Damian Lillard has spoken. The Trail Blazers had better be listening.

NOTHING BUT NET 44

When Damian Lillard recently spoke as a guest on the Dave Pasch Podcast, he talked specifically about three NBA players. These players aren’t necessarily stars; however, they are important role players that could make or break a team’s chances to be great. With an important year ahead of the Trail Blazers due to a roster shake-up and their championship window with their arguable best player in franchise history seemingly closing, it would be wise for the team to make every effort to get Lillard the type of help that these players could provide.

MIKAL BRIDGES – BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN PRETENDER TO CONTENDER

One of the players Lillard mentioned was Suns’ forward Mikal Bridges. In the 2021-22 season, Bridges narrowly missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year award, being edged out by winner Marcus Smart. He was named to the All-Defensive first team after finishing just missing out on an All-Defensive team honor the year before (when he was the top-vote getter outside of the top 10).

He is known for his defensive tenacity, being able to guard multiple positions and lock down the opposing team’s best offensive weapon. He isn’t a slouch on the offensive end either. He averaged a solid 14.2 points on an efficient 53.4% shooting. He boasts a career 37.4% three point percentage and knocks down free throws at a high rate. He averaged 2.3 assists last season, and while that isn’t eye-popping, his playmaking skills keep developing. Bridges is also incredibly durable; he’s never missed a single game in his NBA career, an astounding feat considered the impact of COVID-19 on the sport.

Bridges would bring a new level of defense that the Blazers have never had before. His prowess at that end of the court would give Lillard a frontcourt mate he can rely on defensively and a reliable shooter and playmaker on the offensive end.

Bringing Bridges to Portland would be a difficult task, as he is 26 years old and a key piece to the Phoenix Suns’ championship aspirations. The Suns volatile ownership situation has put the team in flux, though – if Chris Paul were to get injured or even just finally show his age and the team dropped down a few spots into mediocrity, the Blazers might be able to take advantage. Even then, it would likely take trading newly re-signed guard Anfernee Simons along with future draft picks to pry Bridges away from the 2021 NBA final runner-ups.

POSSIBLE LINEUP :
PG Damian Lillard
SG Josh Hart
SF Mikal Bridges
PF Jerami Grant
C Jusuf Nurkic

ROTATION BENCH :
G Gary Payton II
G Shaedon Sharpe
F Justise Winslow
F Nassir Little
C Drew Eubanks

DEEP BENCH :
G Brandon Williams
F Trendon Watford

DEVELOPMENTAL YOUTH :
F Greg Brown III
G Keon Johnson
F Jabari Walker

OG ANUNOBY – BACK ON THE RADAR

OG Anunoby was in trade rumors as being headed to the Blazers for the entire 2022 NBA offseason. It was rumored that he would make his way to Portland for some combination of first round picks or players, including the number seven pick in the NBA draft that eventually became Shaedon Sharpe.

Lillard mentioned Anunoby for the same reasons he talked about Bridges. The Raptors’ forward plays lockdown defense, can guard multiple positions, and is a reliable shot maker. He’s a confident shooter too, which is why he didn’t react emotionally to his game winning buzzer beater shot in 2020.

Anunoby only received one second-team all defense vote, mainly because he missed 34 games; his defense is much more valuable than that vote indicates. He averaged 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks in 48 games played in the 2022 season and he typically guards the opposing team’s best offensive player. He’s converted three pointers at an average of 37.2% over his career and still has the potential to grow in every department. The 23rd pick of the 2017 draft is still only 25 years old.

While he fits the Raptors young timeline, he has been rumored to be on the trading block. Sharing the same position as reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes may cause a logjam at the forward position and the Raptors may decide to balance their roster by finding a suitor for Anunoby.

The Blazers could sway the Raptors with by dangling Shaedon Sharpe and his youth and potential along with reliable veteran Josh Hart, and maybe some draft picks to sweeten the deal. The addition of Anunoby to a team with Lillard, Simons and Grant will create potential matchup problems at both ends for most teams in the league.

POSSIBLE LINEUP :
PG Damian Lillard
SG Anfernee Simons
SF OG Anunoby
PF Jerami Grant
C Jusuf Nurkic

ROTATION BENCH :
G Gary Payton II
G Justise Winslow
F Trendon Watford
F Nassir Little
C Drew Eubanks

DEEP BENCH :
G Brandon Williams

DEVELOPMENT YOUTH :
G Keon Johnson
F Jabari Walker
F Greg Brown III

JARRED VANDERBILT – THE ATTAINABLE ROLE PLAYER CURRENTLY ON A VOLATILE ROSTER

Lillard also mentioned Jarred Vanderbilt on his short list of players he’d want to play with. Vanderbilt isn’t a household name, unless you are a Kentucky Wildcats or a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Vanderbilt’s main skills are his defense and hustle. He isn’t known for being an elite shooter or playmaker, but he has reliable defensive capabilities.

He averaged 1.3 steals and 0.6 blocks per game averaging 25.4 minutes a contest. With a a bigger role that would boost his minutes, he could thrive as a defensive specialist. He’s a young former second round pick at 23 years old, who could be on the move again after being traded to the Utah Jazz in the deal that sent Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves.

Vanderbilt is a tough player who would help solidify a defensive identity for the Blazers. He may still come off the bench if he were to come to Portland, however the Blazers should emphasize defense in a Lillard era where defensive highlights were harder to find.

To offer the Jazz some more youth and upside, the Blazers could offer Keon Johnson and Greg Brown III to see if their potential upside is something the Jazz value more than Vanderbilt. Although in a rebuild, they could value the development of Talen Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Ochai Agbaji more than Vanderbilt.

POSSIBLE LINEUP :
PG Damian Lillard
SG Anfernee Simons
SF Nassir Little
PF Jerami Grant
C Jusuf Nurkic

ROTATION BENCH :
G Gary Payton II
G Shaedon Sharpe
F Josh Hart
F Jarred Vanderbilt
C Drew Eubanks

DEEP BENCH :
F Justise Winslow
F Trendon Watford
G Brandon Williams

DEVELOPMENT YOUTH :
F Jabari Walker

The Blazers definitely need one more move solidify themselves as a threat in the West. The possibility of adding one of the players that Lillard expressed a fondness for should be explored.

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