Blazers

Blazers Hope New Additions Raise Playoff Floor

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After a disheartening, early exit from the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers entered the offseason with questions surrounding the team’s ability to compete with the Western Conference elites.

Losing in the first round to a Denver team missing two of its starters wasn’t the eye-popping performance needed of the squad who seldom found cohesion in their playstyle. Instead, they relied on masterful offensive performances from Damian Lillard to win them all but two games.

After their Game 6 loss, a deflated Damian was put on record saying, “If you look at our team as it is going into next season, I don’t see how you can say this is a championship team.”

Lillard says he expected to be back in a Blazers uniform, and indeed his intentions to stay are now clear, but that hasn’t stopped the swirling rumors surrounding Lillard’s loyalty to the franchise. Many believe without the crystallization of a championship-caliber roster, Lillard will be looking elsewhere in the years to come.

The quest to build such a roster begins this summer. After releasing Head Coach Terry Stotts, the new Trail Blazers brain-trust fronted by new coach Chauncey Billups has already begun making moves.

Grading The Trail Blazers Acquisitions:

Cody Zeller, C, 1-year $2.3 million (Acquired from Charlotte): Grade – C+

Though at first glance, this may seem like a woefully average pickup by Portland — especially considering the losses of both Enes Kanter and Zach Collins at the five — there is some upside to this signing.

Getting the statistically consistent Zeller for just under $2.5 million is a steal. His large 6-11, 240lb frame will be a welcome force in the paint. Zeller has turned himself into one of the finer offensive rebounders in the league, posting an average of 2.5 last year, good for 8th amongst all players. This is one facet where it seems Kanter has been adequately replaced, not to mention Zeller’s improved commitment to locking down players on the pick and roll.

Though it stings to never realize the full potential of Zach Collins, his departure will free up much-needed cap space for the rest of the team. With only two true big men on the roster, the Blazers must attempt to re-sign Harry Giles for depth consideration.

Ben McLemore, SF, 1-year $2.3 million (Acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers): Grade – B-

Highly touted out of Kansas eight years ago, Ben McLemore’s production has since stagnated. Now playing on his sixth NBA team, McLemore has much to prove since he averaged his career-high in points per game in 2014. His addition to the roster adds much even more depth to an already versatile SF slate.

Though he’ll likely rescind minutes to both Norman Powell and Derrick Jones Jr., a 3rd-string position is one that fits his stats. Billups would be wise to tinker with Ben’s minutes during the regular season as he can be a scoring spark off the bench. The eight-year vet plays little-to-no defense, so don’t expect major minutes.

After all, Powell and Jones Jr. have already proven their defensive prowess.

McLemore receives a slightly higher score than Zeller because of his overall impact on the depth of the roster.

Norman Powell, SF, 5-year $90 million (Re-Signed): Grade – A

Two years removed from an NBA-Championship with Toronto, Powell started and closed out a career year in 2021. The ascending two-way star almost recorded a 50-40-90 season after shooting just under 90% from the free-throw stripe.

Reliable on both ends of the floor, Powell will look to engage himself as a team leader this upcoming season. During the NBA’s Summer League, Billups remarked, “This team is already a good team, I just want to enhance it. That starts with getting better defensively.”. Re-signing Powell for the long haul could provide the Blazers with that necessary defensive boost. With an entire off-season/regular season to gel with with the new philosophy and nail down his role, Powell can begin to create problems for opposing teams.

It also never hurts to add an NBA champion to your roster.

Tony Snell, SG, 1-year $2.4 million (Acquired from Atlanta): Grade – C

After two brief year-long stints with the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, Tony Snell’s NBA future is precarious to say the least. He appeared in just over half of Atlanta’s games last season.

Portland needs depth at the shooting-guard position. Before signing Snell, only Anfernee Simons backed up McCollum. Snell provides depth, but will be an experiment, one that could fail just as easily as it succeeds. The eight-year veteran has never averaged a double-digit scoring season in his career, but is an excellent shooter from both three-point range and the free-throw line.

Similar to McLemore, it’s likely Snell will be used of the bench in spats while Coach Billups tinkers with the SG rotation.

Defense for Snell can be a liability– one problem Portland doesn’t need to rear its ugly head a second-straight season. Aside from garbage-time and health concerns, however, Snell will likely see the bench for the majority of his 2021 season.

Larry Nance Jr., PF, Two-Year Team Option $10.6 million, (Acquired via Cavaliers in three-way-trade): Grade – B+

The final move of Portland’s offseason sent Derrick Jones Jr. and two draft picks to Cleveland for Larry Nance Jr. Although a superior athlete, Jones Jr.’s lack of size left considerable weaknesses on defense. This was made especially apparent once Portland’s rotation was depleted due to injury.

Larry Nance Jr. comes to Portland as an excellent compliment to the defensive end while simultaneously bringing improved size to a side that desperately needs it. A participant in the NBA’s 2018 dunk contest, Nance Jr. is just as exemplary of an athlete as the departed Jones Jr.

Versatility is paramount in Nance’s addition. The 6’7 forward can play center in smaller lineups behind Nurkic and can also expand his range to fit in nicely alongside Portland’s three-point arsenal.

Overall Off-Season Grade: B-

Portland opens the 2021-22 season at home tonight against the Sacramento Kings.

Follow us on Twitter @BlazersLead for the latest Blazers news and insight. 

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