POWER RANKINGS » Optimism And Improvement Heading Into Training Camp

by Casey Holdahl
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With NBA training camps officially starting later this week and the 2020-21 regular season getting underway in three weeks, it’s a good time to check in on where the Trail Blazers stand in the weekly power rankings. It’s probably more difficult than in previous season to figure, after the obvious choices near the top and the bottom, where teams slot in with so much player movement taking place, but it’s always an exercise in educated guesses anyway, so who’s to say these assumptions won’t be more accurate.

And in regards to the Trail Blazers, we do know at least one thing: this is a more talented and balanced team than we saw at the start of the 2019-20 season. That team had high expectations as well, expectations that they didn’t come close to meeting, but between their play in the Orlando bubble, the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Rodney Hood from injury and the additions of Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr. and Enes Kanter, it is safe to say this iteration has cause to be optimistic about their chances. Now they’ll just have to prove it on the court, and avoid COVID-19 off of it.

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• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has the Trail Blazers as the No. 5 team in the Western Conference...

Key question: Can they keep Lillard and CJ McCollum fresh?

Covington is exactly what the Blazers needed, though one guy isn't going to turn a defense that ranked last (by a wide margin) after Christmas into league average by himself. A full season of Nurkic and fewer minutes for Anthony will also help on that end of the floor.

Seemingly at the peak of his powers (read that last bullet point again), the 30-year old Lillard will keep the Blazers in the top 10 offensively. But while the frontcourt is deep, the backcourt depth comes with some questions and, in a somewhat condensed season, it would be good if the starting guards don't rank first and second in minutes per game again. To keep them fresh with secondary playmaking, the Blazers will need Rodney Hood to recover strongly from a torn Achilles and/or Anfernee Simons (still only 21 years old) to have the breakout we thought he might have a year ago.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 4 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 6. 

• Kevin Pelton of ESPN is doing win projections using their "Real Plus/Minus" metric, and he has the Trail Blazers ranked as (ahem) No. 9 in the Western Conference...

9. Portland Trail Blazers
Average wins: 38.2
Playoffs: 58%

Given their widely lauded offseason, the Blazers projecting ninth is certainly something of a surprise. It's worth remembering how compact the West projections are: Just 3.5 wins on average separate Portland from second in the conference. As a result, though the Blazers have the ninth-best projection, they're still more likely to make the playoffs than not.

In other words, they'll probably finish ahead of at least one of the eight teams with better projections. We're just not sure which one.

It's typically not a great sign when you have to start off something like this by explaining why it isn't ridiculous. 

Pelton has the Trail Blazers behind the Suns at No. 8 with 38.6 wins and ahead of the No. 9 Grizzlies with 36.0 wins. 

• Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 just a few days away from the start of training camp...

After struggling to fill gaps on the wing all last season, the Blazers traded for Robert Covington, signed Derrick Jones Jr. and re-signed both Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony. Those pieces around Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic should make Portland a real threat in the West after a down year.

Ward-Henninger has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 12 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 14.

• Our friends up north at The Score have the Trail Blazers as the No. 7 team going into the 2020-21 season...

Robert Covington and Derrick Jones will significantly improve the Trail Blazers' perimeter defense. Meanwhile, Enes Kanter and Harry Giles provide Portland with depth if its frontcourt gets decimated by injuries again.

The Score has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 6 and ahead of the 76ers at No. 8.

• They don't seem to bother with assigning a number rank, but some easy artithmatic tells us that the staff at another Canadian outfit, SportsNet, have the Trail Blazers at the No. 4 team in the West...

Quietly, the Blazers have done a great job reshaping their roster, adding the springy Derrick Jones Jr., Harry Giles and Enes Kanter for front court depth, and retaining both Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood. They also made one of the more understated trades of the off-season, sending Trevor Ariza and a couple first-round picks to the Houston Rockets for Robert Covington, a prototypical three-and-D wing who figures to fit nicely.

This version of the Blazers is, at least in theory, more than comparable to the one that forged a path to the Western Conference Finals in 2018, and having Jusuf Nurkic back healthy, in particular, has them relatively high on this list.

SportsNet has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 3 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 5. 

• Greg Joyce at the New York Post has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 in the NBA to start the season...

It hasn’t been splashy, but the Blazers quietly had a strong offseason — trading for Robert Covington, signing Derrick Jones Jr. and re-signing Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony to bolster the roster around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Joyce has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 12 and ahead of the Suns at No. 14. 

• Greg Swartz at Bleacher Report has the Trail Blazers starting the season ranked lucky No. 13...

The Portland Trail Blazers will be one of the league's most improved teams after finishing last year four games below .500.

A healthy Jusuf Nurkic will be the biggest reason, but a revamped set of wings will play a big role, as well.

Robert Covington is a perfect fit at either forward position as a 29-year old coming off playoff averages of 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks and a 50.0 percent mark from three. Rodney Hood and Derrick Jones Jr. give the Blazers scoring and depth, and Carmelo Anthony should now be asked to do far less at age 36.

Enes Kanter gives Portland insurance behind Nurkic, and Harry Giles III (22) was a no-risk signing with significant potential.

While the Blazers didn't do much to improve their league-worst assist rate (48.8 percent), this roster is still far better than last year's.

Schwartz has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 12 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 14. 

• Finally, David Aldridge at The Athletic released his ranking of offseason performance rather than picking where teams are to start the season, and he has the Trail Blazers, Neil Olshey and his staff coming in with the second-best offseason...

The Skinny: Efficient work by the Blazers in adding quality players for not much money. Covington brings his versatile D and floor-stretching abilities; Kanter is a bucket off the bench and can start in a pinch if injuries again hit Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins; Jones is insanely athletic, and while he fell out of Miami’s rotation by the time the playoffs came around, he was in it most of the season, so you know he can defend well enough. Taking a flier on Giles and betting on your medical staff to get him right after years of injuries is a low-risk gamble with a big potential upside. Whether ‘Melo plays in 60 games or six, his value on the bench and in the locker room is immeasurable. And he showed last season he can still make some big shots if you need them.

Aldridge ranks Portland's offseason behind only the 76ers at No. 1 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 3. 

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