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Which Trail Blazers Have the Most to Prove This Season?

Portland’s roster suddenly has openings. Who’s expected to step through?

Chicago Bulls v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

With Damian Lillard’s trade request dominating national and local news cycles, it’s easy to forget that the Portland Trail Blazers have a season to play, starting in October. The ball is going to tip on opening night with or without Lillard on the floor.

One astute Blazer’s Edge reader remembered that and actually asked a question about the year ahead. To celebrate, let’s cover it.


I was listening to NBA Radio today and they asked an interesting question about which NBA players have the most to prove this year. They didn’t talk about us [the Blazers] much but I thought about it the rest of my drive. I have two candidates for Blazer with the most to prove. One is an obvious one and one is a smart pick. I’m not going to share either yet. I’m going to ask you what you think and then I’ll send you my answers after you go. I don’t want to bias you after all! Thanks for considering my question.


It is a good question! I’m going to see your two responses and raise you a third. Like you, I’ll sort them into flavors.

The Big Pick: Anfernee Simons

The big pick for me is Anfernee Simons. He’s been straddling the line between young upstart and legit star for a couple seasons now. If Damian Lillard leaves, there will be no ceiling above Simons anymore. Scoot Henderson will occupy the point guard position, but that was never Simons’ natural gig anyway. Simons can still live out his combo-guard dreams by sliding to point when Scoot is out. He can also rightfully demand touches from Henderson based on seniority and proven talent when they play together.

This is Simons’ chance to show everything he can possibly be. With no serious team expectations, his fellow backcourt star just learning the game, and Portland in serious need of points, we should see every side of Ant possible. If he can blossom into a star, we should know it by the end of the year. If the inverse happens, we’ll know that too.

The Obvious Pick: Shaedon Sharpe

Lots of people are going to pick Shaedon Sharpe in response to your question, just because of the fervor around his athleticism and potential. For me, Sharpe is still too inexperienced to bank on.

I absolutely expect Shaedon to take a leap this season. If he doesn’t make any progress, it’ll be disturbing. But the question isn’t, “Who’s going to improve most?” but, “Who has the most to prove?” That syntax drives me away from Sharpe. There are still too many holes in his game to fill, still too many unknowns, to claim this as a make-or-break season for him. Relatively modest improvements will keep him on track. He still has another season after that before we make earnest demands, or judgments.

“Most to prove” carries connotations of a final exam. Not only is Sharpe not ready for that, he’s not ready to sit down at the desk yet. He has plenty to learn, but also plenty of time to do it.

The Subtle Pick: Nassir Little

Nassir Little is going to be my subtle pick for “most to prove in 2023-24”. He entered the league in 2019 at age 19. He’s now about to embark on his fifth season. The small forward position isn’t filled in Portland. Jerami Grant will leave room at backup power forward as well. The opportunity is there if Little can seize it.

The first thing the athletic forward will need to do is prove he can stay healthy. Despite playing only 17.1 minutes per game, he’s averaged only 48 games per year. That’s not a huge workload, but he hasn’t been able to power through it.

Defensive ability, confidence in his pull-up, and a slowly-growing perimeter shot are Little’s rays of hope. If he can lock down at the three spot and hit a three when passed to, he should become a serviceable starter, if not a prized commodity.

Little will succeed if he can marry his instinct towards the big play with solid discipline. It’s time for flashes of brilliance to morph into actual help for the franchise.

Little is nowhere near the most important player on the roster, but he may be the one with the most to prove in the coming season.

You now know my three. How about you all? Would you add to anything I’ve said about these players, or do you prefer other candidates? Share with us and Robert in the comment section below. And if you’d like to send in your own question, the address is We’ll try to get to as many as possible!