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Four Blazers Crack First Half of SI’s Top 100 Players for 2021-22

Several Trail Blazers players landed between No. 100 and No. 51 in Sports Illustrated’s annual look at the top players in the NBA.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated released their ninth annual “Top 100 NBA Players” list, starting with players ranked No. 100 to 51. The Portland Trail Blazers made frequent appearances in the rankings, with four different players. Jusuf Nurkić, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Larry Nance Jr. all made the cut for today’s portion of SI’s list.

Nance Jr. was the first to be mentioned, earning the No. 98 spot. Contributor Michael Pina noted Nance Jr.’s physical acumen, and how his presence alone helps the Blazers build upon last season’s lagging defense.

“Sturdy forwards with quick hands, springy knees, shifty feet and the understanding of how to apply those physical traits into any defensive system are highly coveted throughout the NBA. Nance Jr. succeeded on that front with the Cavaliers last season. This season, the Blazers will appreciate him as much as, or more than, his former team did. — Michael Pina”

Six spots later, newly-signed Norman Powell earned the No. 92 spot. In looking into how Powell’s role could expand in the upcoming season, Ben Pickman looked at Powell’s contract and how Portland’s front office and coaching staff will want to coax the most out of their investment.

“After developing into an integral part of Toronto’s rotation, Powell was dealt to Portland mid-season last March. The 27-year-old versatile wing averaged 17 points in a career-high 34.4 minutes per game in 27 appearances with the Trail Blazers. How Portland’s backcourt looks in upcoming seasons is certainly among the biggest questions in the NBA, but considering Powell inked a five-year, $90 million deal this offseason, he would figure to play a sizable role in their rotation. — BP”

Despite his lack of gaudy per game statistics, Robert Covington continues to be among the NBA’s most venerated 3-and-D specialists across the league. He was placed at No. 80 on the list, in large part due to his intangibles and focus on the “little things.” Here’s how Michael Shapiro described Covington’s outlook:

“Portland’s forward sports arguably the best weak-side instincts in basketball as he enters his ninth NBA season. Covington is the king of sliding over in the lane and swatting shots as a help defender, and that skill translates on the perimeter as Covington racks up steals. He’s forced at least 2.5 turnovers per game since 2016-17, including an astounding 3.8 in a short stint in Houston in 2019-20. Add in a 37.9% mark from three last year, and Covington stands as one of the league’s top 3-and-D players. —MS”

Rounding out the final spot among Blazers on the first-half of the list was Jusuf Nurkic, who sits at No. 65. Jeremy Woo went into detail on Nurkić’s versatility, and what he adds to the Blazers’ defense when he is healthy.

“The brilliant version of Nurkić we saw in the 2020 bubble wasn’t quite what the Blazers got last season, and a fractured wrist limited him to just 37 games. When fully healthy, Nurkić remains one of the better traditional centers in the league: He can physically dominate space with his heft, he’s a creative passer and dangerous screener, and he moves his feet well defensively for his size. He still doesn’t shoot threes. But at his best, he’s one of the more useful bigs around. — JW”

This represents an improvement from last season for Nurkić, who ranked 78th ahead of the 2020-21 season. For Covington, it marks the second time in as many years on the Top 100; last season, he took on the No. 64 spot.

SI announced that on Tuesday, players ranked No. 50 to 31 will be announced.