With Damian Lillard angling for a trade and all other free agent work on hold, it’s easy to forget that the Portland Trail Blazers will actually start a new season in October rather than being stuck in an interminable summer of change. One Blazer’s Edge reader hasn’t forgotten, though. Not only does she remember the new year ahead, she thinks it’s going to be a good one. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
You of all people should know our franchise history. What happened the last time a star walked away from Portland? LaMarcus Aldridge did it in 2015 and everybody said that we’d win 20 games. Instead we won 44 and made it to the second round! So Dame is leaving this time. What are the chances Scoot and Shaedon Sharpe become the new Dame and CJ? I can see it. I think we’re going to surprise all the experts again. Maybe even you!
Much respect for that line of thinking, and for keeping the faith. We need that as much as we need steely-eyed analysis.
You’re right, I guess. The Blazers prospering this year would surprise me. Never say never, but the situation is a little different than the one you highlight from 2015.
The biggest difference is that Damian Lillard was in his fourth year in 2015, not his first, like Henderson. CJ McCollum made a huge leap from 6.8 points per game to 20.8, but he was a third-year player himself. More to the point, both had played four years in college. Though they were at smaller institutions, this was still moderately high-level, organized basketball. That gave Dame and CJ seven or eight seasons of (mostly) continuous, quality experience under their belts as they assumed the reins.
Scoot Henderson has one year of G-League experience to his name. Shaedon Sharpe didn’t play at any credible institution before his rookie season with the Blazers. At best and charitably, that’s one year each of transferable knowledge and reps. Even if we’re guessing the ceiling for Sharpe and Henderson is comparable to Lillard and McCollum, the floor isn’t anywhere near as developed yet. That’s going to impair their ability to surge forward.
The 2015-16 Blazers also had Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Gerald Hendeson, Moe Harkless, and even a little bit of Chris Kaman in their frontcourt. Granted, Aminu, Harkless, and Plumlee were far younger than we remember, but the forwards could qualify as early veterans at that stage, at least.
The current Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic and Jerami Grant, but that’s it. All the rest are terribly young, terminally unproven, or both. Nurkic and Grant individually exceed any frontcourt player on the 2015-16 roster, but in aggregate, the Blazers don’t have anything near the infrastructure they provided to CJ and Dame in their big break-out year.
Add in an unproven coach as opposed to veteran journeyman Terry Stotts and, well...enough said from my end.
I’m going to leave this up to Hallie’s fellow readers. Do you expect the Blazers to do better, worse, or about the same as predicted this year, assuming that Damian Lillard is traded and that “predicted” equals ending up in the bottom third of the league? Whether you agree with Hallie or want to nuance the subject, share your thoughts below!
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