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Preview: Blazers’ Guard Group Contains Strength & Questions

A look at the Trail Blazers’ guard rotation in the lead up to the 2020-21 regular season.

NBA: Preseason-Sacramento Kings at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 regular season is upon us and the Trail Blazers are looking to return to the Western Conference Finals thanks to a busy offseason that re-tooled their entire roster. Before the action unfolds, Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald is running through each position group on the roster.

In an effort to keep things simple, the Blazers’ roster is split into three groups. First up: the guards.

Damian Lillard

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 30.0* | AST: 8.0* | REB: 4.3 | FG%: 46.3* | 3P%: 40.1*

*Indicates a career-best statistic

Damian Lillard enters another season as the Blazers’ unquestioned frontman. Outside of his local notoriety, Lillard is the first bonafide MVP candidate Portland has fielded since Clyde Drexler was dueling with Michael Jordan nearly three decades ago. As the numbers indicate, the plucky Oakland native posted monster numbers last season. If the Blazers take a step in the right direction in the standings, Lillard’s output bolsters his chances to become only the second player in Portland’s history to collect the league’s most-coveted individual award.

Outside of individual accolades, the Blazers must find a way to reduce Lillard’s regular season workload in a reasonable manner. Another year of 37.5 minutes per game—in a condensed season—could lead to significant setbacks once the postseason arrives. Unfortunately, it appears that the Blazers’ current rotation is under-equipped when it comes to reducing Lillard’s minutes.

CJ McCollum

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 22.2 | AST: 4.4* | REB: 4.2* | FG%: 45.1 | 3P%: 37.9

McCollum has carved out a niche as one of the NBA’s best throwback scorers. The former Lehigh standout can carve up defenses from all three levels—a trend that is likely to continue inside coach Terry Stotts’ player-friendly offensive system.

From an efficiency standpoint, McCollum’s numbers dipped slightly in the 2019-20 season. Those figures should increase as the overall talent that surrounds McCollum in non-Lillard shifts has drastically improved. Carmelo Anthony’s work in the midrange areas could encroach on McCollum, but Rodney Hood’s return on the perimeter should provide an effective counter.

In the starting lineup, McCollum has improved in the margins. His rebounding and assists numbers have improved and he could benefit from an increase in pace this season. After a busy offseason, the Blazers are better equipped to get out in transition. McCollum has the perfect skillset to exploit advantages early in possessions.

Gary Trent Jr.

2019-20 Statistics

PTS: 8.9* | AST: 1.0* | REB: 1.6* | STL: 0.8* | FG%: 44.4* | 3P%: 41.8*

Last season, Trent Jr. surpassed Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins to become the Blazers’ unquestioned premier young player. The former Duke standout is a legitimate two-way threat that creates opportunities on both ends of the floor. In the seeding portion of the bubble, Trent connected on 50.7 percent of his 8.4 three-point attempts per game. On the defensive end, he was tasked with the toughest perimeter matchups.

Trent’s 2020-21 season is set to unfold underneath a marquee that features the lettering of a potentially-lucrative restricted free agency period. Thanks to Portland’s defense-first approach in the offseason, Trent should enjoy even more success in his third year. Instead of picking up cumbersome forward assignments on defense, the 21 year old should find himself across from players at the same position.

The Rest

Anfernee Simons: The preseason buzz surrounding Simons fizzled out relatively quickly in the 2019-20 campaign. The 21-year-old guard possesses a promising set of physical tools, but he must avoid foul trouble and increase his efficiency as he transitions into a larger role. The Blazers decided against signing a veteran facilitator in free agency—indicating that the organization still believes in Simons’ potential as a primary ball handler. If the first half of the season proves to be rocky, the Blazers have just enough wiggle room to sign a proven guard on the buyout market.

Keljin Blevins: The former Montana State guard represents the Blazers’ only two-way contract player this season (he is also Damian Lillard’s cousin). The NBA has relaxed the rules regarding two-way contract players—a decision that should allow Blevins to spend the lion’s share of the season in Portland (instead of splitting time in the G League).