POWER RANKINGS » The Trail Blazers' Baseline After A Busy Offseason

by Casey Holdahl
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With free agency all but over and the start of training camp a month and a half away, we have officially entered the doldrums of the NBA news cycle. The FIBA World Cup will provide some relief for the supremely basketball-starved and regular-season schedules will be released some time in the not-to-distant future, but other than that, now is the one time of the year in which the NBA truly takes a break. 

Which makes it a good time to ponder the hypothetical, such as the latest batch of way-to-early offseason power rankings. The Trail Blazers, coming off a trip to the conference finals, are about where you would expect a team that had success last season, but didn't add All-Star caliber players in their prime like a number of their Western Conference contemporaries. Of course, there's not much to base rankings off of more than two months before the start of the 2019-20 season, but that's never stopped anyone from giving out their opinion before, and there' no reason to start now. 

• John Schuhmann of NBA.com, in rankings posted on July 29, has the Trail Blazers ranked at No. 7 among Western Conference teams...

2018-19 record: 53-29
Pace: 100.0 (18) OffRtg: 113.7 (3) DefRtg: 109.5 (16) NetRtg: +4.2 (7)

Key addition(s): Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside
Key departure(s): Seven of their top 11 guys in playoff minutes
Key question: Is Zach Collins ready for a larger role?

Al-Farouq Aminu is gone, Jusuf Nurkic is recovering from a broken leg, and Whiteside is far from reliable. So there's a need for Collins (a former No. 10 pick who turns 22 in November) to make a leap in his third season. He had good rim protection numbers (on par with Nurkic) last season, but there will be a need for more offense from the remade frontline. The Blazers saw the second-biggest improvement in offensive efficiency (an increase of 5.3 points scored per 100 possessions) from 2017-18 to last season. The Evan-Turner-for-Bazemore swap, while a downgrade in regard to playmaking, is an upgrade in regard to both 3-point shooting and overall scoring (Turner was in the bottom 30 in points per 36 among 276 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes). But Collins actually had the third-most points last season among healthy players returning to the Blazers). To remain in the top 10 offensively, the Blazers may need him to score both inside and out. After making 13 corner 3-pointers in 1,045 minutes as a rookie, Collins attempted only 11 in 1,356 minutes last season.

Schumann has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 6 and ahead of the Spurs at No. 8.

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 in their most recent, post-free agency offseason power rankings, posted on July 15...

2018-19 record: 53-29
2020 title odds: 25-1
Previous rank: No. 10

The Trail Blazers lightly reshuffled their rotation, with a few critical role players moving elsewhere. The Blazers have the core elements back, but any progression this season will come in two main ways: 1) Jusuf Nurkic getting healthy and returning to form, and 2) Hassan Whiteside fitting in and adding rim protection plus a significant new wrinkle to the pick-and-roll game. -- Young

Key additions: Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Tolliver, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja

Key subtractions: Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Celtics at No. 7 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 9.

• Reid Forgrave at CBS Sports, in rankings posted on July 8, has the Trail Blazers at No. 8...

The Blazers lost a bunch of role players from a team that made the Western Conference finals. But that team had bumped up against its ceiling. We'll see if the Hassan Whiteside addition proves to be a positive addition for this team's frontcourt depth. But the Blazers have some young players who could make a jump in 2019-20 in Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons. If the Blazers can make a trade for one more star that fits -- Kevin Love? -- this team will be formidable.

Forgrave has the Trail Blazers behind the Nuggets at No. 7 and ahead of the Celtics at No. 9.

• Zach Harper at The Athletic, in rankings posted on July 17, has the Trail Blazers at No. 7...

When does Jusuf Nurkic come back? Is it definitely this season? If so, will he be in the right mental place coming back from such a horrific injury to get back to the players he was? Until then, the Trail Blazers have to hope Hassan Whiteside is on his best contract-year behavior. Miami was so relieved to not have Whiteside anymore. Maybe Portland’s scenery will change his attitude and he’ll want to prove everybody wrong. But Whiteside generally doesn’t have a good sense of what that type of mission means. The bigger question than whether Whiteside can be on his best behavior revolves around the players Portland will miss.

Losing Al-Farouq Aminu (Orlando) and Mo Harkless (Clippers) is really tough. They brought in Kent Bazemore to steady that wing rotation and replace Evan Turner. But he’ll have to make up for someone like Aminu too. Nassir Little might contribute right away, but you can’t just rely on rookies out of the gate. If Rodney Hood returns to form, they’ll be all right, but the Blazers lost a lot this summer. Maybe it will come down to trusting Whiteside to be that third option who plays as a team guy.

Harper has the Trail Blazers behind the Rockets at No. 6 and ahead of the Lakers at No. 8.

• Jonathan Reichenberger at Fansided.com, in rankings posted in mid-July, has the Trail Blazers at No. 7...

The Trail Blazers weren’t even close to beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but now that the Warriors are depleted, why can’t the Blazers come out of the West? They still have most of their core together and added Hassan Whiteside. Watch out for them.

Reichenberger has the Trail Blazers behind the 76ers at No. 6 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 8. 

• Kurt Helin at NBC Sports, in rankings posted on July 15, has the Trail Blazers at No. 9...

There were no bold moves (don’t be shocked if they try to make another play for Kevin Love, but his price is high), but they landed Hassan Whiteside to play the five until Jusuf Nurkic returns from injury, and they made a nice wing signing with Kent Bazemore (plus bringing back Rodney Hood). Portland got marginally better this summer, but will that be enough to take the next step in a West filled with teams making big, bold moves?

Helin has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 8 and ahead of the Celtics at No. 10. 

• Charles Curtis at USA Today's "For The Win," in rankings posted on July 10, also has the Trail Blazers at No. 7...

They made it to the Western Conference Finals and have Hassan Whiteside as a stand-in for Jusuf Nurkic as the big man heals. I went back and forth a lot about where to put this team and even now I think this is probably too low.

Curtis has the Trail Blazers behind the Jazz at No. 6 and ahead of the 76ers at No. 8.

• Andy Bailey at Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on July 19, has the Trail Blazers ranked at No. 11...

FiveThirtyEight's Projected Wins: 38

The Blazers had the "Larry David GIF" of offseasons.

New additions Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, Nassir Little, Anthony Tolliver and Hassan Whiteside are projected to post a combined 1.1 wins above replacement. Departees Al-Farouq Aminu, Seth Curry, Maurice Harkless, Enes Kanter, Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner are projected for 4.2.

Plus, Jusuf Nurkic is going to miss the start of the season with an injury.

But Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been prematurely counted out before. And their presence alongside the new Blazers could lift them beyond expectations.

Bailey has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 10 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 12. 

• Scott Davis at Business Insider, which seems to provide more lists than business and/or insider knowledge, has the Trail Blazers at No. 7 in rankings posted on July 12...

2018-19 record: 53-29, 3rd in West

Biggest offseason additions: Hassan Whiteside (C), Kent Bazemore (G/F), Mario Hezonja (G/F)

Biggest offseason losses: Al-Farouq Aminu (F/C), Moe Harkless (G/F), Seth Curry (G), Enes Kanter (C)

Championship odds: 30/1

What to know: Acquiring Hassan Whiteside in a contract year to fill in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic is a smart idea. The Blazers essentially swapped out their wing rotation, but it's to be decided if they improved their defense or shooting. The season will still all fall on the shoulders of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Davis has the Trail Blazers ranked behind the Lakers at No. 6 and ahead of the Rockets at No. 8.

• The staffers at Scout.com have the Trail Blazers at No. 12 in their "computer power rankings" which are based on "the percent chance each team has of winning the NBA Championship"...

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 1.2% Chance of Winning Championship

WIN 56% OF NEUTRAL COURT SIMS AND PROJECTED FOR 46 WINS

Portland has dropped from a projected 4 Seed immediately at the end of the last season to a 8 seed as the Clippers, Lakers, Jazz have leap frogged them. They have a 27.8% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 9% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 3%. They have 1.2% chance of winning the championship. The regular season went better than expected. They won 53 games vs an expected win total of 46.9. Their strength was at home. Their 78% home win percentage was much better than expected (64.8%). They won 51.2% on the road which was as expected (49.5%).

Whatever formula Scout.com is using has the Trail Blazers behind the Pistons at No. 11 and ahead of the Raptors at No. 13. Go figure. 

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