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The Trail Blazers Need to Balance Minutes for Lillard, McCollum

Portland’s big stars have played big minutes in previous seasons. Might this be the year they even out?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers
Apr 24, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) and guard Damian Lillard (0) talk during a break in the action against the Golden State Warriors in the second half of game four of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2018-19 Portland Trail Blazers season preview at Blazer’s Edge! We’re going to have several pieces today taking a look at the upcoming year, including some from authors you’re less familiar with. This one is written by staffer Kody Tarbell. Enjoy!

When the Portland Trail Blazers begin their 2018-19 season against the Los Angeles Lakers, three names will take center stage: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. During the off-season, analysts have the luxury of pointing to mid-rotation players and rookies. Once the ball goes up in the air for real, most NBA teams—including the Blazers—live by their stars. That reality comes with a cost, however. It’s one the Blazers might look to ease this year.

Regardless of how well the second unit thrives under Head Coach Terry Stotts’ upgraded system, the Blazers big three will be getting the bulk of playing time. Last season, Lillard and McCollum finished in the top 12 for minutes per game around 36 minutes. Lillard for the second year in a row finished in the top 5 with 36.6 MPG.

If the second unit can contribute regularly, the Blazers have the opportunity to take a little bit of pressure off their All Star. At age 28, Lillard is in his prime. Much like a running back in the NFL you never can be sure how many productive years are left in him. Now that the Blazers have the chance to rely on their second unit for help, it should give their backcourt the opportunity to focus more of their energy elsewhere on the court and make sure they can be well prepared for another tough year in the loaded Western Conference playoff hunt.

For Nurkic it should be the opposite. With a year under his belt and a new toned down look, he was able to average 26.4 MPG in 79 games. While Nurkic was able to remain healthy most of the season, the main concern was making sure he could remain out of foul trouble. With the Blazers safety net in Ed Davis gone, the team will most likely struggle defensively if Nurkic remains out of games for extended periods of time. If the Kings game is any indication, it seems to be still be a work in progress. If Nurkic can show he can play without committing bad fouls during crustal minutes, he might just get that recognition he’s been searching for in Defensive Player of the Year.

How do you think the Big 3 minutes will shake out?