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Will the Trail Blazers Look Different This Season?

Portland has made plenty of changes. What will they add up to?

DENVER NUGGETS VS PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS, NBA PLAYOFFS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors will face each other in NBA Preseason Game 1 for both teams tonight at 7:00 PM, Pacific. This marks the first time we’ll see the new-look Blazers on the court competitively. Even if the game is an exhibition, it’s still the right time to cover this question submitted to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

Here we are at the start of another new season. Everything has changed with Terry and Chauncy. I’m seeing new players and lineups and I’m getting excited but I also have a voice inside wondering if anything has changed really. Do you get that same two sided feeling about whether we’ll really be different this year?

Peter S

Of course they’ll be different. They can hardly help it. They have a new head coach. We don’t know what his philosophy will be. We don’t know how well the players will execute it. Their defense will look radically different simply from cycling out Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter while bringing in Larry Nance, Jr. So will their offense. There’s zero chance of their rotation or efficacy being the same.

We’ve heard whispers of the “drop” coverage on screen and roll defense going away, instead using bigs to step up and help cover ball-handlers on the perimeter. Nance, Jr. and Robert Covington should be apt. Will Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller be able to cover that territory without picking up fouls or getting stranded on switches? Will Portland’s guards suddenly find themselves in mismatches, getting mowed over by bigger players?

We’ve also heard rumors of increased roles for Nance, Jr. (naturally), Nurkic, Nassir Little, Norman Powell, and Anfernee Simons. Is that realistic? If so, where do minutes and touches come from? How many of them will actually prove up to the task? When they do, how does the overall balance of the organism shift?

Say what you want about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum being overused for the last half-dozen seasons. They were. They were also steadily good, dragging the team in their wake no matter what. A shift is necessary if the Blazers have any chance at becoming great, but the road ahead isn’t sure.

Up to this point, Portland has been like a novice ice skater, clinging to the wall as they circle the rink. They’re going to push off this season. Whether they pirouette or fall flat is an open question. All we know is that the wall support was illusionary. If they’re going to skate, they have to skate.

Throw in variables of a newly-revamped bottom half of the roster, a less three-point-oriented offense, and the swings of other teams in the division, and there’s more potential for volatility—internal and external—this season than in most. Whether things will change isn’t an issue. It’s how, and more critically, how much difference it will make.

That’s the huge mystery. Five two’s will add to ten every time. That’s Portland from 2016-2021. Take a four, a three, a few ones, and a two, and now you have twelve. That’s Portland this season. Everything looks different, but the end sum is pretty close to the same. If the three gets injured, or turns out to be a one-and-a-half, or the team isn’t doing addition right, now you’re at nine and heading backwards.

Either way, familiar patterns will be broken. New possibilities will arise too. But the Blazers started the year with a reputation as a pretty-good-to-good team. I’m guessing that’s exactly how they’ll end the year as well. They’re a long way from bad, but they’re equidistant from great. If they’re going to get above “best of the rest” status—their highest goal so far—and into true contention, they’re going to need to show us something. More importantly, they’ll need to show the league.

Tonight’s Preseason Opener tips off at 7:00 PM on Root Sports and NBA TV. We’ll have a Gameday Thread open for you, our first trial with the new commenting system in action on a game night. We’ll be looking for helpful feedback. We’ll also recap the proceedings, of course! Join us as the rumblings of the new season begin in earnest!