Portland Lumberjacks 2023 Preview
- By Tim Wallis, Day 1, 2023
The Portland Lumberjacks will return ten of fifteen players from the end of their 2022 campaign, which saw them win 41 games and remain in the playoff hunt until the final days of the season. Of the five newcomers, one is a former Lumberjack coming back for a second stint, and there are seven players on the 2023 roster who were on Portland’s first opening night roster in 2021. It’s a team with a core group of young players who have already logged a lot of minutes on the court together, supplemented by a powerful and courageous center in his prime and now a JBL legend in his twilight years.
Returning: Keith Humphries, Deonte Christian, Jax LaRose
The Lumberjacks will enter the 2023 season unchanged at point guard, with the same three players listed at the position as they had on the franchise’s original opening night roster. Keith Humphries returns as the starter after averaging 18.3ppg 9.1apg (7th in the JBL) and 1.6spg last season, which represented a small drop in scoring but improvements in assists and efficiency over the previous season. The addition of Akieem Martin appeared to take a lot of the offensive pressure away from “Hawk” and at 25, he’s only just entering his prime.
Deonte Christian started 52 games at shooting guard last season but is likely to return to a sixth man role backing up both guard spots. He averaged 12.3ppg 6.5apg and 1.4spg in his 2nd season after being selected 45th in the 2021 draft. At 6-4 and just 161 pounds, he’s still built like a high school player but it remains to be seen whether adding weight would help or hinder his game as he is already deceptively strong.
Jax LaRose was the 33rd pick in 2021 and had first shot at the backup point role, before a minor injury opened the door to Christian. LaRose has some exciting potential and as a local boy and underdog has become somewhat of a cult hero. But for whatever reason, the Lumberjacks don’t seem to function as well when he is on the court. He may have to beat out undrafted rookie signing Ben Batts for even 3rd string minutes this season.
In: Demetric Vaughn, Shaun Burrell, Ben Batts
Out: Lorenzo Charles, Luke Williams, J.P. Marquardt
The shooting guard position has been the most turbulent for Portland in its short history, with a long list of players already being tried there. Christian earned the starting position through most of last season, with Lorenzo Charles performing well off the bench after coming across from Mexico City. Luke Williams was an on again off again starter over the last two years and a team leader, but continually saw younger players favored for minutes. J.P. Marquardt was picked up as an undrafted rookie on a generous $3 million contract but was unable to break into the regular rotation.
The Lumberjacks dealt Charles and Marquardt to LA (along with center Derrick Aririguzoh) for future picks, and did not offer Williams a new deal this off-season, electing to bring in a new group of players at the two. Demetric Vaughn is a 7 time All-Star and 9 time All-JBL player (2 first team, 5 second team, 2 third team) who averaged 20.4ppg 4.7rpg 4.6apg and 1.7spg last year for the Mustangs. He’s 35 years old, on a one year deal and clearly not the long term solution, but gives Portland a star at the position for the first time. The JBL legend will surely see a significant reduction in minutes, but the Jacks will be hoping he still has plenty to offer.
Ben Batts went undrafted but quickly became the focus of a multi-team bidding war, seeing his rookie salary climb to $4 million. Batts can play both guard positions and the Lumberjacks could use his elite three point shooting ability. He’ll start the season as the 3rd stringer at the one and the two.
Shaun Burrell was originally taken 28th in the expansion draft by the Jacks, playing a supporting role over their first season and a half before being included in the trade that brought in Charles mid-season. A popular locker room figure who was always ready when called upon, Burrell was offered a one year deal to return as veteran depth.
Returning: Jarvis McSwine, Reggie Burke, Jerrell Newman
The Lumberjacks are essentially unchanged at small forward, with the franchise’s first ever draft selection Jarvis McSwine returning as the starter. McSwine averaged 11.6ppg 9.0rpg 4.7apg 1.3spg and 1.8bpg in 2022 and enters his 3rd season still just 20 years old. The Lumberjacks hope that his time under the mentorship of Linton Hughes will aid in his offensive development, but he is already seen as one of the most important players on the team and an ideal “glue guy” who does a little of everything.
His backup, Reggie Burke, was acquired at the deadline last season, averaged 7.7ppg 4.4rpg and 2.2apg in just under 20 minutes with Portland and is a somewhat similar player to McSwine. The former Ohio State teammates are both comfortable at either forward position and could see more time at the four this year.
While listed as a shooting guard, Jerrell Newman is projected to play primarily at small forward this year. Drafted as a 6-7 scorer, Newman had a growth spurt over the off-season, by the end of training camp had grown to 6-10 and was struggling to adjust to his new dimensions. He was given an opportunity to start at shooting guard early in the season but was soon relegated to a bench role, finishing the season averaging 6.9ppg 2.0rpg and 2.0apg in 16.7 minutes. He began to show some positive signs late in the year and the Jacks are hoping their former pick 17 can take advantage of his new 7’2 wingspan and perhaps become a long-term contributor at the position.
Returning: Dorian Sylvester, Austin Bryant
In: Theandre Solverson
Out: Linton Hughes
Dorian Sylvester firmly established himself as the starter in his second season, the former pick 53 averaging 11.8ppg 8.7apg 2.4apg and 2.8bpg (good for 5th in the league). The strong play of Sylvester paved the way for the Jacks’ original starter Cedric Freeman to be traded to the Jaguars, with Sylvester and Akieem Martin proving an effective tandem on the boards.
Austin Bryant was pick 38 for the Lumberjacks in their first draft, spending most of the last two years as the 2nd or 3rd big off the bench but receiving some opportunities to play a bigger role due to injuries. He took those opportunities with both hands, prompting the team to clear the way to more playing time for him. In 13.7 minutes of court time in 2023, Bryant averaged 8.2ppg 3.4rpg 1.5apg and 0.8bpg.
For the last two years, future JBL Hall-of-Famer Linton Hughes has acted almost as an extra coach, rarely seeing the court but very active in the locker room and at practice, sharing his wealth of experience with the Jacks’ many youngsters. Hughes was offered a minimum contract to return, but it was a foregone conclusion that he would join his son in Mexico, so Portland targeted another veteran that they felt would be a positive locker room presence with something to share with the kids. Theandre Solverson was signed for that role and isn’t likely to see a lot of action on the court.
Returning: Akieem Martin, Corey Anderton
In: Tahric Kimbrough
Out: Derrick Aririguzoh
Acquired from the Jaguars last off-season, Martin had his finest pro season at age 28, averaging 19.4ppg 11.1rpg (8th in the JBL) and 2.5bpg (10th). Already considered under-rated by Portland fans, this was apparently confirmed when the Lumberjacks were the only team to bid on him this past free agency, despite a modest asking price of $15 million. The Jacks upped their offer to $16m hoping to get a signature before the market came to its senses, but that never happened. A key figure in the locker room and an incredibly tough player on the court, Martin is sure to be a central figure in Portland over the next 5 years.
The Lumberjacks traded former pick 23 Derrick Aririguzoh this off-season with the intention of giving most of his minutes to Bryant. “Guzo” was drafted as the heir to expansion draftee Janev Ciszkiwicx at center, but was developing a little more slowly than 2nd rounders Sylvester and Bryant, so was ultimately sacrificed. Former Vulture Tahric Kimbrough takes his place on the roster, and while he may see a small amount of regular court time, he’s another that was targeted for his experience and leadership. Reports out of Portland suggest that he has already been working closely with Sylvester.
Corey Anderton was a part of the trade which brought in Burke and Charles and was a surprise re-signing after averaging less than 10 minutes for the Jacks. Portland fans have questioned the wisdom of the $2 million, 2 year deal (plus team option for a 3rd year) and it’s fair to say the contract is a bit of a head scratcher. While still only 23 and showing some excellent passing ability for a big guy, it’s hard to see Anderton getting the court time he needs to develop other areas of his game.
After recording 31 wins in their first season and 41 in their second, the Lumberjacks will be hoping to take another similar leap forward into the playoffs this coming season. Most of the team that finished 2022 strongly is returning and that group includes half a dozen talented young players who have continued to improve over the last two years under the guidance of coach Vlade Rimac. Portland can expect further improvement from many of those players, and the addition of a long-sought-after scorer at shooting guard in Vaughn should be worth a few extra wins. Providing the core group stays relatively healthy and Vaughn doesn’t fall off a cliff, the playoffs seem a realistic goal.
Prediction: 47 wins and a first round loss