seasons where he saw his progression sputter. Although he’s a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, he’s shied away from his long-range game this year. In Utah, Hood generally shot around 46 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc. In Cleveland this year, that had dipped to 33.5 percent
The real question with Hood will be if he can limit some of his poorer tendencies. Cleveland was not good for his development, and he often relied on a lot of dribble-heavy possessions before taking long 2-pointers. As is the case with any mid-range player, Hood will need to take smart long jumpers to make himself valuable.
It’s clear that Hood has the kind of skillset that plugs into the Portland offense. As a mid-range shooter, Hood attacks from the same general part of the floor that CJ McCollum already inhabits. Both like to hoist floaters in the lane and take elbow jumpers. Hood is also pretty effective on slow post-ups from the wing or stop-and-spin moves around five feet that, after watching tape, feel sort of Brandon Roy-ish, at least in their aesthetic. That should help teammates put Hood in the right position early on, since they already know how to help McCollum.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts will try to get Hood take a few steps back, behind the arc, to help Portland's bench keep up their 3-point onslaught.
I also have my reservations about Hood as a defender. Yes, he’s taller than a lot of the other guards on this roster, but even at 6-8 he’s not a small forward. His most successful years with the Jazz saw him play a majority of his minutes at SG, and so how Stotts arranges him with Seth Curry, Harkless, and Layman will be interesting.
Labissiere is a long-term project, one with very little downside. He’s raw, but is at least a shooter. Labissiere has been buried on the Sacramento Kings’ bench all season long, and has seen action in 13 games this year.
The knock on Labissiere is one that’s endemic to his age. The Kentucky product is a step or two slow, particularly on defense, which is common for just about every NBA big man during their first few years. Olshey told Dwight that he thinks Labissiere fits better with the Blazers’ style of play and I have to agree with him. Portland has made a clear switch to stretch the floor by any means necessary this season, most obviously on the front line with the boost in the minutes of Meyers Leonard. Labissiere at least makes more sense than Caleb Swanigan, an earthbound, low-post type of hustle player who seemed like he wasn’t super excited to be on ice for all but 145 minutes this season.
Analyzing Labissiere statistically this season would be a bit dishonest given his lack of playing time, but looking at his previous two years lends us something. Labissiere shot well from 3-point range in 2017-18, and was in the 71st percentile for his position, according to Cleaning the Glass. The real worry is that his at-rim percentage wasn’t great. The long-term goal for him is to find a way to be multi-faceted on offense. So many young guys seem to find a groove and never move out of it, particularly when they're shooters.
Labissiere could also be an impactful player defensively, but his instincts will need to develop. Yes, he’s athletic, but too many people get caught up on “wingspan” which includes the width of players' shoulders. You block or alter shots vertically, so standing reach is far more important since it’s a measurement of actual height.
In that department, Labissiere measures the same as Meyers Leonard — 9 feet — which is three inches shorter than Zach Collins. Leonard has grown to learn how to at least alter shots, and Labissiere has a good block percentage for his position. Still, you worry about him hunting and giving up dump-off, so there’s some work to do there.
Portland got better in the short term by adding both Hood and Labissiere, and didn’t give up anyone of importance to do it. Yet again, Blazers fans are left wondering if they’ll ever see a blockbuster trade that does something, anything to shakeup this roster. Meanwhile, Olshey has made another smart, low-risk move that could end up paying off this spring.
If it doesn’t, the Blazers will be where they always are, which is where they’ve always been.