The off-season is over and it is officially time to start playing basketball. After being swept in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs there was a lot of talk about the Portland Trail Blazers and what they should (or could) do to make the team better moving forward.
General Manager Neil Olshey talks a lot about asset acquisition and the three different tools to build a team; free agency, draft, and trades.
Portland did not make any trades this off-season but did sign a couple free agents and drafted two players in June’s NBA Draft.
Five off-season moves:
- Re-Signs center Jusuf Nurkic to 4-year, $48 million deal
- Signs guard Seth Curry to 2-year, $5.6 million deal
- Signs guard Nik Stauskas to 1-year, $1.6 million deal
- Drafts guards Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. in NBA Draft
While Portland used these moves to round out their roster a lot of fans looked around the league and were disappointed when they saw LeBron James put on a Lakers jersey, Paul George re-signing with the Thunder, and Kawhi Leonard being dealt to the Raptors.
Portland has always been a market that has been on the outside looking in when it comes to free agency but this summer fans thought that the team would use draft capital to enter the trade market. Instead, the team will take the court on October 18th against the Lakers with a team that is very similar to last year’s team.
The preseason gives fans a small glimpse of what the season holds for their teams but with superstars only playing 10-20 minutes each game it makes it hard to get a grip on the potential rotation for the regular season. There are 240 minutes in each game to be divvied up across the roster. With 13 players on the active roster it is a real balancing act for coaches to find a winning equation with their rotation.
Below I take a stab at what the Blazers’ early season rotation will look like.
Point Guard – Damian Lillard – 36 minutes per game
In the last three seasons Lillard has averaged 35.7, 35.9, and 36.6 minutes per game. That makes this the easiest projection to make for the whole team. Lillard is the centerpiece of the franchise and a First Team All-NBA player. For the Blazers to make the playoffs this season in the ferocious Western Conference Lillard needs to be healthy and on the court as much as possible.
Shooting Guard – CJ McCollum – 36 minutes per game
McCollum averaged a career high 36.1 points per game last season. After Shabazz Napier left in free agency this summer McCollum will likely become one of the primary ball handlers with the second team. Pair that with McCollum’s ability to create a shot and he is a pillar of the Blazers’ organization.
Small Forward – Maurice Harkless – 26 minutes per game
An off-season knee procedure has put a damper on the excitement about Harkless’ potential. After having a bit of a regression last season, Harkless is in for a big opportunity this season. Harkless can be the 3-and-D perimeter player that the Blazers have been coveting if he can continue to shoot the 3 anywhere near the 42% that he shot last year.
Power Forward – Al-Farouq Aminu – 30 minutes per game
Aminu certainly isn’t a prototypical power forward but was a big part of the team’s transition to becoming a defensive team. Last year the team gave up 103 points per game. That’s the 3rd best in the Western Conference and 5th best in the entire league. Aminu’s 104 defensive rating was a big part of that.
Center – Jusuf Nurkic – 28 minutes per game
The Blazers locked up the 24-year-old center for the next four seasons. The length of this contract will likely span the prime of his career. Nurkic only averaged 26 minutes last season while he struggled to have the impact that he had the previous season for the Blazers. Nurkic will find his rhythm and will be the center that this team has been needing for years. Nurkic is the defensive centerpiece of the team, but has the size and offensive tools to compliment Lillard and McCollum on the perimeter.
Small Forward – Evan Turner – 26 minutes per game
Turner is basically the bench point guard. He will come in to spell Lillard and McCollum, but the Blazers are even more interesting when the three ball handlers are on the court together.
Center – Zach Collins – 26 minutes per game
The rookie averaged just shy of 16 minutes per game last season but played in 66 games. He continued to show all of his tools as the season went on. Collins has the potential to be one of the most skilled big men in the game and live up to his draft spot.
Point Guard – Seth Curry – 16 minutes per game
Coming from a family of shooters, Curry has averaged over 42% from beyond the arc in his NBA career. Curry looks to add a scoring punch off the bench and fill a role similar to Napier.
Power Forward – Meyers Leonard – 8 minutes per game
I have been in the Meyers Leonard fan club since he was drafted in 2012. This may be his last year to really show his potential. Will Leonard join the elusive 50-40-90 club or will he fall out of the rotation completely?
Shooting Guard – Wade Baldwin IV – 8 minutes per game
Baldwin broke out in late in the season last year and showed that he can be a defensive minded guard on this team full of offensive guards. Baldwin will carve himself a role for this team.