The Portland Trail Blazers may not have the deepest depth chart in The Association, but they have plenty of talent at the top. In The Ringer’s Top 100 Players in the NBA (right now), three Trail Blazers were singled out. You can probably guess who they are, but take a moment to dive into their specific rankings. Starting with…
18. Damian Lillard: Bucket-getting clutch master who is intent on wringing every drop out of his time with the team that drafted him.
Dame’s stone-faced shot making is the stuff of legend, but conversations about Lillard now focus mostly on how long Dame Time will last in Portland.
Lillard missed most of the 2021-22 season with an abdominal strain, and the Trail Blazers responded by overhauling the roster, including trading longtime backcourt partner CJ McCollum. But instead of angling his way out of town, Lillard doubled down, signing an extension that could keep him in Portland through the 2026-27 season.
It’s a hard-knock life for heavy-usage guards as they age into their early-to-mid 30s. Athletic tools tend to dip, and easy offense gets difficult to generate. Life just gets a bit harder. But Lillard has shown this season, even as he fights through more injuries, that he can still play at a level reminiscent of his best years. The game moves slowly for him. His physicality and technique for creating shots could have him aging gracefully, minus a few injuries that could nickel-and-dime him.
But what’s the endgame? Lillard is a folk hero in the Pacific Northwest, but how grumpy will Portland fans get when the Blazers are paying Lillard $63 million at age 36? —J. Kyle Mann
Lillard probably belongs a bit higher on this list in terms of sheer talent, but early-season injury has prevented Portland’s star from shining atop the overall impact metric. When he plays, though, watch out. The Trail Blazers are currently 10-3 in games that Lillard starts and finishes.
45. Jerami Grant: Tremendous defender and a high-end second or third option on offense capable of stepping up when needed.
Grant has undergone an extreme makeover in his years in the NBA—first finding his footing in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City before becoming a high-end, two-way role player in Denver and then emerging as a go-to scorer in Detroit. But with the Nuggets, he wasn’t able to unleash his emerging offensive skills, and with the Pistons, too much was asked of him. Playing next to Portland’s high-powered guards has given Grant a perfectly balanced role in which he can go off for 30 points on any night with devastating downhill drives, catch-and-shoot 3s, and cuts to the rim. Or, he can simply impact the game by crashing the boards and making jaw-dropping defensive plays.
One thing Grant retains from his college days at Syracuse is his defense. When off-ball, he’ll often rotate from one side of the court to the other to swat or alter a layup attempt. And if he’s brought into an action, he’s one of the league’s greatest stoppers in isolations.
For years, Damian Lillard’s best teammates at the forward or wing positions were journeymen like Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Grant is in an entirely different stratosphere; he’s capable of excelling in any scheme, whether it’s playing next to a center or as a small-ball 5 himself. And on nights when Lillard is drawing doubles, Grant has turned himself into an offensive threat. It took a long time to get here, but a hybrid role with the Blazers has Grant playing the best basketball of his life. —Kevin O’Connor
This is appropriate company for Grant, who excels on both ends of the floor as one of the best two-way players in the league. He is not the star of this team and he does not need to be. Grant is a perfect fit for this Trail Blazers team that needed a strong defensive wing without sacrificing shot-making.
59. Anfernee Simons: Athletic spark plug whose ability to take and make difficult shots is exactly what any offense should want.
Anyone who can effortlessly drill a high percentage of 3s and win a slam dunk contest deserves attention. Throw in a nifty in-between game, a nasty layup package, and the ability to go unconscious and blow a game wide open, and actual stardom may be on the horizon.
Simons, who skipped college for a postgrad year at IMG Academy, was initially thought of as a high-variance draft pick, a player who could either elevate a franchise or bust quickly. Now in his fifth season, he’s still only 23—a.k.a., two years younger than Pacers sophomore Chris Duarte—with a ton of potential, given his tantalizing hops and touch.
In June, the Blazers rewarded Simons with a $100 million contract extension, cementing him as a key part of Portland’s present and future. Simons is the most dynamic backcourt partner Damian Lillard has ever played with, and although he still has a way to go before he can function as the primary option on a good team, his skill and developmental trajectory make that possibility somewhat realistic. And if the Blazers lose patience and want to pair Lillard with a bona fide All-Star right now, Simons is the kind of young up-and-comer that just about any team in the league would love to have. —Michael Pina
Simons is a bona fide second scoring option in Portland, and would probably rank ahead of Grant if he possessed the same defensive skillset. But a lethal scorer like Simons is far from unappreciated. His offensive capabilities far outweigh his defensive drawbacks, making him a player that any team would desire.
What do you think, Blazer’s Edge community? Would you move these players up or down? Is there anyone else you’d have liked to see included on the Top 100 List? Check it out, in full, right here.