Portland Trail Blazers Team Previewby Joey Almendras October 8, 2021 1 comment
Fueled by some medium-sized offseason deals, the Blazers have accelerated the rebuilding of their team. Manager Neil Olshey quickly altered his club by acquiring promising players and coaches. These new additions, who are mostly experienced players, should be able to produce without any glitches. Even with their new members, the Blazers still have offensive talent in their remaining star players and, hopefully, health should be on their side this time.
What happened last year? The team finished the 72-game season with a 42-30 record and were good enough to grab the sixth seed in the Western Conference. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to a Denver Nuggets team missing Jamal Murray. So the chance to reach the second round was a missed opportunity.
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The Dame Drama. That’s the first thing everyone will think about. Damian Lillard was visibly disappointed after their playoff exit and at one point looked like he was out of Portland. Then the coaching changes happened. Terry Stotts promptly left. Chauncey Billups grabbed the head coaching job and Scott Brooks jumped in as an assistant. These coaching changes have helped silence the groans of Lillard.
You’ll still hear little groans from the fans but those groans are probably about the roster changes. Compared to the colossal trades made by other teams, you’ll realize that Portland’s transactions were not that super-sized. Yes, the players they got are not that great but at least they’ll be good enough to provide a positive culture change. Notable newcomers are Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell, and Cody Zeller. The Blazers also drafted Greg Brown III who has already shown potential based on his first preseason game.
The Starting Five
PG – Damian Lillard
SG – CJ McCollum
SF – Norman Powell
PF – Robert Covington
C – Jusuf Nurkic
Lillard and McCollum will be the players to watch. Expect an abundance of clutch three-point bombs from these two. Those 35-footers by Lillard can cause pandemonium inside any arena. Powell will provide significant offensive help from the forward spot and everyone is hoping that Covington can still provide a few steals and some long-range shooting. For Nurkic, a full season of staying healthy will be considered a success and that alone will be a big relief for the fans.
Is everyone back and ready for an 82-game season? McCollum and Nurkic missed games last year. These two vital parts of the team’s structure can’t afford to be injured again. Staying healthy will be the centerpiece of this year’s rejuvenation.
One thing Portland fans probably learned last year was the “deflections per game” statistic and they were thrilled to find out that Nance was an expert “deflector”. Deflections and steals are some of the things the Blazers will need if they don’t want to be ranked 29th in defensive ratings. Losing Carmelo Anthony, who was not known for his defense, might help the team after all. They also have Cody Zeller who’ll be a solid replacement for Enes Kanter in terms of manning the paint. Lastly, Tony Snell and the rest of the bench should, at the very least, give the squad a competitive boost when needed.
One Potential Move to Make
The first move is to not make a move. Let’s give Billups and the new look Blazers one season to start up this new version of the team. The second move is to wait. Next year’s list of free agents, especially in the guard and forward positions, is going to be deep. The team could be better off playing the waiting game. Those McCollum trade rumors you’ve been hearing about last week could be a reality next season.
The Blazers have an active postseason streak with eight appearances. That should give them the momentum to make the playoffs again for the ninth year in a row. Can they take advantage of the injuries to Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard and overtake the Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers in the standings? That’s hard to tell. Another thing to watch out for is the return of Klay Thompson. A healthy and trigger-happy Klay would mean that the Golden State Warriors are taking at least one playoff spot away from the Blazers.
Season Prediction: 45-37 and Third in the Northwest Division.
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