The opening game of the 2017-18 season for the Portland Trail Blazers is but hours away now. Anticipating the excitement for this matchup with the Phoenix Suns, we asked the Blazer’s Edge staff a simple question: What Trail Blazers player are you most excited to see this year? Here are their responses.
The Bosnian Beast
It's gotta be Jusuf Nurkic. After teasing Blazers fans with stellar performance in his 20 games last season, he's coming into this season motivated, healthy, ready to play big minutes, and has lost 35 pounds. Not to mention that Stotts finally had an offseason to design plays to run through him. What's not to be excited about?
—Peter Sampson @PeterSampson
It has to be Nurkic. If Nurkic plays at a high level this is a dangerous team that could conceivably put a scare into elite teams around the league. If those flashes we saw last year and in the pre-season are the exception and not the rule, or if God forbid he continues to have injury problems, the Blazers have a very long and difficult year ahead. Nurkic's year may also determine the future makeup of the team. With a "big three" the Blazers have options to fill in any missing pieces. If what we really have is a "big two" of Dame and CJ it is hard to see a way forward without trading one or the other.
—Paul Navarre @paulnavarre
The player I am most excited for is Noah Vonleh. The centerpiece of the Nicolas Batum trade has oozed potential since his selection with ninth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. However, despite flashy preseason and Summer League play, he has not come close to the expectations of a top ten pick. He is only 22, but with the selections of Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, his time to shine is now. He has the potential to be a 10 and 7 game changer off the bench which can give the Trail Blazers badly needed bench depth. Time for him to show that.
—Ryan A Sterling @Chase_BlazEdge
I'm excited to see if Noah continues his upward trajectory from last season. Will he cement himself as the starting power forward going forward? Or will he lose ground to the rookies. This is a pivotal season for him.
—Ryne Buchanan @ryne_buchanan
CJ McCollum has rewarded Portland's commitment to him by making noticeable improvements to his game each year, and I am excited to see if that trend continues into this season. Instead of just enjoying his dynamic play, I often fall in the trap of worrying about the long-term viability of the Blazers' backcourt. This season, I am making a conscious effort to enjoy every crossover, transition three, and celebration. Thanks to McCollum's suspension, I'll also have to learn patience along with appreciation.
--Steve Dewald @SteveDHoops
The player I am most excited to watch this season is Ed Davis. I loved how he played in his first year in Portland. I always said he dove for rebounds like he was trying to catch a spider before it fell on his wife's head. (I have no idea if he actually has a wife or how she feels about spiders). His diminished production last season was puzzling to me until we learned about his shoulder injury. Between wanting to prove himself again and playing for a contract, I'm expecting big, fun things from Phys Ed this season.
—Tara Bowen-Biggs @tcbbiggs
I was really torn on this but when I think about it, Moe Harkless could sneakily be the barometer for this team. His performance could play a major role as to whether the Blazers finish 5th or 11th. Dame, CJ and Nurkic (the latter to a lesser extent) are more or less known quantities and will drive this team as far as they can. But if Moe, still only 24, can take that next step, solidify the starting small forward spot – with consistent and versatile defense and an improved shot – he could make a real difference.
I'm hoping that by the All-Star break Moe is a cemented starter – and not because of a lack of competition – which will give this team an established core that could pose a serious threat to some of those upper echelon western teams.
—Adrian Bernecich @abernecich
We all saw what Napier could do in college -- leading UCONN to a championship his senior year comes to mind -- but he’s been on a new team each of his three seasons in the NBA. His ceiling in Rip City is only so high given Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in front of him, but he put in games of 32 and 25 points as those two sat at the end of last season, showing he’s able to produce given the minutes.
Allen Crabbe’s absence leaves 28.5 minutes per game behind, so I’m looking for Napier to step up, earn more minutes and carve out a solid reserve role -- or the guard, who is set to enter restricted free agency after the season, could wind up on yet another team in the summer of 2018.
—Isaiah de Los Santos @_idelossantos
I'm mostly excited to see Caleb Swanigan partly because I've seen everyone else on this roster besides Caleb and fellow rookie Zach Collins. Swanigan has already been getting some buzz as one of the steals of the draft. The former Big 10 Player of the Year has impressed so far in Summer league and preseason play. His rebounding, energy, and toughness could be a real asset for the Blazers even if he doesn't get a lot of minutes.
—Miles Custis @MilesCustis
I'm excited to see more from Caleb Swanigan. He's tailor-made for Blazer fans: He's a blue-collar guy from humble origins, who looks ready to rise to the occasion. What's not to like? He had an up-and-down preseason, but he seems like a guy who will work hard behind the scenes and learn from his mistakes. I have no idea what Caleb Swanigan I'll see by game 41, and that makes him the player I'm most excited to see develop.
Caleb Swanigan- Big 3, smig 3. We know those guys are good, great, grand. Fantastic even. But I'm like a raccoon- give me something new and shiny heading into the season and it'll keep my attention through the ups and downs like no other. Swanigan is the ultimate mystery box, he could be anything! I love Dame, CJ, and Nurkić and I'm stoked to see what they do this year, but Swanigan just has that new car smell and I want to see what happens when you take him out and open up the throttle.
—Dan Marang @DMarang
I’m excited about Caleb Swanigan. Outside of high lottery picks, it’s rare to draft a rookie that checks the physical, mental, and skill boxes, without question. He’s not a project. Sure, there will be a learning curve, as with any first-year player, but he’s got a lot to offer already and looks like a potential steal for this team that often must build from within.
—David MacKay @DavidMacKayNBA
I assume I am not the only person that answers this question this way, but I'm taking Swanigan There is not an accurate comparison to him in the NBA. Not only is he not the agile 4 that we are used to seeing in today's NBA, but he has a fight and an aggression in his style of play that may be matched at best, but will never be topped. Opponents are going to hate playing against him, I'm going to love it.
—Brian Freeman @BrianFreeman24
So there you have it! Our staff is excited about an eclectic mix of players, but the trend runs heavily towards Swanigan. Is that where you are as well? What player are you most excited to see? Let us know in the comment section!