The Trail Blazers will put the 2019-20 NBA season in motion with media day on Monday. A successful march to the Western Conference Finals and a summer full of roster turnover has given our contributors at Blazer’s Edge plenty to think about. With that in mind, we asked our writers to discuss their concerns heading into the upcoming season.
Ryan A. Sterling (@chase_blazedge): Team chemistry has been something fans may have taken for granted in previous seasons. This year, the Blazers are bringing in strong personalities in Kent Bazemore and Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside, is a Mutombo-level threat when fully engaged, capable of dropping 20 points and 20 rebounds in a hurry. He can also sulk, chase after bad blocks, and become toxic on the bench. Lillard’s leadership will have to guide him to the former for the Blazers to succeed. The Western Conference only got stronger this year, and the Blazers are without Jusuf Nurkic to start the season.
Miles Custis (@MilesCustis): I’m most worried about Portland’s defense in this upcoming season. The Blazers lost their three best defensive players with Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, and Evan Turner. Getting Hassan Whiteside will help the interior defense, but who will guard players like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and James Harden? Last year it was a combo of Aminu, Harkless, and Turner. I’m not sure who can slow those guys down this season.
Steve Dewald (@SteveDHoops): Coach David Vanterpool’s departure to the Timberwolves was lost in the shuffle of a busy summer for the Blazers. Vanterpool served as an extra set of eyes for Damian Lillard for the past few seasons. His exit will create a noteworthy void early in the year when Lillard returns to the bench between stoppages.
Tara Bowen-Biggs (@tcbbiggs): I worry about who is going to set screens for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. I watched Lillard highlights the other night and noticed how many screens Nurkic, Enes Kanter, Meyers Leonard, and Aminu set for him. Collins was able to set some, but they were not the bone-crushing, send-a-guy-to-the-floor variety that we’ve seen from the bigs of the past.
Lindsay Hostetler (@corvallisonian): The biggest concern I have is around the roster shakeup. While I know it was done for all the right reasons, the fact remains that we have a Nurkic-sized hole in our team until he returns. Guys were certainly brought in to compensate for that, and we will see how they fit in with Terry Stotts’ flow offense. I know Hassan Whiteside is excited for the possibilities, but you can’t make up for the Bosnian Beast’s personality on the court and his natural talents in the pick-and-roll.
Isaiah De Los Santos (@IsaiahDeLos): I’m worried about the expectations that are mounting upon young Anfernee Simons’ shoulders. There’s been numerous articles this summer envisioning the future where Simons is destroying opposing defenses every night. While that may be in the cards down the line, I really hope that Simons is given the chance to work through the growing pains of his new role this season. I’d be thrilled if the 20-year-old point guard turns out to be a solid backup by the end of his sophomore campaign, but I know there may be bumps along the way.
Nate Mann (nate_mann13): Who is going to run the second unit? No Blazers player on the current roster averaged more than three assists per game last year (until Nurkic returns: he averaged 3.2). McCollum lost the help of Evan Turner, and none of Hezonja, Simons or Gasol can carry the load as secondary distributor when game one arrives. Perimeter dwellers such as Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver shoot best when their opportunities are gift-wrapped, but Portland doesn’t have anyone off the bench capable of applying a tidy bow.
Paul Navarre (@paulnavarre): The thing I fear most is a slow start. 13 of the first 18 games are on the road, including a six-game road trip. With so many changes to the roster it might take some time for the team to find their footing. Last year, the Blazers shot out of the gate, going 10-3 in their first 13 games. Their fast start proved crucial to weathering the Nurkic injury and set them up to make a deep run in the playoffs. A slow start this year might force the team into desperation mode well before the playoffs start, something the team would do well to avoid.
Kyle Garcia (@_kyle_garcia): I’m most worried about how the roster turnover impacts a team whose chemistry has been vital to their success. Losing seven players is significant, and with Nurkic out indefinitely and the Western Conference only getting stronger, this is the most mysterious Blazers squad of recent memory. Still, even with the roster changes I think this team is really good, and as worried as I am about how new players like Hassan Whiteside and Mario Hezonja will play, I’m optimistic that this team can comfortably make the playoffs and fight for one of those middle seeds.
Adrian Bernecich (@abernecich): I’m worried about the forward rotation. For all their offensive deficiencies, Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless were a comforting constant, able to guard almost anyone put in front of them. Who is going to guard LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard? While Zach Collins has bona fide defensive chops, I don’t think he’s capable of guarding those premium tweeners. Rodney Hood, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little aren’t quite there for various reasons, which leaves Kent Bazemore who, while quite long, is still slightly undersized.