We’re about three weeks out from the start of the NBA season, and I could not be more excited to watch the Portland Trail Blazers work their way through the Western Conference. We have new players to watch, players ready to take the next step, and the return of Dame time. There are three big questions that we hope to have answered soon. Let’s take a look at each.
Can Anfernee Ascend?
The Blazers signed Simons to a four-year $100 million this offseason, solidifying their belief that Simons will be a staple in the success of this franchise for years to come. His progression with the Blazers has been quick. Here are his past two years, with an estimate for this upcoming year:
2020-2021: 7 PPG / 2 RPG / 1 APG on 42%FG / 42%3P / 81%FT
2021-2022: 17 PPG / 2 RPG / 4 APG on 44% FG / 40%3P / 88%FT
2022-2023: 19 PPG / 4 RPG / 5 APG on 44% FG / 43% 3P / 86%FT (estimated)
I was curious to see what CJ McCollum averaged as a Trail Blazer, and it’s eerily similar to Simons. McCollum averaged 19 PPG / 3 RPG / 3 APG on 45% FG / 39%3P / 82%FT. We see here that the Trail Blazers have retained CJ McCollum while bringing in Josh Hart. Even more positive for Rip City is that Simons is only 23 years old, whereas McCollum is 31. If Simons can get past that 20 PPG threshold on those same shooting splits, this can elevate the Blazers further into the playoffs.
Who Is Shaedon Sharpe?
To many Blazers fans’ surprise, we drafted Shaedon Sharpe with our first pick in the draft. This was a shock, given Sharpe did not play for the Kentucky Wildcats. His draft profile had him compared to the likes of J.R. Smith. For those not aware, J.R. Smith was a great offensive player but had some character issues while in the league. During the draft process, there were mixed reports about how Sharpe’s workouts went. Sources said that he had worked out twice for the Blazers and they felt “underwhelmed” by his performance. Some even alluded to Sharpe possibly sandbagging his workouts to get drafted lower. Coach Billups dispelled this, saying that Sharpe was great and even released footage of Sharpe clamping down on players during workouts. In Summer League, Sharpe suffered a partial tear in his shoulder that shut him down for the remainder of the tournament. After being cleared, Sharpe has been practicing with the team, gathering praise from Damian Lillard, saying, “you don’t just come around players like that. So if the development happens, I really feel he can become a guy that really changes our team, more so than anybody else.” Dame even went as far as saying Sharpe is an “all-world talent.” If this is the case, we could see Sharpe sooner than we think.
Who’s The Small Forward?
Perhaps the biggest question for this season is, who will be in the starting lineup? You can lock in Dame, Simons, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkić as your first four starters, but that other forward position will be a toss-up. The three players I think that have a shot at that spot would be Josh Hart, Nasir Little, and Justise Winslow. Each player brings a different feel to the lineup. Josh Hart is one of the rare guard/forward combos that can guard four positions and will also grab you close to eight rebounds per game at only 6’5″. To go with that rebounding, he’s an average three-point shooter, although recently, Hart has been scoring more on the interior. Nasir Little benefitted from the injuries of last year to gather some playing time. In that time, Little averaged about ten points per game and five rebounds per game in the 26 minutes he played. Little’s game is a solid mix of scoring at every level. He features a decent three-point shot, a solid mid-range game, and can bang down low with his muscular frame. Justise Winslow’s journey to the Blazers has not been easy. Consistently plagued by injuries, Winslow has not played an entire season since his rookie year in 2015. He was acquired by the Blazers in the Norman Powell /Robert Covington deal last year. Unlike Hart and Little, Winslow’s offense is secondary to his defense. Because of this feature alone, I feel that Winslow is the play here. I think you will need Hart and Little off the bench to provide a spark plug to the offense. The combination of Nurk and Winslow can provide enough defense while the offensive barrage of Grant, Dame, and Simons pushes them into a lead.