The Portland Trail Blazers are five games into the 2023-24 NBA season, and their 2-3 record comes with a sigh of relief following their no-good, very-bad opening to the new campaign.
After a mostly rough 0-3 start, Portland has bounced back with consecutive road wins, first on Monday over the Toronto Raptors, 99-91, then against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, 110-101.
Five games into a new season, let alone a rebuild, we’re still dissecting “Small Sample Size Theatre.” But at this point, we also have an entirely new ecosystem to put under the microscope.
With an entire 77 games to go, there’s no better time to throw out a handful of scalding hot takes that can, in no way, possibly backfire.
*Hit the comments at Oregon Sports News to let us know what we got right, what we missed, and what your biggest takeaways are from Portland’s early showing.
Shaedon Sharpre Is Ready
If there’s a silver lining to the Trail Blazers’ start and Anfernee Simons’ thumb injury (1-2 months), it’s that a runway has cleared for Shaedon Sharepe’s personal Most Improved Player campaign.
Through five games, Sharpe is averaging 20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on 46.0 percent field-goal shooting (38.7 percent from deep). He’s reliable from the charity stripe at 86.3 percent, and he looks the part of a potential primary option, especially after Wednesday’s 42-minute showing with 29 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks, and a steal.
So far, Sharpe has held down the starting 2-guard spot in every game Simons has missed. He’ll stay a starter until Portland’s No. 1 option returns—maybe even longer if the 20-year-old keeps leveling up as he racks up starts in his second season.
Sharpe starting long-term will also require Chauncey Billups to endure third-year lumps. But that could, in turn, end up a calculated part of building a thrilling Scoot-Ant-Shaedon backcourt.
Right now, the Blazers should give Sharpe the greenest light in the new rotation. Scoot is there, but Sharpe is comfortable. Everything from his mid-range elevation out to the three—then back above the rim—looks smooth and efficient to start his sophomore year.
Last season, Billups described Sharpe as a mix between Brandon Roy and Vince Carter. That’s…impossible, right? Such lofty forecasts should fall into Inconceivable! territory.
At the same time, dreamers and realists can both agree there’s an honest-to-goodness style comparison. And with enough touches in Year 2, the 20-year-old future star can start to fulfill his potential and start looking like a real No. 1 option.
Scoot Henderson’s Learning Curve
Before the 2023-24 season, Robert Williams III had high praise for his new point guard. “That motherf—-r’s fast,” Williams said. “Even just looking at his eyes sometimes … the focus that he had, it was crazy. He’ll be great.”
Time Lord isn’t wrong about Scoot. That dude really is fast.
And with time, he can also be great.
For now, Scoot has looked downright human for an elite prospect, missing shots, turning the ball over, and struggling to anticipate (and adapt to) both opposing offenses and defenses. “Human,” by the way, is a universal description for a 19-year-old, not to mention just about any NBA prospect. So let’s pump the breaks and give the kid with the keys a chance to learn how to drive.
Entering Portland’s fifth game of the year against the Pistons, Scoot was averaging 8.3 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per contest. He was also just 1-of-18 from the three-point line. Then, on Wednesday, he recorded 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting (1-of-3 from deep), collecting seven assists, committing two turnovers, and gathering no rebounds in just 20 minutes due to injury.
Those types of game logs should be expected from Scoot. And they shouldn’t be frowned upon.
Scoot is going to learn from his mistakes. Before you know it, his lumps will start to look like rear-view growing pains instead of long-term concerns.
Over the past few months, we’ve heard a lot about how Scoot would have been a No. 1 pick in other years if not for Victor Wembanyama. That type of discourse can cause a fanbase to forget Year 1 of a rebuild is often harder than you realize. When actually, it’s a lot harder. And the honeymoon stage is usually a lot shorter than anyone expects.
The consensus around Scoot is that it won’t be long before he converts skills and determination into NBA production. There will be flashes of brilliance this season, but there will also be a slower, more meaningful improvement that takes place over the next six months.
What’s been clear through five contests is that both the speed and physicality of the NBA are a challenge.
That’s the case for every young prospect coming in, and it’s even more so for one of the league’s next touted generational point guards.
Malcolm Brogdon Trade Talk Will Get Real Loud, Real Quick
Portland is already experiencing a morale-shifting, two-game winning streak following Wednesday’s underdog victory. That should douse water on most immediate “tank every game” hot takes—but then again, this is the NBA.
One thing that has been clear so far is that Malcolm Brogdon is way too good for this team—at least at this time.
Entering 2023-24, Brogdon was forecasted as something between Portland’s Sixth Man of the Year and its ultimate Trade Block Star. Now, entering November, it’s plain to see Portland’s resident adult in the room will be a monumental trade chip by or before February’s trade deadline.
In the meantime, Brogdon is averaging a team-high 18.3 points per game across roughly 27 minutes per contest. He’s hitting the boards, he’s facilitating, and he’s playing with more control than just about anyone in the rotation.
Seriously, have you watched Brogdon play? He literally looks like Andre Miller out there.
There’s also some truth to the idea Brogdon is already being showcased. Everyone, including the former Boston Celtic, said the right thing about being in the right situation during training camp, but he’s also bound to make contenders drool throughout trade season.
Brogdon will be a real pickup for a contender this year. In exchange, he’ll most likely command multiple draft assets, which the Blazers will gladly take on in the interest of losing now and winning later.
With the LA Clippers’ trade for James Harden taking place days into the 2023-24 campaign, the NBA is officially waiting for its next domino to fall.
Welcome to the chat, Malcolm Brogdon. (See you soon, Jerami Grant.)
The Kids Need Minutes
Toumani Camara and Jabari Walker are the young power duo nobody knew they needed.
Camara may have been a last-minute addition to the final roster, but the 23-year-old is quickly forcing Billups’ hand for some serious run in the rotation. He’s already averaging 23.2 minutes per contest across five games, and his individual numbers have nearly beaten out the entire 2023 second-round’s stats.
That’s beyond impressive.
Walker, on the other hand, is a slightly more familiar commodity, having played 56 games for Portland last season. It almost seems, at this point, like his ceiling might be lower than Camari’s (rebounding aside?). But at 21, he’s becoming a fan favorite within a roster full of young players who could see minutes this year.
These two will be fun to watch throughout the 2023-24 season.
Chauncey Billups Better Keep the Locker Room
Without calling this the “Deandre Ayton Needs to Step Up Award,” the two might be one in the same. Let me explain.
Billups is entering another year where he’s not expected to win. Congrats to him. The bar remains low, but this time, there’s an expectation he can groom a young roster and shape the direction of a franchise—all while instilling some intangible winning habits.
Ayton, among others, might not be on board with losing, especially if he’s not getting the touches he expects on the league’s second-youngest roster.
Without individual success making up for lack of wins, Ayton and others could sense (and be a part of) chemistry dissolving. And fair or not, the backlash in that scenario is often felt first by the coach, not by one of the general manager’s prized returns in a recent blockbuster trade.
Looking ahead to 2024, losing was always the most likely outcome for Portland post-Lillard, but the vibes were also expected to be good. Rip City got Scoot, after all.
But if at any point it becomes clear that’s not the case—if the vibes fall victim to the tank itself—expect a fall man.
And expect that to be Billups.