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How Duop Reath forced his way into the Portland Trail Blazers' rotation
The Trail Blazers waived Duop Reath just days out from their opening game of the 2023-24 season, but it didn't take long for him to make his way back in.
After an impressive five-game stretch at the 2023 NBA Summer League, which led to a contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers, Duop Reath appeared all set for his debut season in the world’s premier basketball competition. But just days out from the Blazers’ first match, Reath was cruelly waived from the fifteen-man roster, before being re-signed on a two-way deal. Reath’s NBA dream wasn’t over just yet, but he would have to work his way back from the G League, on to a team that just traded for credentialed centres DeAndre Ayton and Robert Williams III.
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The 6’11 Reath was not only coming off a productive Summer League campaign, but also a run of hot form with the Australian Boomers. In the absence of the injured Jock Landale, Reath was one of the Boomers’ most productive big men - averaging 8.6 points and 2.4 rebounds at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Although Australia didn’t advance to the quarter-finals, Reath increased his stocks, especially with the widely-held opinion that he may have been underutilised. The 27 year old averaged just 14.6 minutes per game, despite shooting 81% from the field and 75% from beyond the arc (on 1.6 attempts per game). Boomers coach Brian Goorjian often elected not to ride the hot hand, and Reath was forced to settle for a bit part role, even with Landale watching from home.
Fast forwarding to the first game of the 2023-24 G League season, Reath seemed undeterred by his status as a two-way player. The 6’11 centre dropped a whopping 37 points in his debut game for the Rip City Remix, including five three pointers. Facing off against a South Bay Lakers outfit that included countryman Jack White, Reath simply could not be stopped. The former Illawarra Hawk got whatever he wanted inside, often deploying a nifty right hook in the paint. Reath had no trouble backing his defenders down, although he certainly enjoyed some favourable matchups, considering that none of the Lakers’ front court starters stood at over 6’8’’ tall.
Thanks in part to his size, Reath was also able to dominate on the boards, including a couple of second chance putbacks. The Aussie finished with ten rebounds, of which four came on the offensive glass, to augment his 37 point performance with a double double. Moreover, Reath’s improvement as a shooter has been one of the biggest talking points around his game. He made five of six from downtown against the Lakers, proving to be a 6’11 catch-and-shoot weapon. Late in the third quarter, with the Remix up 98-69, Reath even ripped off a midrange fadeaway jumper, in what appeared to be a heat check of sorts.
Defensively, Reath added a couple of blocks to round out his gaudy stat line. He led a Remix front court which collectively suffocated their South Bay counterparts - Jack White, Louis King and Gabe Levin combined for just 12/31 shooting from the field as the Lakers’ three front court starters. After such an explosive well-rounded game to start his season, there was little question that Reath wasn’t far away from an NBA debut. But after it was announced that Robert Williams III was facing season-ending knee surgery, Reath’s NBA debut came perhaps much sooner than anticipated.
With Williams out of the picture, Portland needed a reliable big man to back up Ayton, and Reath emerged as the perfect candidate. The Tokyo Olympian made his NBA debut on November 13 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and showed he isn’t here to just make up the numbers.
Reath dropped 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in just fourteen minutes off the bench, thus making himself known to NBA fans. The crafty centre came off the bench and flashed a moment of playmaking genius, finding a cutting Shaedon Sharpe with a bounce pass that was reminiscent of Josh Giddey.
Reath went on to make three of eight three-pointers, and added a dunk to reach double-digit points. His growth as a shooter has proven to be a major swing skill, and may be the single biggest reason he holds on to an NBA roster spot. Portland lost this narrow contest by a margin of six points, but Reath recorded a +/- of +11 in his fourteen minutes of play. The NBA debutant did log three personal fouls in his limited playing time, but as a bench player that’s not entirely unexpected.
Reath had a much quieter outing in his second Blazers game, finishing with two turnovers and 0/4 shooting in ten minutes of play, while Ayton exploded for a 22-point double-double. Portland lost that contest to Utah by a 115-99 scoreline, but the very next day, Reath bounced back in a big way. Facing a much-hyped Cleveland front court led by Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, Reath enjoyed a breakout game of sorts. He recorded 16 points on 6/10 shooting, which was very nearly a team high - beaten only Jerami Grant’s 17 - and added three assists.
Reath wasn’t as reliant on his three ball in this game, sinking one hook shoot and a couple of high percentage looks on fast breaks. He still made two of five from downtown however, in yet another sign that he excels in a stretch four or stretch five role. Reath flashed his ability as a playmaker in this contest, showing that he can find an open shooter on the perimeter. And although the stat sheet only shows two rebounds for this game, both of those rebounds were corralled on the offensive glass. Reath isn’t one to stat pad on the defensive boards like Russell Westbrook or Luka Dončić - he has shown a propensity to corral high value rebounds.
Defensively Reath doesn’t quite have the lateral quickness to keep up with shifty guards on the perimeter, but at 6’11 he holds high value in a rim protection role. He averaged a touch under two blocks last season for Chinese club Qingdao, and if that interior defence can translate to the NBA level, Reath will be very difficult to keep off the floor. The Blazers head coach recently paid tribute to Reath’s all-around game, and in particular his remarkable shooting ability despite being a 6’11 big man.
“[Reath] has been great man, he's been great. That's one reason why I wanted him on our team so badly. he's so different than our other fives, being able to space the floor. But not only that, he goes in there and rebounds. His offensive rebounding… he's just never giving up out there. He's just got a good feel for the game. He kind of runs the paint, you can throw him at the elbow, he can make different reads and passes. So, I'm happy to [Reath] playing so well. But I'm not surprised,” Billups said, after Portland’s win over Cleveland.
Given that Robert Williams III won’t be returning this season, Reath would be a short priced favourite to hold on to his spot as DeAndre Ayton’s back up. Beyond Reath, the Trail Blazers are very light on genuine big men - 7’2’’ journeyman Moses Brown would be the next man to step up if Ayton and Reath were both absent. Not to wish injury on any player, but if Ayton were to miss some games here and there, Reath has a real opportunity to break out as a starter level NBA player. His stocks are already soaring at an extraordinary rate, and it’s fair to say we might not see him back in the G League this season.