By Hamza Ahmed
The Portland Trailblazers are by many estimates, the greatest overachievers of the 2016 season. The Trailblazers were a team that after losing 80% of their starting lineup, nobody expected to make the playoffs, let alone make noise if they got there. With their upset of the Los Angeles Clippers behind them, the Blazers can look forward to the Behemoth that is the Golden State Warriors in the second round. The Blazers currently rank dead last when it comes to their payroll in the league and now would be a good time to see what players they could target to push them to the next level.
1: Al Horford
Horford is an All-star caliber big man who can play either as the center or as a power forward. Horford averaged around 15 PPG, seven rebounds, three assists, and almost two blocks in only 32 minutes a night this year. Turning thirty in June, Horford is in the middle of his physical prime, and the Trailblazers will be able to get around 2-3 prime years out of him. His ability to pop from midrange and bang on the inside will compliment Portland’s backcourt players by drawing attention to him so players like Lillard and McCollum can go to work.
As much as I like the Blazers starting power forward Ed Davis, he is more of a hustle guy, and his talents would be best utilized off the bench relieving a player like Horford. The only downside to Horford is that he has had some injury troubles with his shoulder, missing significant time in the 2013 & 2014 seasons. However, he has been relatively healthy the last two years, and he is a player that the Blazers should look towards to take their squad to the next level.
2: Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside was once upon a time a player who was struggling to make a name for himself in the NBA’s Development League; but that all changed in the 2015 season when he made a name for himself down in Miami. He is one of the best defensive specialists in the league, averaging a career-best 3.7 blocks per game this season. He also averaged 14.2 points, so he has demonstrated the ability to have the offense flow through him when called upon to contribute.
The downside to Whiteside is that he is going to command nothing less than a max contract this offseason, and he apparently has had some chemistry type issues during his Miami tenure. He played in all 82 games, but only started in 43 due to the Heat disciplining him. The Blazers will have to weigh up whether adding a potential star player like Whiteside, is worth all the headaches that may come along with it.
3: Allen Crabbe
The last couple of years, Allen Crabbe hasn’t been able to get quality playing time due to having players like Wesley Mathews and Nicolas Batum ahead of him on the depth chart. However, they are now gone, and Crabbe has taken full advantage of the opportunity. In 26 minutes a night, Crabbe is averaging 10 points, just under three rebounds, and an assist. He is also shooting an efficient 46 percent from the field as a whole, and 39 percent from three point land. Crabbe has shown flashes of being able to score off the dribble this season, but he is still primarily a “three and D” player.
Turning 25 this month, Crabbe still has plenty of time to grow, and teams will be eager to pay him well for his services. The Blazers would be wise to resign him before other teams can get the chance due to his upside, and his familiarity with his teammates and city,