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Trail Blazers 2018-19 Season Preview: Lillard, McCollum Anchor Roster

Blazer’s Edge contributors Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald analyze Portland’s guard rotation.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Trail Blazers training camp is nearly upon us. Before the regular season action gets underway, Portland will try to mold its current crop of players into a cast of contributors. Today’s preview focuses on the members of the squad that will be tasked with driving coach Terry Stotts’ offense for the 2018-19 season.

While this preview will feature guards, it will not highlight every player currently listed at the position on the Blazers’ roster. Barring a change in playing style, Gary Trent Jr. and Nik Stauskas are primed for a roles that highlight their skills off of the ball. Evan Turner was also omitted from this preview due to his previous track record with Portland. According to Basketball Reference, the former Celtic wing has spent over 90 percent of his time with the Blazers as a small forward.

With that trio out of the mix, the guard preview will discuss the following players:

  • Damian Lillard
  • CJ McCollum
  • Seth Curry
  • Wade Baldwin IV
  • Anfernee Simons

Our previews this year will feature input from Blazer’s Edge contributors Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald.

Let’s get to the discussion.

Portland’s starting backcourt is once again set in stone, but how do you see Shabazz Napier’s former role being filled for this season? A healthy Curry has to be the clear favorite, right?

Steve: If Curry is able to recapture his pre-injury form, it is tough to bet against him earning the lion’s share of minutes behind the starters. But I can’t help but get excited about Baldwin’s potential on the defense. He has the length and tenacity to guard multiple positions, and force turnovers.

The Blazers’ conservative defensive scheme doesn’t produce a ton of easy opportunities, but Baldwin has the tools to wreak havoc without outside help. Portland’s second unit would obviously benefit from Curry’s floor spacing, but don’t discount Baldwin’s potential to create easy baskets in transition.

Brian: I like the addition of Curry to this backcourt and am excited about his potential. That said, Baldwin brings a defensive presence to the backcourt that no one else on this list even sniffs. This alone will carve out some sort of role for him but it will be interesting to see how important that is to the Stotts rotation. Baldwin could do himself some favors by shooting the ball from the outside like he did in summer league.

Back to the starters. Lillard made significant improvements on the defensive end of the court last season. It doesn’t have to be defense, but is McCollum capable of following suit and making a similar jump?

Brian: CJ was slightly worse across the board last year than he was in the 16-17 season and one of his biggest regressions was shot efficiency. I would be content with CJ getting back to his 16-17 efficiency again (48 fg% compared to 44% last year). If he was able to start creating more on the drive instead of committing to score too early, he may be able to avoid enough bad shots to find himself near that 50% field goal mark. That would be an incredible lift for a Blazer team without a much potential for improvement.

Steve: Outside of individual scoring numbers, McCollum should capitalize on more minutes next to better shooters in the second unit. If Portland’s rotations follow a similar pattern, McCollum will be surrounded by floor spacers when Lillard heads to the bench. Zach Collins, Seth Curry and Gary Trent Jr. will provide McCollum will plenty of opportunities to increase his assist numbers.

Every season features surprises. If you had to predict something unexpected from this group, what would it be?

Steve: Patience will be key with Simons, but I can’t help myself. Armed with a quick release and a penchant to create separation, Simons has all the tools to provide instant offense off the bench. If he can adjust to the speed of the game, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Stotts turn to the 19-year-old guard when Portland needs a spark on offense.

Brian: I predict that half of the Blazers top eight players in minutes this season, are on this list. Lillard and McCollum are going to be number one and two, but I anticipate Curry and Baldwin also playing their way into that group. It would be unorthodox for a team to have four guards play such a large portion of the available minutes that are all 6‘4” or smaller, but judging by the make up of this roster, that is a very real possibility.

What are you expecting from Portland’s guards this season? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.