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How Are Last Season’s Blazers Performing With Their New Franchises?

The Blazers look a lot different this season but what’s happening with some of the guys on last year’s roster.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers made wholesale changes to their roster during the 2023 offseason, following up on Damian Lillard’s request for a new home. While waiting almost three months for a deal to eventuate, General Manager Joe Cronin waived and watched pending free agents leave in order to further the franchise’s first rebuild in 11 years.

By the end of the offseason, more than two thirds of the 2022-23 roster was signed to another NBA team or was out of the league. Of the 24 names that put on a Blazers jersey last season, only Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Shaedon Sharpe, Jabari Walker, Matisse Thybulle and Justin Minaya were kept.

This week we check in on those that have departed the Moda Center and whether they’re contributing above, below or neutral in comparison to their final season in Portland.

Damian Lillard

Milwaukee Bucks

22-23 Stats: 36.3 minutes, 32.2 points, 37.1% 3pt, 4.8 boards, 7.3 assists, 0.9 steals

23-24 Stats: 35.2 minutes, 25.0 points, 35.2% 3pt, 4.3 boards, 6.8 assists, 1.0 steals

The point guard dominated the summer rumor mill following his trade request to the Miami Heat on the opening day of free agency. Lillard was eventually dealt to the Bucks to join Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unfortunately, the pair have yet to find their offensive groove, leading to Lillard’s numbers being down.

While a reduction in points would make sense playing with a two-time MVP, the efficiency should theoretically go up. Why? Firstly, because opposing defenses should be paying less attention to the Weber State great and, secondly, Lillard is taking on a reduced workload.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Since last season, Lillard has dropped from second in points per shot attempt among guards at 1.29 to seventh this year at 1.23. He’s gone from ninth in effective field goal percentage at 56.6 percent last season to 25th at 51.9 percent this season and from 10th in midrange shooting at 49 percent last season to 29th and 39 percent this season.

I’ve got no doubt that Lillard will rediscover the efficiency that made him a star in Portland through 11 years. But it needs to be soon if he and Antetokounmpo are going to make any real noise in the NBA Playoffs.

Jusuf Nurkic

Phoenix Suns

22-23 Stats: 26.8 minutes, 13.3 points, 36.1% 3pt, 9.1 boards, 2.9 assists, 0.8 blocks

23-24 Stats: 27.9 minutes, 12.4 points, 27.3% 3pt, 10.3 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.1 blocks

Nurkic helped facilitate the Lillard trade with his contract and two others sent to Phoenix for Deandre Ayton. Last year’s Blazers and this year’s Suns are a completely different proposition with the Arizona franchise initially picked, on paper, to contend in the spring.

In Phoenix, the big man has less scoring responsibility, with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and, more recently, Bradley Beal on the squad. But he facilitates more often given the lack of point guards on the Suns roster. The Bosnian Beast’s minutes, rebounds, assists and blocks are up this season but, like Lillard, the points and efficiency are down.

Among bigs, Nurkic’s midrange shooting from more than 14 feet out has dropped from 18th last season at 55.6 percent to 67th and 16.7 percent this season. However, his defensive rebounding remains elite at seventh among bigs at 7.5 a game.

Nassir Little

Phoenix Suns

22-23 Stats: 18.1 minutes, 6.6 points, 36.7% 3pt, 2.6 boards, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals

23-24 Stats: 15.2 minutes, 5.1 points, 32.0% 3pt, 2.5 boards, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals

Little was included in the package to Phoenix along with Nurkic and Keon Johnson. The former Tarheel has been a mainstay off the Suns’ bench putting up similar numbers to his time with the Blazers.

The one area that has suffered has been his three point shooting. Little’s ranking among forwards has fallen from 45th at almost 37 percent last season to 60th this season at 32.0 percent. He has compensated for this, improving his percentage in the midrange from 47th last season at 40.0 percent to second at 70.0 percent.

The 23-year-old has been an adequate rotation player for the Suns this season and if he can maintain some semblance of durability, he’ll be in the Phoenix rotation.

Trendon Watford

Brooklyn Nets

22-23 Stats: 19.1 minutes, 7.4 points, 39.1% 3pt, 3.8 boards, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals

23-24 Stats: 13.0 minutes, 6.3 points, 34.8% 3pt, 3.2 boards, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals

Watford was waived by the Blazers on June 30, to the chagrin of many a Blazers fan. The biggest obstacle he faced was the younger and bigger-bodied Jabari Walker, who can do a lot of what Watford offered.

With the Nets this season, Watford has seen a reduction in minutes and output with his playing time in recent weeks best described as sporadic. This is understandable considering he’s competing for minutes with Dorian Finney-Smith, Cam Johnson and Royce O’Neil at the four and Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe at the five. The 23-year-old’s efficiency has been the biggest casualty in his move from the west to the east coast. Watford has suffered drops in three point and effective field goal percentage, the latter of which has dropped from 60.8 percent to 57.6 percent.

Josh Hart

New York Knicks

22-23 Stats: 32.3 minutes, 9.8 points, 37.2% 3pt, 7.8 boards, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals

23-24 Stats: 28.2 minutes, 7.3 points, 32.4% 3pt, 6.2 boards, 2.8 assists, 0.8 steals

Hart played a year in Portland but never a full season, arriving and departing at consecutive trade deadlines. His role with the Knicks since his arrival last February has been predominantly off the bench, doing the same thing he did in Portland: rebounding, handling the ball, defending and running fast breaks whenever he can.

His scoring has been less efficient,, with his three point rate falling from 37.3 percent to 32.4 percent and his overall field goal percentage dropping from 52.9 percent to 44.4 percent. Hart does seem to be at home with the Knicks, playing alongside Villanova brethren Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo.

Gary Payton II

Golden State Warriors

22-23 Stats: 16.7 minutes, 4.6 points, 50% 3pt, 3.1 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals

23-24 Stats: 16.3 minutes, 5.4 points, 28.1% 3pt, 3.0 boards, 0.8 assists, 1.1 steals

The Blazers dealt Payton II back to the Warriors at the 2023 deadline under acrimonious circumstances after signing him as a free agent the prior summer. The word “Toradol” mentioned by reporters multiple times. He played a grand total of 15 games in Portland, missing a large portion of the pre-deadline regular season due to extended recovery from an abdominal injury.

Payton’s poor health has traveled with him back to California, first with a calf injury that kept him out of 13 games and, most recently, a hamstring strain, which will see him miss several weeks. His almost halved three point percentage might stand out at first glance, but last year’s percentage was achieved with 1.2 attempts versus 2.0 attempts this season. As a result, the latter is probably more indicative of his true ability. Golden State is currently outside the Play-In Picture and I’m not sure an eventual Payton II return will make that much of a difference.

Cam Reddish

Los Angeles Lakers

22-23 Stats: 24.8 minutes, 9.7 points, 31.3% 3pt, 2.2 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals

23-24 Stats: 23.9 minutes, 6.7 points, 34.1% 3pt, 2.5 boards, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals

Portland declined to extend a qualifying offer to Reddish over the summer after trading for him at the 2023 trade deadline. He was one of the first deals announced in summer free agency when the Lakers took a chance on the initially highly touted lottery pick.

The young wing enjoyed multiple highlight plays earlier this season but has reverted back to the mean. And by mean, I mean average contribution on an underperforming team. Reddish’s points per shot attempt have fallen from 1.13 with Portland last season, good enough for 57th among wings to 1.02 this season and 77th. Most of this has to do with the shocking dip he’s seen in midrange shooting from sixth and 52.6 percent among wings, with Portland last season to 78th and 20.6 percent this season.

Kevin Knox II

Detroit Pistons

22-23 Stats: 15.1 minutes, 6.6 points, 34.9% 3pt, 2.8 boards, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals

23-24 Stats: 17.9 minutes, 8.3 points, 35.7% 3pt, 2.3 boards, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals

Knox II is one of the few former Blazers who has seen an uptick in production this season. The former lottery pick returned to Portland on a training camp deal in preseason but was waived before opening night. The Pistons welcomed the forward back after dealing him to the Blazers at last year’s deadline.

The 24-year-old has been playing real minutes, most notably last week against the Golden State Warriors, putting up 18 points on 4 of 8 from three with 3 assists and 2 blocks.

An increase in points-per-shot-attempt his taken his ranking among forwards from 62nd (1.11) last season to 24th (1.19) this season. This has been helped along by being more accurate in the midrange, increasing from 42.0 percent and 40th among forwards with the Blazers last season to 6th and 58.3 percent this season.

Drew Eubanks

Phoenix Suns

22-23 Stats: 20.3 minutes, 6.6 points, 5.4 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks

23-24 Stats: 16.3 minutes, 5.8 points, 4.3 boards, 0.9 assists, 0.9 blocks

Eubanks signed with the Suns in free agency after serving as Jusuf Nurkic’s back up in Portland. This year Eubanks has had to battle both Chimezie Metu and Udoka Azubuike for Nurkic’s back up minutes.

Eubanks has experienced a reduction in two point shot efficiency. At the rim he’s dipped, among bigs, from 39th last season at 75.0 percent to 52nd this season at 71 percent. In the midrange, Eubanks has plummeted from 20th and 53.1 percent to 52nd and 43.9 percent.

The others

Keon Johnson formed part of the package that went to Phoenix in the Lillard deal before being waived by the Suns. He signed a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets and has appeared in only one game, putting up 12 points on 2 of 4 from the point line, 1 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 1 steal. He’s recorded 15.6 points on 41.2 percent from three, 6 boards and 3.8 assists with the G League affiliate Long Island Nets.

Justise Winslow’s 2022-23 season was cut short by injury, with the veteran wing now plying his trade with the Toronto Raptors G League affiliate, Raptors 905. Through five games, Winslow has put up 15.8 points on 40 percent three point shooting, 8.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks.

Former Blazers two-way contract John Butler Jr. has found a place with the Washington Wizards G League affiliate Capital City Go-Go. In six games this season, Butler Jr has put up 6.8 points on 42.9 percent three point shooting, 3.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 0.5 assists and 0.5 steals.

Finally, wing Jeenathan Williams, who played sparingly with the Blazers last season, managed to find a home on a two-way contract with the Houston Rockets. Through four games with the Texas franchise, Williams has put up 3.3 points, 0.5 assists and 0.3 steals.

Conclusion

Interestingly, most of last year’s Blazers are struggling or just on par with the same level of output and efficiency they registered last season. But this, by no means, suggests the Blazers should have kept them or that they padded their numbers on the poor team that Portland was.

For guys like Nurkic, Little, Hart, Watford and Eubanks, either a reduced role or more positional competition has resulted in neutral or lower output. Reddish and Payton II have enjoyed increased roles but have failed to benefit while Knox II has made the most of his increased responsibility, albeit on a pretty horrid squad.

As for Lillard, you could argue he’s seen a reduction in responsibility due to him starting the court with Antetokounmpo. But, to me, the problem is that Bucks Coach Adrian Griffin is still figuring out how to best use the ridiculous offensive power at his disposal. In a glimmer of hope, the Bucks exacted a drubbing on fellow contender Boston Celtics this week, so perhaps Griffin has found something.