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 was split into three groups. Today’s installment concludes the series with a look at the big fellas on Portland’s roster.
PTS: 17.6 | REB: 10.3 | BLK: 2.0 | AST: 4.0 | FG%: 49.5
*Nurkic played in only eight regular season games following his recovery from a leg injury.
The Blazers received a much-needed boost in the bubble when Jusuf Nurkic returned to the pivot spot. Freed from Hassan Whiteside’s presence at center, Portland’s offense opened up with Nurkic’s awareness and touch underneath. In two-center sets in the playoffs, it was Nurkic that undertook space-heavy duties. The sample size was small and the results were mixed.
This season, it appears that the Blazers intend to play a more aggressive style on defense. Nurkic’s duties now include pushing further up the court in pick-and-roll situations. In the preseason, that approach did not yield positive results. Offensively, the table is set for Nurkic to thrive in the starting unit. Robert Covington has the shooting chops to allow Nurkic to operate in space and Derrick Jones Jr. is an attractive assist target off cuts to the rim.
It is worth noting that Nurkic was a late arrival to Portland prior to training camp (in comparison to his fellow teammates). With that in mind, it could take Nurkic a few extra games to find his groove.
PTS: 8.1 | REB: 7.4 | FG%: 57.2
Kanter returns to Portland after a brief, one-year stint with the Celtics. In the 2019-20 season, after signing with the Blazers in the buyout market, Kanter averaged a solid 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in 23 regular season outings. In the postseason, the big fella kept his output rolling with averages of 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Now at 28 years old, Kanter is set to undertake a significant role in Portland’s second unit. Regardless of his preseason struggles, Kanter has proven he is a reliable producer as a traditional post player. The Blazers’ decision to play more aggressively on defense could put Kanter in awkward territory during screen-and-roll actions, but his rebounding acumen inside a board-deprived reserve rotation should mitigate his other shortcomings.
Harry Giles III: Giles arrived in Portland via a one-year deal in the offseason. The former Duke big fella got off to a hot start in the preseason against his former team, but he cooled off down the stretch of the Blazers’ exhibition schedule. It is clear that Giles possesses passing instincts that rival Nurkic’s exploits and his athleticism stands above his peers on Portland’s current roster. Despite all that upside, Giles’ defensive lapses might prevent him for earning significant minutes in coach Terry Stotts’ rotation to start the year.
Zach Collins: Things have not gone according to plan for the No. 10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Last season, the former Gonzaga standout endured two significant injury setbacks (shoulder and ankle) that prevented him from playing for extended periods of time. Moving forward, it appears that Collins’ 2020-21 debut is at least a few weeks away. Once Collins returns, he could find himself in a defensive system that is tailored to his strengths as a mobile 7-footer.