ESPN’s Zach Lowe dove into his observations for each NBA team, ranking them into tiers for the upcoming season. The top tier? Solely the Golden State Warriors (of course). The last team is the woeful Chicago Bulls. The Portland Trail Blazers are placed in the big blob of teams slotted from 5th to 11th in the Western Conference, which he calls “The Most Interesting Part of the League”. He minces no words about the lower-seed buzzsaw:
Holy hell, does it suck to be in the West. There are least seven teams competing for the last four playoff spots, and they are all solid! Good luck picking which four make it. Injuries will play a huge role.
The tier comprises 7 teams: The Nuggets, Timberwolves, Jazz, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Blazers. Despite keeping their rotation mostly intact, sans Allen Crabbe, Lowe argues that coach Terry Stotts may struggle to dial in the lineups.
Portland faces a lot of questions -- including who rounds out the starting five next to Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. With Allen Crabbe and his odious contract in Brooklyn, the Blazers have no choice but to use a ton of lineups, including the starting group, featuring three unreliable 3-point shooters.
However, he notes that Portland’s defense may be legitimately better than the past few seasons after integrating Nurkic fully into the system.
[The Blazers] cut their foul rate dramatically, a trend that might be sustainable. Nurkic prefers to hang back against the pick-and-roll, allowing the rest of the Blazers to stick closer to shooters. Fewer rotations mean fewer reaches, bumps, and free enemy points.
He also makes the case that, despite his poor three-point shooting, Evan Turner may actually be a boon to the offense thanks to his ball-handling skills.
What’s his final verdict?
If the Nurkic Fever lasts, the Blazers are better than the team that was outscored by 43 points last season. That still might not be good enough in the West. Egads.
Buckle up for a wild 2017-18 season.