Portland Trail Blazers: NBA season preview, roster and schedule 2018
Portland were amazing after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic, but can they continue playing that well over a full season and make it back to the playoffs?
Arrivals: Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Anthony Morrow, Archie Goodwin
Departures: Allen Crabbe, Festus Ezeli, Tim Quarterman
The Blazers didn’t have the cap space to maneuver much in free agency, but they had three first-round picks to work with ahead of the Draft. They packaged two of those picks to the Sacramento Kings to move up to tenth, which they used to pick center Zach Collins from Gonzaga. They also used their other first-rounder to select another big man in Caleb Swanigan.
Perhaps more importantly for the Blazers, though, they received some huge luxury tax relief after trading Allen Crabbe and his onerous contract to the Brooklyn Nets for Andrew Nicholson, whom the Blazers quickly stretched. They then added veteran Anthony Morrow to replace Crabbe’s shooting from the wing.
The Blazers were also working on a possible trade involving Carmelo Anthony, but Melo eventually went to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers as currently constructed are still a possible playoff team, but they are hardly a lock to make it.
Projected Depth Chart
C – Jusuf Nurkic / Meyers Leonard / Zach Collins
PF – Al-Farouq Aminu / Noah Vonleh / Ed Davis / Caleb Swanigan
SF – Maurice Harkless / Evan Turner / Jake Layman
SG – C. J. McCollum / Anthony Morrow / Pat Connaughton / Archie Goodwin
PG – Damian Lillard / Shabazz Napier
The Blazers have one of the very best offensive backcourts in the game in Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum. The two are proven 20-plus-point scorers in the league and are a huge reason why the Blazers have had a consistently above-average offense over the last few years. Both are capable of breaking down any offense off the dribble, while their ability to hit threes either off the dribble or spotting up is spectacular.
The Portland offense reached another level with the arrival of Jusuf Nurkic just before the All-Star break. The Blazers were a top-five offense in the league post-All-Star break as Nurkic’s passing and pick-and-roll skills brought another dimension to their attack.
The Blazers were reduced to the bare bones in the frontcourt when the Bosnian went down with a leg injury late last season. However, they will at least have more bodies at the big man positions this season with the arrival of Collins and Swanigan.
That added depth up front should help them maintain their excellent interior defense. They gave up the lowest percentage in the league on shot attempts within five feet last season.
Although the Blazers had a good interior defense, their defense everywhere else wasn’t quite up to par. They still finished way down in defensive efficiency due to a couple of factors.
They were among the league’s worst at forcing turnovers and allowing opponents to get to the free throw line. They didn’t give up a ton of three-pointers, but opponents shot an unusually high percentage when they were able to launch.
While the team has decent depth at center and power forward, they don’t have quite as many options at the guard positions. While Morrow is a capable three-point shooter, there’s a reason he hasn’t stuck around with one team for more than two seasons over his career: he can’t play defense.An injury to either Lillard or McCollum will put the team’s backcourt depth in a real bind as they have no starting-caliber guards behind them.
Their options at small forward are also lacking. Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless, and Evan Turner are all fine players, but like Morrow none of them is an above-average three-and-D wing who can hit three-pointers consistently and play strong defense.
Player to Watch – Jusuf Nurkic
Nurkic was arguably the best mid-season pickup for any team last campaign after arriving from the Denver Nuggets for Mason Plumlee. The Blazers ended the season on fire with Nurkic making a huge impact on both ends of the court. He had the third-highest net rating on the team post-ASG and produced some truly outstanding performances.
One of his standout games was his career-high 33-point outing in his first meeting against his old team, the Nuggets.