After a 27-55 finish last season and a roster retool this summer, the Portland Trail Blazers are somewhat of an enigma heading into the 2022-23 NBA season. Writers from national outlets like ESPN, NBA.com and The Athletic have chosen to view the uncertainty of Portland with a “glass half-empty” perspective — placing the Blazers in the bottom half of league predictions.
But save hope! Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale offered a rosier outlook for Portland next season on a recent episode of his Hardwood Knocks podcast. Favale said the Blazers are “probably better than people think” and could finish as high as fifth-best in the Western Conference.
A lot of things need to go right and there are teams I don’t think they’re going to pass. If everything goes according to plan and works out in Portland’s favor, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that, not only are they a bonafide playoff team, but they’re kind of comfortably in there in that top five spot.
The discussion was prompted by a mailbag question asking, “If the young guys on the Blazers really pop, what’s their ceiling in the West?” Favale said the answer wasn’t easy, calling Portland a “tough cookie” to position in a stacked Western Conference, but looked upon Blazers youngsters Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons with high regard. Both will likely be starters next season and Favale expects them to contribute nicely.
Nas Little was very good before his injury. He brings this just explosive energy to the table as a rebounder — a little bit of a multi-positional defender, a play-finisher on offense closer to the basket. You’re not going to trust his perimeter game just yet.
And then Anfernee Simons, I think he did a lot better as a playmaker last year in that he can lead some units on his own more than he could before, but his crowning skill is just that off-the-dribble shooting. He is lights-out when he’s done that.
An expected boost in contribution from Little and Simons isn’t the only sign of hope for Portland. Franchise superstar Damian Lillard will return from injury and the Blazers will welcome new additions Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II. With a healthy tandem of Lillard and Simons, Favale predicted a top 10 offense in the NBA for the Blazers. Alongside that potent offense, Favale thinks the offseason pickups signal the potential for real improvement on defense.
They seem like they’re set up to succeed defensively. You’re going to have to run some base, maybe overly-orthodox coverages with Nurkic in the middle, but that can work in drop coverage. Or you can get really creative and are you downsizing a little bit and are you trying out Jerami Grant at the 5? And you have Josh Hart and Gary Payton II on the court with him….So I think that this can be a better defensive team than people believe.
You can listen to the full podcast here. The Blazers discussion begins at the 8:33 mark.