The 2020-21 Portland Trail Blazers are an NBA Rorschach test. Their 60% winning rate paints them as a top-third team. Their defense and record against plus-.500 squads? Not so much.
Yesterday Joseph Casciaro of TheScore broke down the arguments for and against the Trail Blazers challenging the contenders this season. The good news: they have a chance. The bad news: the odds seem long.
Predictably, Casciaro opens the case against Portland by covering their defense. He dings Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Enes Kanter, laments injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, and praises starting forwards Robert Covington and Derrick Jones, Jr. before exclaiming that they “can’t turn water to wine”. Then Casciaro starts asking questions about roster construction:
A thin bench reliant on Carmelo Anthony, Anfernee Simons, and Nassir Little only raises more issues on defense, as did turning Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood into the more offensively explosive Norman Powell at the trade deadline.
Powell’s a more complete offensive player, but given Trent’s defensive upside and youth, it’s worth wondering whether the former is enough of an upgrade to justify turning a 22-year-old pending restricted free agent into a 27-year-old pending unrestricted free agent. If the Blazers were willing to put Trent on the table, could they not have found a return that addressed some of their defensive issues?
After that, it’s time for the positives. Lillard gets his own section. Casciaro also praises Norman Powell, despite the aforementioned thirst for defense.
The team has also miraculously been better with Lillard on the bench since the deadline, which could be a testament to the boost Powell provides as yet another (efficient) offensive hub.
Yes, a more capable defender would have made more sense as a deadline acquisition as opposed to Powell, who has the length and athleticism but not the defensive wherewithal. But there’s also something to be said for going all-in on your strengths and maximizing your advantages. And you can never have enough shooting or shot creation.
After running through a couple more factors, Casciaro pronounces his conclusion, which you can see in his piece.
Are you still on the fence, as he appears to be (albeit only slightly)? Do you think the Blazers have any chance of being counted among NBA contenders at this point? Share below.