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Damian Lillard’s Leadership & Roster Versatility Returns Joy to the Blazers

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Herring credits Damian Lillard’s leadership and roster versatility for the Blazers’ hot start.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers’ 4-0 start has transformed them into the NBA’s early-season darlings. Portland’s play has generated positive results and captured the attention of the media. On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Herring highlighted the return of happiness to Rip City.

Following the Blazers’ 135-110 victory over the Nuggets, Herring first pointed to Damian Lillard’s confidence in his new backcourt running mate, Anfernee Simons.

That’s part of what’s been so fun about the Blazers to this point. Simons, one of the only true bright spots from a dark 2021–22 campaign, had a chance to spread his wings last season. He took advantage, more than doubling his scoring output to 17.3 points per game on better than 40% from deep. It put him in a better position to occasionally lead alongside Lillard. And Lillard—for all he’s accomplished individually as a star—has trusted Simons to take that role.

Dynamite scoring from the backcourt has become the norm over the past decade in Portland, but the influx of versatility in the frontcourt is a welcome addition for the Blazers. The impact of Jerami Grant, Justice Winslow, and Josh Hart earned praise from Herring.

Above all else, though, the current roster is far more versatile and disruptive than it was before. Jerami Grant has been a fantastic fit on both ends. The oft-injured Justise Winslow has undoubtedly been a boon for the defense. And Josh Hart, who came over in the McCollum deal and has long been one of the league’s best transition players, jumpstarts the team in the open floor. (He’s also averaging 10.3 rebounds per game while standing just 6’ 5”.) None of this even touches on offseason pickup Gary Payton II yet, as he’s on the mend from an injury to his core.

Buoyed by their undefeated start, the Blazers are currently in first place in the Western Conference standings. The last time the Blazers started a season 4-0 was the 1999-00 campaign. Along with overall record, Portland currently sits inside the top 10 leaderboard for both offensive and defensive ratings.

You can read the full story from Herring at Sports Illustrated.