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Hollinger: Blazers’ Defense to Improve, Backup PG Concerns Exist

The Athletic’s John Hollinger focused on the Trail Blazers’ defense-first additions and touched on Anfernee Simons in his preseason preview.

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The opening game of the 2020-21 regular season is just around the corner and the Trail Blazers have continued to receive praise for their on-paper offseason improvements. In his Blazers-specific season preview, The Athletic’s John Hollinger focused on the moves that Portland made to improve at the forward position.

Hollinger explained that Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington should fill an Aminu-Harkless-sized hole in the Blazers’ rotation.

Hold off on the victory laps after what the self-congratulation of last year yielded, but it’s a start. Covington and Jones give the Blazers what they were missing when Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless left last offseason: Switchable combo forwards who can cover for the guards defensively and provide some halfway decent offense. Covington, in particular, is a high-volume 3-point shooter who should fit in nicely at either forward spot. Jones is better suited as a rim-runner and might be best used in units with Collins at center, but for now, it appears he’ll start.

Outside of Jones and Covington, Hollinger dissected the Blazers’ puzzling decision to pass on signing a proven backup point guard prior to the start of the 2020-21 season.

One move notable by its absence: The Blazers didn’t sign a backup point guard, even though third-year-pro Anfernee Simons suffered a horrendous 2019-20 in that role. It’s an odd way to put together a team that is otherwise in win-now mode. Portland had the money to acquire a guard with its biannual exception, or by trade via a $7 million trade exception, but it prioritized re-upping Hood at a higher number for an extra year — bizarrely, given he was coming off a torn Achilles tendon — and bringing back Kanter. Portland had no money left below the tax line afterward.

Hollinger circled back to the backup point guard slot and Anfernee Simons before delivering his final win projections for the Blazers.

Before we start, one note on my methodology: I don’t allow below-replacement values to stay in the system, because I assume the team will replace the player if he’s really that bad. Usually, that’s the case, but Portland has been unusually stubborn with Simons. If he plays all year and is as bad as his projection, that will dock Portland a couple extra wins relative to my estimate here. For now, my baseline assumption remains that either A) he ends up being better than my projection or B) they quickly replace him if he’s not.

After running through the Blazers’ roster and upcoming payroll hurdles, Hollinger tabbed coach Terry Stotts’ squad for a 43-29 record in 2020-21 season—a finish that would earn Portland the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

Last season, the Blazers finished with 35 wins in the regular season. In the bubble, Portland nudged past Memphis to secure the Western Conference’s final postseason spot.

You can read Hollinger’s full preview at The Athletic (subscription required).