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Some Trail Blazers Still Face High Expectations This Season

While the Blazers aren’t expected to win many games this year, three individuals will be watched closely.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers go into the 2023-24 NBA season relatively free of team-wide expectations thanks to the pending exit of Damian Lillard and the franchise’s new youth movement. The seven-time All Star’s departure — whether it happens tomorrow or four months from now — feels like it’s been coming for a while.

Once Lillard is dealt, General Manager Joe Cronin can reset around Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, two lottery picks on rookie-scale deals who are tied to the franchise until at least the end of the decade. He can build a competitive team slowly and responsibly, through the draft, giving the young players time to develop and acclimate to the speed and strength of the NBA game.

But while the pressure is off the Blazers as an organization, there are still players who will be expected to perform even with losses likely to pile up.

Shaedon Sharpe

2022-23 number: 9.9 points, 36.0% from three, 3.0 boards, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals
Ideal 2023-24 numbers: 18.3 points, 38.5% from three, 4.6 boards, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steal

Sharpe will be given time to sand off the rough edges this year. But as someone tabbed as one half of the franchise’s future backcourt, he needs to prove how valuable those extra 12 months have been when playing next to Henderson.

The young Canadian needs to build on the form he showed during the final two weeks of the 2022-23 season. Through the March-April stretch, Sharpe averaged 23.7 points on 37.8 percent shooting from three, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a starter.

These numbers aren’t necessarily sustainable for a sophomore Sharpe, but they need to be achievable on a consistent basis by the end of his rookie deal if he’s going to hit his expected heights.

This season, Sharpe will be coming off the bench — he’s not big enough to play small forward and Anfernee Simons is not coming off the bench.

But he will own the team’s sixth man role, playing upwards of 30 minutes a night. All I ask is that he start delivering on the hype and mystique that surrounded him throughout his red shirt college season. The lack of basketball played heightened that mystique, but at some point potential can only take you so far.

It’s now time for him to realize the talk and exhibit it on the court.

Biggest area of improvement needed: Shooting, particularly in the midrange. Last season, among wings, Sharpe finished 59th in midrange scoring (44th percentile), including 67th between 4 and 14 feet (36th percentile). Ideally, he gets overall midrange scoring into the top 35, across all ranges.

Anfernee Simons

2022-23 number: 21.1 points, 37.7% from three, 2.6 boards, 4.1 assists, 0.7 steals
Ideal 2023-24 numbers: 28.2 points, 39% from three, 3.1 boards, 5.9 assists, 0.8 steals

Cronin cleared a runway for Simons in February 2022 by trading guards CJ McCollum and Norman Powell. That runway will get longer and wider the second Lillard is moved. The 24-year-old will be the offensive leader of this team. He’ll be given as many touches as he can handle.

Simons’ place in the modern NBA is an interesting one. In Portland he’s a talented young guard, an offensive juggernaut, someone who can shoot the pelt out of the ball. Outside of Oregon he’s probably not seen as highly.

Despite the majority of Blazers games likely resulting in losses, Simons now has an opportunity to prove that he deserves to be in the annual All-Star discussion. If he can score efficiently at an even higher usage this season while playing a co-facilitator role next to a rookie Henderson, then that league-wide respect might go up.

Biggest area of improvement needed: The easy answer here is defense. However, I’m going with playmaking. Among combo guards, Simons ranked 45th (51st percentile) for his assist rate last season. I need him jumping into the top 25 while maintaining last year’s scoring efficiency on a higher volume of shots.

Jerami Grant

2022-23 number: 20.5 points, 40.1% from three, 4.5 boards, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks
Ideal 2023-24 numbers: 25.8 points, 39.8% from three, 5.6 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks

Any player signing a $160 million contract should be expected to perform. As the elder statesman on this Blazers team, the former Syracuse product will need to help mentor the young Portland cohort, similar to the role he had with the Detroit Pistons.

With Simons, Grant will be expected to shoulder the offensive load this season and it’s in the best interests of the 29-year-old and the Blazers that he has a good season.

Grant is in his prime. These years are the best opportunity he has to (a) make an All Star team and (b) contribute to winning on a contender. In order for (b) to occur, he has to ensure he’s playing at an optimum level, whether that’s as an All Star remains to be seen.

Portland also needs Grant to perform to his contract in order to move him for a maximum number of young players and picks when that inevitable trade comes along.

Biggest area of improvement needed: Rebounding. He needs to increase his rebound rate. Last season, among forwards, Grant ranked 77th in offensive rebounds (22nd percentile) and 86th in defensive rebounds (13th percentile). I’m not expecting miracles but if he can jump into the top 50 in each category, it would be significant.

Honorable mention

Jusuf Nurkic is an honorable mention for me. I’m not expecting much from Nurkic, especially given Lillard’s pending departure. But if the big guy wants a substantive role in the league beyond his current contract. he needs to show something.

Last season among bigs, Nurkic ranked 132nd in free throws, 130th scoring at the rim, 117th in two-point percentage, 99th in effective field goal percentage, 81st in blocks, 71st in offensive rebounding. For a big guy earning more than $17 million a year over the next three years, I’d take improvements in any/all six categories.


I’m not for a second expecting the Blazers to sniff the NBA Playoffs this season. A lot would have to go right for that to happen. (See the Utah Jazz and Lauri Markkanen’s breakout last season after trading away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.)

Sharpe, Simons and Grant are all at different stages of their respective careers but all three will have different things to prove over the next 12 months.

The expectations bestowed upon them aren’t contingent on team success but for those three individuals to further their own NBA narratives.