Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has dominated local and national NBA headlines on a daily basis since his trade request in early July. Blazers fans have soaked up every ounce of reporting and speculation, but some also want to talk turkey about the season ahead, with or without Lillard. We’re picking one of those submission as the subject of this Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Enough of the doom and gloom. Let’s look to the future! If Lillard goes, how do you see the team playing next year? What changes? If there’s going to be a new era let’s get it started off right. Put on your Dave glasses and tell me what that looks like.
It’s a difficult task, as a few of the key players are new or inexperienced. Scoot Henderson is a rookie. Shaedon Sharpe needs seasoning like a Hell’s Kitchen steak. Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic form the core trio, but we’re not 100% sure two of the three will be in Portland for the long haul. Around them is a collection of newcomers to the team if not to the league. The Blazers are going to need a year to figure this out after all the trades are done. Lillard hanging on through the opening of the season—or Nurkic and Simons ending up lame ducks for an extended period—would put off the rejuvenation horizon.
That said, Portland can’t reset completely. They need the continuity that their experienced players provide. It’s going to be a process, not an event.
I can point out one area that should be ripe for transformation, though. Henderson, Sharpe, Simons, and Keon Johnson are all young and springy. To this point, they’ve been like a Twin Turbo, V8 engine stuck in a VW bus. That should change next season.
It’s no secret that the majority of the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum era has been spent with Portland playing in the halfcourt. Rightfully so, too. Those two guards stand among the most skilled offensive players in the modern NBA, high on the list of All-Time Blazers Scorers too. They’re trained dancers, superlative in their subtle waltz around the court. Scoring on the run is like a mosh pit: almost anybody who gets in the right space can do it. Why would professional ballroom experts engage at that level? They’d lose the advantages of their training, what made them special.
If Lillard and McCollum are gone and Portland’s core scorers are fast, under 25, and have massive vertical leaps, it’s time to shelf the Strauss and put on some Megadeth.
The transformation has already started under Head Coach Chauncey Billups. Portland ranked 13th in fast break points per game last season, 15th in Billups’ rookie year. That’s a far cry from the Terry Stotts philosophy of “score none, give up none either” which saw Portland rank Bottom 5 in the league on the regular.
Side Note: To be fair to Stotts, he led his teams into a quicker halfcourt offense that saw the first available open shot as the right one, almost by default. He wasn’t averse to quick scoring. They just set up first.
Without Lillard walking up the ball, the Blazers are more likely to push early...half taking advantage of their gifts and half admitting that this might be the only way they score easily. They’re not going to get as many wins doing it, but it may open up a new door that remains ajar as they mature.
If athleticism also comes to bear on the defensive end, that’d sure help. This is going to be the fly in the ointment. To run effectively, the Blazers either have to force a ton of turnovers or defend well and rebound superlatively. They don’t have a history of any of those things. The current personnel don’t show signs of promise, either. Rebounding could be a particular issue, especially if they go small at the small forward position.
I’m guessing they’re at least going to try, though. They’ve got to score somehow. And hey, to the extent it works, it should be pretty fun to watch.
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