Blazers

Blazers Trying to Go From Eight to Great

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After being knocked out in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers, going 1-3 in the preseason isn’t exactly what the Blazers wanted.

After a blowout victory against the Sacramento Kings, the Portland Trail Blazers proceeded to drop their next three games. This drought continued into the regular season with a blowout loss against the Jazz, but turned around quickly and with style. They beat the Rockets in an overtime thriller with 44 points and the game-winning three from CJ McCollum, and then posted a statement victory against the Lakers at Staples Center behind a 31-point effort from Dame.

That’s just three games, however. What does the rest of the season hold for the Blazers?

The Starters

Damian Lillard

Fun fact: Last season, Damian Lillard shot more efficiently from 30+ feet than all but seven players did from the normal three-point line. On 127 attempts.

Coming off his best season yet, Dame looks to force his way into the MVP conversation. He put up the numbers for the award last season (30 points on 40% from 3??), but now he should also have the team success to warrant the votes. Through three games, he’s put up 24/4/7 on 58% TS. Taking away the Utah blunder, he’s averaging more than 30.

Per usual, the success of this team does hinge on how he performs, pending CJ McCollum taking a late-career jump in talent. I say expect around 28/4/8 on efficient shooting, with some half-court shots sprinkled in there.

Speaking of CJ…

CJ McCollum

It’s a shame we will never see McCollum fully unlocked. We get glimpses of his true potential whenever Dame is hurt, and boy is it special, but sadly, there are just not enough shots to go around for both of them. CJ averaged a healthy 22/4/4 last season, on 54% true-shooting, and has been at that rate for a few seasons now.

He has struggled to re-gain the elite-ness of his 16-17 season, but that looks like it may turn around this year. He’s averaging 27/3/7 on 57% TS through three games, and his offensive bag looks deeper than ever. Obviously this play won’t last the entire season, but I think it’s safe to predict a 24/3/5 year from Christian James.

The Mystery 3 & 4

Well this is a first.

There is currently a log-jam at the wing slots in the Blazers’ rotation. All the players provide upside, and I would listen to an argument for any of them to start over the others. The only guy here who I think is a sure-fire starter is Robert Covington. The matter at hand is if he starts at the 3 or the 4, and who slots in wherever he isn’t.

At the 3, Derrick Jones Jr. provides unparalleled athleticism and solid defense, especially around the arc, but Rodney Hood is without a doubt the better pure scorer and one of the most efficient players in the league. And if Bob Cov were to play the 3, that would likely mean Zach Collins plays the 4 and brings his shot-blocking and floor-stretching to the starting lineup.

Plus, Collins would be extra-motivated to perform with him and Portland not agreeing to a contract extension before the deadline. But he’s currently out with an ankle injury for at least another three weeks, so that lineup is out of the cards for now. I think that we’ll see Covington starting at the 4 at the start of the season, with DJJ and Hoodie rotating at the 3, depending on opponent, health, etc.

Jusuf Nurkic

Contrary to what Kevin O’Connor will try and tell you, the Bosnian Beast is back. Going from Hassan Whiteside to Jusuf Nurkic as your starting center is arguably one of the biggest upgrades of this previous offseason. From the glimpse we got of him in the bubble, he looks back to form, and is ready to improve.

He hasn’t looked stellar in the three games played, but he’s been against arguably the two best defensive centers in the league, and hasn’t been used offensively by Stotts as one may have anticipated. He had a healthy 12/11 against Houston, and is averaging 11/9/4 on 57% TS on the season. If he can continue to improve his defense, and the Blazers team success improves as well, he’ll be vying for an all-star spot in the west.

Bench Mob

Mario Hezonja is no longer the main option off the bench, and that alone means the Blazers are going to the finals.

Ok that’s a little much, but you get the idea. The Blazer bench is going to be a lot better this season.

  • One of Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney Hood, and Zach Collins
  • Bubble-breakout star Gary Trent Jr.
  • Pre-Season GOAT Harry Giles III
  • Enes Kanter
  • And of course, Carmelo Anthony

I think that’s one of the best benches in the league, and as long as they can hold the fort down while Dame gets his rest, they can be lethal.

So far, Gary Trent Jr. is obviously the highlight off of the bench. His 28 against the defending champs was as good a bench performance as any team can expect this season. Enes Kanter has also been quite serviceable, averaging 11/10 on an ABSURD 82% TS.

Carmelo didn’t play against the Lakers, so we don’t have as big a sample size for him, but he has looked… disappointing. He’s averaging 10/2/2 on 42% TS. Now this would be excusable if he was making up for it on the defensive end, but he’s been abysmal defensively. I do think he will find a better flow in the offense (less midrange fadeaways, more ball movement and spot-ups), but it may take a while.

Team Success

This is what it’s all about, really. How far will the Blazers push themselves this season? As stated, this is the most stacked the West has been in a LONG time – maybe ever – and it’s going to be a warzone to win in the playoffs. Here are my standing predictions.

  1. Lakers
  2. Clippers
  3. Blazers
  4. Nuggets
  5. Mavericks
  6. Jazz
  7. Suns
  8. Pelicans
  • Play-in
  • Grizzlies
  • T-Wolves

Playoffs

Is this optimistic? I don’t think so. The Lakers and Clippers are obviously the top dogs, but the Nuggets are off to a rough start, the Jazz employ Mike Conley, and the Mavs are gonna be without the Unicorn for at least the first month and a half. Granted, of course, these are still all solid teams, so it’s gonna be no easy task. This is also hinging on the assumption that the Blazers will be relatively healthy for the whole season and avoid virus cases. I don’t think I can take another season of Nurkic in and out of the lineup.

This standing prediction has the Blazers taking on the Utah Jazz in the first round, which I think will only add to the list of amazing playoff series from the Blazers these past few years. Despite the Jazz torching the Blazers on opening night, I have the Blazers in 6. The Jazz are a formidable foe, but I just trust Dame and CJ more than Spida and Conley. Now the Blazers theoretically play one of the Clippers or the Suns, and I have them playing the Clippers.

Blazers lose here in 6.

I don’t think this is disrespectful, the Clippers are really, REALLY, good. Dame puts up a good effort, the the Clips just have too many dawgs.

And with that, it’s time to gear up for next year. Apologies to Charles Barkley’s wallet.

About Isaac Hinson

blazers enthusiast. 17.

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