Predicted finish: 4th in the West (2nd in the Northwest, 10th in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 8th
After an injury plagued 2019-20, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to squeak into the playoffs thanks to a little help from the NBA Bubble. Now back fully healthy, and better rested than many of their western conference competitors, I think the Blazers are primed for a big 2020-21 NBA season. It really can’t be understated how big it is having Jusuf Nurkic back who is arguably a better player than CJ McCollum fully healthy. He and Damian Lillard have outstanding chemistry offensively and defensively he’s the anchor they didn’t have last season. Also in is new addition Robert Covington who should be a beautiful fit next to Lillard and McCollum. I don’t think they’re quite a title team but they should be a strong playoff team with the chance to be more. Oh, and they have a guy in Lillard who no one wants to go up against.
The big question for the franchise: Is the Dame, CJ, Nurkic trio enough?
As good as these three guys are and they’re really good, it has to be asked if it’s enough. Can you really win a title with Lillard, Nurkic and McCollum as your three best players? I sincerely doubt it but this season they’ll have a full year to prove me and a ton of others wrong. Nurkic is a beautiful piece for Lillard but to me the weak link has always been CJ. His skillset just feels redundant next to a guy like Lillard who’s in a lot of ways just an upgraded version of him in every way. That’s why I think the most pressure is on McCollum this year. Dame is Dame and Nurkic doesn’t quite have the game to make an exceptional difference in the playoffs. McCollum though, if he were to go up a level and become a real All-Star instead of a media proclaimed he would be if he was in the East one, then maybe I’ll be a believer. As presently constructed now though, I’m a doubter. With their ages all nearing 30, this feels like it’s it, will they have enough to prove us all wrong this year?
One move I want to see them make: Upgrade the forward spot (especially defensively)
Part of why I’m not the biggest believer in this team being a real title threat is no matter what, they have two below average defenders on the floor. An upgrade next to Covington could change that though as that would make three plus defenders in the front court. As it stands right now with Hood or maybe eventually Collins starting, I just don’t think they have enough defensively to hang with the big boys over seven games. An upgrade at the right spot this season could go a long way to changing that though.
Offseason Grade: B+
Covington was a smart move but two picks felt like a lot. I love the Harry Giles and Derrick Jones upside signings and bringing back Melo and Kanter should be great for the locker room. There’s no doubt to me this team is better than when the Lakers knocked them out and being fully healthy on top of that has to have Blazers fans feeling extremely optimistic.
Young player I’m excited for: Zach Collins
Last season was basically a wash for Collins with injuries and sadly this season is starting on a similar note. When he gets back on the floor though, I’m excited. In the playoffs, especially against Denver, he showed some stuff as a four and small five that was really intriguing. He has the potential to be a plus defender, has good feel around the basket and maybe just maybe will shoot the three well. In short, there’s not a difficult path to see for him to become a perfect new age big and that has me ready to lock in to the Blazers this season to see if it happens.
The Blazers took a step forward this offseason. I’ve seen some people projecting them as a playoff question mark and to me that’s ridiculous. I’d be more surprised if they missed the playoffs than made the conference finals, this team is straight up good. To me it feels like it could be shaping for the Lillard MVP regular season we all remember just because of how good he was last year and now with more help this year, it’ll only get easier. Stay tuned for my MVP pick Blazer’s fans, you’ll probably be excited, let’s just say that. Regardless, I think this team will be good this year and if nothing else, absurdly fun to watch offensively.