By Matthew Zimmer
Now, before we get started, I’ll admit … I’m no Peter Sampson. However, I think I can give you a good look at the 2020 Portland Trail Blazers season.
If you haven’t been paying attention to basketball news with football going on, I get it. In that case, you may not know about everything the Blazers have been up to in their short offseason.
With all these additions — and yes some are just guys returning like Hood, Melo and Kanter — Portland is hoping to reclaim the magic it had to go deep in the Western Conference playoffs. I’ll talk about each player a little more in depth later.
Honestly, these players leaving won’t really have a huge impact on Portland to me.
Whiteside was a stat stuffer, but also a good low post defender. Replacing him with Kanter will boost the offense with the second unit, but hurt the defense.
Ariza was getting older, and replacing him with Covington, Jones Jr., and a healthy Hood won’t make Ariza’s absence really noticeable.
Hezonja was just a nightmare, and we all held our collective breath when he was forced into action.
Adams and Gabriel were actually fun to watch in the bubble, and I’m genuinely sad to see Gabriel go. He wouldn’t have gotten a chance to play much with the Blazers suddenly crowded front court, but he was entertaining.
Caleb Swanigan was never going to be back with Portland.
The Blazers had four preseason games, where they went 1-3. They only had the same starting five twice.
One game Jusuf Nurkić wasn’t available due to finishing the NBA’s COVID-testing protocols, the other Damian Lillard sat out simply for rest.
Now, Terry Stotts could choose to go with a matchup-based lineup each night, but that’s not really what we’ve seen in the regular season in the past.
So, based on the preseason, expect the following starting five (as long as they stay healthy).
The next batch of players could rotate each night, but there’s a clear indication Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter will get consistent minutes each game.
After those four, I don’t expect to see a lot of other bench players. However, Anfernee Simons will likely get some backup point guard minutes, but if he struggles then Stotts will likely just let McCollum and Lillard split time with the second unit.
I don’t think we’ll see much from Keljin Blevins, CJ Elleby, Harry Giles III or Nassir Little, unless somebody needs a game off or players get injured. Also, we haven’t seen Little yet in any preseason action.
When Zach Collins comes back it will be really interesting to see how Stotts integrates him back into the lineup. Does he only play off the bench? Would he and Trent be the sixth/seventh men off the bench?
One thing we know, this is one of the deeper teams Stotts has had in his time in Portland. Even though players may not like their minutes per game, it’s obviously better to have more options than not enough choices to pick from.
The big three are healthy:
The defense will be in both the positives and the concerns category:
Continuity and Chemistry
Spreading Minutes Appropriately
Backup Point Guard
I believe in the Blazers. I think they could be one of the best teams in the NBA.
Taking potential injuries out of the equation — aka everyone stays healthy — I think the floor for Portland is the No. 8 seed. However, their ceiling is an NBA Title.
Yes, I know that sounds like I’m being a homer, but say all my “if’s” from above work out, they could win the title.
The likeliest scenario is obviously somewhere in the between those two options.
With unpredictable situations like positive COVID-19 tests or unforeseen injuries, it’s likely the Blazers finish as a middle of the road team in the West.
I think Portland could beat almost anyone in the West, but they could just as easily lose to anyone in the West.
Damian Lillard hasn’t missed the playoffs since his rookie year, and I’m not betting against him.
If I’m looking at things from a realist’s standpoint instead of an optimist’s outlook, here’s what I think.
Portland will be a Top 4 seed. They will win at least one postseason series.
Beyond that, I’m not sure they could beat either LA team in the second round of the postseason. If they do, then the Blazers have a chance to win the NBA Title.
For now, I’m predicting a second round exit for Portland.
If you’ve read this far, thank you! Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s opener for the Blazers.
Where: Home at the Moda Center vs. Utah
When: Tip-off at 7 p.m.
Watch: NBC Sports Northwest
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