The Portland Trail Blazers have re-structured their team to help them compete this coming season. Unfortunately, ESPN analyst Zach Lowe hasn’t been blown away by General Manager Joe Cronin’s handywork.
Joined by Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck on his annual “five most confusing teams” Lowe Post podcast, Lowe refers to the Blazers as “blah” and “just a 500 team”.
There are reasons to look at this team and say OK, that’s the outline of kind of a good team. Their starting five is going to be Dame, Anfernee Simons, question mark, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic. The question mark could be Nassir Little, could be Justise Winslow, could be Josh Hart who I really like.
It’s a good solid starting five. Their bench will be Simons effectively as backup point guard, Gary Payton II. And I would do the thing where I sub Gary Payton II in quickly to play with the starters if I’m going to use Simons as my back up point guard because the more shooting and talent around him, the better he looks. Two of the Nassir Little, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow wing trio that I mentioned before and then some question marks at the big man spot. It’s an interesting team on paper.
They’re just so blah to me, I look at that lineup that I just mentioned. It’s fine, like it’s just fine. I think Jerami Grant has become a little overrated. I love all the wings I mentioned as the fifths starters. Nurkic is just OK as a starting NBA center. He’s fine.
Dame and Simons, it’s like can we defend with two small guards for the 10th consecutive year in Portland? And if Nurkic isn’t a borderline elite backline defender anymore and I don’t think he is, I think he’s lost a quarter of his step or so, defensively.
Dame, Simons, Nurkic, I just don’t know how you build a good enough defense around that trio. Which is why I would bring Payton II in early in games for Simons. And the bench is like just OK. I mean who is their back up center, Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford. Trendon Watford has one of the great floaters in the NBA, that’s cool, he’s undersized as a center. He’s not great. It’s just so blah.
When the Blazers have been good in the last 10 years, it’s mostly been because their offense is incredible. So their offense ranked 27th last year, throw it out the window, it’s a lost season, they were tanking so furiously I almost admired it in the last 20 games of the season.
In the previous few years they were second, third and third in points per possession and that lifted up a defense that in some years was awful, in some years was average and in some years was somewhere in between.
I just don’t look at that team, as brilliant as Dame is, and those numbers are a tribute to Dame because those supporting casts were not choc full of elite offensive players outside of CJ McCollum.
I just don’t see an unbelievable offense out of that personnel and I certainly don’t see a good defense. I don’t see great depth in the ability to withstand an injury to one of the best players.
I just see a blah, it’s just blah. Like I see a 500 team.
And they’re confusing I guess, because there’s enough there to intrigue you and talk yourself into, “well they could be sixth in the west, they could win 45, 46 games.” Their over-under is around 40, it’s 39.5.
And there’s also so many questions that I could see the season really slipping away from them. I think they just look kind of 500 to me and last year they tried this crazy blitzing defense with Nurkic even though that’s not how they’re built to play. They played a lot of zone and they just found absolutely nothing that worked and schematically I don’t know what Chauncey Billups’ answer is going to be this year. But it’s not how they played last year, even at full health, they can’t blitz and trap, they just gave up tons of threes and tons of shots at the rim.
I just feel kind a blah man, I feel bad because I love Dame and I like Portland, they have some of the best fans in the NBA. I just don’t know where they’re going.”
And yet I sit here and I’m like I really like what Nassir Little showed last year before his injury and he’s healthy and I think he’s going to start going full blast in camp and playing well. I think GP II is a really good fit on this team, although it’s hard for them to do the thing that the Warriors did, which is build lineups where he’s the only non shooter on the floor so he has free reign to roll to the rim. I would like to see them try Justise Winslow at center and just sort of see how that looks not that he’s a shooter, he’s also a non-shooter. Given their other options at backup center, they should at least try that.
And I think they’re going to find minutes for Sharpe, I think they’re impressed early with what they’ve seen from Sharpe I just don’t know how he fits into a standard nine-man rotation but I think they’re going to try and find minutes for him so I could talk myself into it but I don’t feel awesome.
You can listen to the discussion here 59 minutes in.