he NBA regular season has arrived and it is time to see if the Trail Blazers busy summer will bear fruit. From star guard Damian Lillard to 20-year-old center Moses Brown, Blazer’s Edge is delivering a rundown of each player on the roster.
In the final installment of our preview series, we look at Portland’s dynamic backcourt and the anticipated return of the big fella in the middle.
- Roster Primer: Rookies
- Roster Primer: Bench
- Roster Primer: Role Players
- Roster Primer: Key Contributors
Damian Lillard | Point Guard | Age 29
Projected Role: If you don’t already know Damian Lillard and his role with the Blazers, I bid you welcome to Portland and the planet earth. The gravity is nice, but you may not want to drink the water. Lillard is every bit as phenomenal as he ever was (26 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds per game), but he’s blended that with a veteran’s ability to get other players involved and that superstar sense of when to take over a game. His defense has improved. He spent last year healthy. This is peak Dame Time.
Lillard will be tested on every level this year, though. Opposing teams will try to cut off the head of the snake, fueled by Portland’s lack of scoring at the big positions. Lillard might develop an alley-oop pass to centers, but he can no longer dish the ball to them with confidence. He’ll have to work harder to get his shots; unless Portland’s defense gels immediately, he might have to take more of them to keep the team afloat.
Bold Prediction: “Load Management” are going to become Blazers Gospel this season. Portland will need to avoid the temptation to over-use Lillard, lest he fall prey to the mid-season injury/slump that has become a near-annual event. Portland has the supporting staff to ease his minutes: CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore. They can squeak by with a little less Lillard punch. If they lose him, though, especially late in the season, they’re done.
CJ McCollum | Shooting Guard | Age 28
Projected Role: McCollum averaged 21 points per game last year as one of the deadliest, most versatile mid-range shooters in the league. His three-point percentage dropped from a 42.1% high in 2016-17 to 37.5% last season. That’s not shabby, but the Blazers are going to need more quick, open threes this season. McCollum will be a prime candidate to provide them. He’ll start and he’ll score. His ability to catch and shoot on the weak side could be as crucial as his on-ball production.
Bold Prediction: McCollum will be brilliant, put in 20+ per night, but questions will still persist at the end of the season whether he and Lillard make a championship pair or just a darn good-looking one.
Jusuf Nurkic | Center | Age: 25
Projected Role: Jusuf Nurkic’s fractured leg was the defining moment of the 2018-19 season for the Trail Blazers. Playoffs victories against the Thunder and Nuggets left a clearer impression, but Nurkic going down turned even that successful post-season run into a “what if” experience. The Bosnian Beast is only 25 and is expected to return in February. There’s no reason to think he’ll suffer long-term from the fracture. How long will it take him to round into mid-season form, though? The Best Nurkic Ever took the Blazers from good to very good last year. They’ll need a comparable version to go from very good to solid contenders. If that happens before May, they’re fine. If 2019-20 is a “lost season” for Nurk even after his return, it won’t be much more than OK for the Blazers either.
Bold Prediction: There’s no prediction to be made here. Either Nurkic will come back strong or he won’t. That fork in the road will determine Portland’s chances of success this season. BUT...a mid-season trade for a long-contract star would take the pressure off of this year, allowing Portland fans to dream of a healthy Nurkic and a star-studded starting lineup in 2020-21.
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