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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?


Offseason Recap

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

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

But as incredibly as Nurkic played for 20 games last season, he now has to prove he can do it for an entire year. He’s risen up to the challenge in terms of his preparation, as he has reportedly lost some 30 pounds over the offseason. 

If he can’t agree to a contract extension with the Blazers in the next few days, Nurkic will be in line for a massive contract in restricted free agency next season if he can prove that he is indeed as good as he showed last season.

2017/18 Schedule

1 Oct 18, 2017 @ Phoenix Suns    

2 Oct 20, 2017 @ Indiana Pacers    

3 Oct 21, 2017 @ Milwaukee Bucks    

4 Oct 24, 2017 vs. New Orleans Pelicans    

5 Oct 26, 2017 vs. Los Angeles Clippers    

6 Oct 28, 2017 vs. Phoenix Suns    

7 Oct 30, 2017 vs. Toronto Raptors    

8 Nov 1, 2017 @ Utah Jazz    

9 Nov 2, 2017 vs. Los Angeles Lakers    

10 Nov 5, 2017 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder    

11 Nov 7, 2017 vs. Memphis Grizzlies    

12 Nov 10, 2017 vs. Brooklyn Nets    

13 Nov 13, 2017 vs. Denver Nuggets    

14 Nov 15, 2017 vs. Orlando Magic    

15 Nov 17, 2017 @ Sacramento Kings    

16 Nov 18, 2017 vs. Sacramento Kings    

17 Nov 20, 2017 @ Memphis Grizzlies    

18 Nov 22, 2017 @ Philadelphia 76ers    

19 Nov 24, 2017 @ Brooklyn Nets    

20 Nov 25, 2017 @ Washington Wizards    

21 Nov 27, 2017 @ New York Knicks    

22 Nov 30, 2017 vs. Milwaukee Bucks    

23 Dec 2, 2017 vs. New Orleans Pelicans    

24 Dec 5, 2017 vs. Washington Wizards    

25 Dec 9, 2017 vs. Houston Rockets    

26 Dec 11, 2017 @ Golden State Warriors    

27 Dec 13, 2017 @ Miami Heat    

28 Dec 15, 2017 @ Orlando Magic    

29 Dec 16, 2017 @ Charlotte Hornets    

30 Dec 18, 2017 @ Minnesota Timberwolves   

31 Dec 20, 2017 vs. San Antonio Spurs    

32 Dec 22, 2017 vs. Denver Nuggets    

33 Dec 23, 2017 @ Los Angeles Lakers    

34 Dec 28, 2017 vs. Philadelphia 76ers    

35 Dec 30, 2017 @ Atlanta Hawks    

36 Jan 1, 2018 @ Chicago Bulls    

37 Jan 2, 2018 @ Cleveland Cavaliers    

38 Jan 5, 2018 vs. Atlanta Hawks    

39 Jan 7, 2018 vs. San Antonio Spurs    

40 Jan 9, 2018 @ Oklahoma City Thunder    

41 Jan 10, 2018 @ Houston Rockets    

42 Jan 12, 2018 @ New Orleans Pelicans    

43 Jan 14, 2018 @ Minnesota Timberwolves    

44 Jan 16, 2018 vs. Phoenix Suns    

45 Jan 18, 2018 vs. Indiana Pacers    

46 Jan 20, 2018 vs. Dallas Mavericks    

47 Jan 22, 2018 @ Denver Nuggets    

48 Jan 24, 2018 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves    

49 Jan 26, 2018 @ Dallas Mavericks    

50 Jan 30, 2018 @ Los Angeles Clippers    

51 Jan 31, 2018 vs. Chicago Bulls    

52 Feb 2, 2018 @ Toronto Raptors    

53 Feb 4, 2018 @ Boston Celtics    

54 Feb 5, 2018 @ Detroit Pistons    

55 Feb 8, 2018 vs. Charlotte Hornets    

56 Feb 9, 2018 @ Sacramento Kings    

57 Feb 11, 2018 vs. Utah Jazz    

58 Feb 14, 2018 vs. Golden State Warriors    

59 Feb 23, 2018 @ Utah Jazz    

60 Feb 24, 2018 @ Phoenix Suns    

61 Feb 27, 2018 vs. Sacramento Kings    

62 Mar 1, 2018 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves    

63 Mar 3, 2018 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder    

64 Mar 5, 2018 @ Los Angeles Lakers    

65 Mar 6, 2018 vs. New York Knicks    

66 Mar 9, 2018 vs. Golden State Warriors    

67 Mar 12, 2018 vs. Miami Heat    

68 Mar 15, 2018 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers    

69 Mar 17, 2018 vs. Detroit Pistons    

70 Mar 18, 2018 @ Los Angeles Clippers    

71 Mar 20, 2018 vs. Houston Rockets    

72 Mar 23, 2018 vs. Boston Celtics    

73 Mar 25, 2018 @ Oklahoma City Thunder    

74 Mar 27, 2018 @ New Orleans Pelicans    

75 Mar 28, 2018 @ Memphis Grizzlies    

76 Mar 30, 2018 vs. Los Angeles Clippers    

77 Apr 1, 2018 vs. Memphis Grizzlies    

78 Apr 3, 2018 @ Dallas Mavericks    

79 Apr 5, 2018 @ Houston Rockets    

80 Apr 7, 2018 @ San Antonio Spurs    

81 Apr 9, 2018 @ Denver Nuggets    

82 Apr 11, 2018 vs. Utah Jazz  

Prediction

Nurkic proves he's no fluke as he continues to play well and helps the Blazers compete for one of the final spots in the West. They finish 43-39 but miss out on the postseason as their questionable depth and defense come back to bite. 

How do you see the Blazers' season going? Let us know in the comments below!

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Brad Taningco

Brad Taningco has been a RealSport NBA contributor since Decemeber 2016. But apart from basketball, he's also a fan of soccer, American football, baseball, and ice hockey.

Portland Trail Blazers: NBA season preview, roster and schedule 2018

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