Power Rankings: Middle Of The Pack To Start The Season

by Casey Holdahl
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With the Trail Blazers beginning their 2017-18 regular season on Wednesday versus the Suns in Phoenix (tipoff scheduled for 7 pm on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620 AM), let's take a look around the internet at the first crop of NBA Power Rankings. With little more than offseason player movement and preseason games to base opinions on, the first few weeks of power rankings tend to look a whole lot like the last few weeks or rankings from the season prior. Given that, it's not surprising to see the Portland Trail Blazers show up around the middle of the league, roughly where they ended last season, in the first batch of rankings.

Here goes...

• After cutting Marc Stein loose earlier this year, ESPN now has a panel making their Power Rankings picks. That panel consisting of Kevin Arnovitz, Amin Elhassan and Ramona Shelburne, Marc J. Spears and Chris Herring, has the Trail Blazers starting the season at No. 14

Damian Lillard averaged 25 points per game each of the past two seasons but wasn't selected an All-Star in either season. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, he is one of three players to average 25 PPG and not make an All-Star team in back-to-back seasons, joining Michael Redd and Purvis Short. Neither Redd nor Short did so in three consecutive seasons.

ESPN has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 13 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 15

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 in his season-opening power rankings

2016-17: 41-41
Pace: 99.1 (14) OffRtg: 107.8 (11) DefRtg: 107.8 (21) NetRtg: -0.0 (15) If Evan Turner's preseason (15-for-25 shooting, plus-62 in 77 minutes) is an indication of things to come, the Blazers are going to be great. Winning their last five preseason games is a good sign, because they need to get off to a strong start, having one of the league's easiest schedules over the first five weeks. Pat Connaughton will take Allen Crabbe's spot in the rotation and may start on Wednesday with C.J. McCollum serving a one-game suspension.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 12 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 14.

• David Aldridge, also for NBA.com, only ranks the top half of the league, but Portland makes the cut, coming in at No. 13

Stunned that the Blazers are letting Jusuf Nurkic get to free agency, even if it’s restricted free agency. Yes, they don’t have a big sample size of Nurk in the middle, and, yes, they have a zillionaire owner who won’t lose anyone because of money, But there’s no way I’m letting Mark Cuban have a whack at recruiting this guy next summer.

I’m not going to do much Power Rankings commentary this year, but this take makes absolutely no sense. They can match any contract on Nurkić, even from Mark Cuban, who also opted not to pay his restricted free agent center, Nerlens Noel, this offseason.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 12 and ahead of the Timberwolves at No. 14.

• Kenny Ducey at SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 14 in his initial rankings

Come here, have a seat. You hear that music in the background? That’s Damian Lillard’s new album. Good, right? Here, drink this. It’s the Jusuf Nurkic Kool-Aid. Now, how are you feeling about these Blazers?

Ducey has the Trail Blazers ahead of the Pelicans at No. 15 and behind the Nuggets at N. 13.

• Matt Moore at CBS Sports.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 17 in his first rankings of the season (posted September 26)…

In the past 14 months of regular-season play, the Blazers have finished over .500 in just five of those months, and that includes several over-.500 months with less than six games in October and April. My point is that this has been a bad team, overall, the past two years. Here is the single question you have to ask to figure out if Portland's going to be good: Do you believe in Nurkic fever?

What an arbitrary thing to point out. I’m guessing that’s not all that uncommon for teams in Portland’s stratum.

Moore has the Trail Blazers behind the Heat at No. 16 and ahead of the Jazz at No 18.

• Gerald Bourguet at Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 12 to start the season…

The Portland Trail Blazers were a completely different team in their 20 games with a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, ranking sixth in offensive rating and 12th in defensive rating with a 14-6 record during that span.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are just going to keep doing what they do best, but if the Bosnian Beast can finally put together a fully healthy season, the backcourt’s porous defense might not be as much of an issue as it’s been in the past. Fingers crossed the big guy can stay on the court in a loaded race for the West’s last few playoff spots.

Bourguet has the Trail Blazers behind the Clippers at No. 11 and ahead of the Heat at No. 13.

• AJ Neuharth-Keusch at USA Today has the Trail Blazers at No. 15 in his first rankings of the regular season…

We know what Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are capable of, but the real X factor here is Jusuf Nurkic, who emerged as a legitimate third option during the latter portion of last season after being traded from Denver.

Neuharth-Keusch has the Trail Blazers behind the Heat at No. 13 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 16.