The Portland Trail Blazers earned a 113-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings in Game 1 of their 2022-23 season tonight. After enduring misery—including losing 21 of their last 23 games—the year prior, the win felt like an oasis in the desert, carrying the bright hope of things to come.
Understandably, many fans were eager to pop into the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag to ask questions or just plain crow. The barrage included these two submissions:
Shaedon Sharpe is already the steal of the draft and I’m calling it. He looked fantastic didn’t he? How long before he gets real minutes and do you think he could even become a starter this year?
After that performance and preseason I’ve seen enough. Trade Nurk now. I’ve never seen a guy do so little with so much.
Oliver from Salem
These questions weren’t singular. They represent several others, leaping with anticipation. In that spirit, I’m going to offer three things Blazers fans might be overreacting to after Game 1. We’ll follow up with posts about things we’re underreacting to and things that are just right. Call it Three Bears day for the Mailbag.
Things Blazers Fans are Overreacting To
1. It was a win.
The victory over the Kings was nice, especially coming in the last minute through rebounding and hustle from Portland’s new starting forwards. It appeared to confirm everything the front office had hoped for in the midst of this transition, bottled up in a couple and-one layups from Jerami Grant and Josh Hart.
At the same time, it was a narrow win against the Kings, a team that had multiple opportunities to streak away with the game. Portland’s defense came together, especially in the final quarter, but they weren’t particularly good defending the arc or stopping Sacramento’s stars.
If the Blazers played this game against a slightly higher-quality opponent, it would have gone down as a hard-fought loss instead of a hard-fought win. The “W” is probably less indicative of where the Blazers are than the fact that it was hard-fought. That, at least, is something. The team still has a long ways to go, though.
2. Jusuf Nurkic Slumping
Nurkic did not play well in this game. Not only was he slow, the entire team appeared to grind down when he took the floor in the second half. Justise Winslow taking Nurk’s crunch time minutes spoke volumes.
But this is not the end of Nurkic, nor does it mean he’s useless. We’ve seen this before. Nurkic goes up and down. When he’s on, he’s near-brilliant. Usually he plays himself into shape, has a heart-to-heart with the coaching staff, then comes out with 2-3 months of really nice efforts. When those extend into the postseason, Portland becomes potent.
Nurkic isn’t going to be replaced anytime soon. He’s still the only starting-quality 7-footer on the roster. The Blazers need him. He’ll come through.
3. Shaedon Sharpe Rookie of the Year
Shaedon Sharpe looked impressive against the Kings. His three-point stroke was quick, aggressive, and 3-3 perfect. He got loose on the drive a couple times, even though he couldn’t finish with conversions.
For those still questioning who Sharpe is, the outing was revelatory. But that gap between no knowledge/uncertainty and his performance contributed to the buzz. Paolo Banchero, Jayden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Benedict Mathurin also had big nights...bigger than Sharpe. We don’t notice as much because they were known quantities.
Excitement over Sharpe is justified. The developmental phase is going to be longer than this game indicates. Sometimes those shots are going to miss. He’s going to need to read the floor more than he was able to last night. Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ confidence in Sharpe was indicated, and justified, by the opening night performance. Shifting into fourth gear, demanding Billups get Sharpe more time right away, probably isn’t,
Seeing how Sharpe moves and plays, the Blazers are probably looking at their next starting shooting guard. They aren’t done with their current ones yet. Right now Sharpe is a lottery pick who performed around the same level as many of his fellow lottery picks in his NBA debut. Gleaning more than that is going to take time.
Up Next: 3 Things Blazers Fans are Underrating about last night’s victory.