Trail Blazers Get A Pass In 2021 Offseason Grades
The month before the start of training camp is usually one of the quietest on the NBA calendar. Obviously there's no lack of news during the season, and the progression of the playoffs leading into the draft, then free agency and then summer league results in a steady stream of transactions throughout the offseason. But the three weeks prior to the start of training camp typically serve as a last chance for players and executives to get in some respite before the grind of the regular season begins.
Trades and signings are still possible -- the Trail Blazers just acquired Larry Nance Jr. via trade and still need to sign someone with 13 players currently under contract for next season -- but for the most part, the roster as currently constructed is likely to look very similar, if not identical, to the team that will show up at the practice facility in Tualatin in the last week of September for training camp.
So with the offseason winding down while kids are head back to school (please be careful and follow any and all precautions being put in place), let's look at how the Trail Blazers graded out in the media's offseason breakdowns of all 30 teams. A reminder that the Trail Blazers hired Chauncey Billups as head coach, re-signed Norman Powell to a five-year deal, signed Cody Zeller, Tony Snell and Ben McLemore and traded for Nance and rookie Greg Brown.
• Kevin Pelton, ESPN, Western Conference Offseason Grades...
Portland Trail Blazers: B-
A sleepy Portland offseason, at least in terms of adding to a roster that came up short against Denver in the first round, was shaken up by last week's trade sending out a protected first-rounder and Derrick Jones Jr. for Larry Nance Jr. Nance should prove an ideal fit backing up multiple frontcourt positions and providing more shooting and playmaking than Jones.
The other big move for the Blazers was replacing longtime head coach Terry Stotts with first-timer Chauncey Billups. Given Stotts' successful track record, Portland is taking a risk. With star Damian Lillard openly questioning his future with the organization, the Blazers need Billups to prove an immediate upgrade.
• Greg Schwartz, Bleacher Report, NBA Offseason Grades...
Adding Nance in a three-team trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls was a huge boost for Portland, especially for a team that finished 29th overall in defense last season.
Nance was the Cavs' most versatile defender, averaging a career-high 1.7 steals per game and ranking in the 97th percentile for defensive swing rating, shaving 9.3 points per 100 possessions off Cleveland's defensive rating when he was on the floor.
He's good enough to start at power forward or be a key piece to Portland's rotation off the bench. Re-signing Powell was a must, and a five-year, $90 million deal was solid value for a player with his scoring ability.
The rest of the Blazers' offseason additions (McLemore, Zeller, Snell) won't make much of a difference, as Portland must now convince Damian Lillard that it did enough to make this team a title contender.
On paper, it's not looking good.
• Collin Ward-Henninger, CBS Sports, NBA Offseason Grades...
If Damian Lillard wanted to see meaningful change to the Blazers roster this offseason, he can't be happy with what he's looking at right now. Powell's four-year, $90 million contract is fine and Nance is going to be helpful on both sides of the ball, but as it stands, McLemore, Zeller and Snell don't exactly push this team into championship contention, and Brown wasn't considered NBA-ready heading into the draft. It's going to be a tense couple of months waiting to see how Lillard proceeds. Grade: C
• Michael Pena, SI.com, NBA Offseason Report Cards (this was posted before the trade to acquire Larry Nance Jr.)...
This grade is 1000% less relevant than whatever Damian Lillard thinks it should be, and, publicly, he hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic about everything he’s seen. At a stage in Lillard’s career where he wants/needs/deserves All-Star-caliber teammates, Ben McLemore, Tony Snell and Cody Zeller aren’t going to cut it.
Norm Powell’s five-year, $90 million deal was absolutely necessary after they traded 22-year-old Gary Trent Jr. for him earlier in the year. His shooting percentages dropped in Portland from what they were in Toronto, but the Blazers strapped on an afterburner whenever he shared the floor with Lillard and CJ McCollum. Their defense, on the other hand, collapsed in the playoffs against a Nuggets backcourt that didn’t have one of the league’s fiercest flamethrowers available to throw flames.
Some of Portland’s weaker defenders (like Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony) are gone, but this still isn’t anything close to a championship-caliber roster, even if Chauncey Billups can somehow squeeze more out of everyone who was already there a year ago. (Speaking of Billups, it shouldn’t be forgotten how badly the Blazers handled that coaching hire.)
Elsewhere, Anfernee Simons is extension-eligible and it might be wise to lock him up now, knowing next year’s free-agent class is short on players as talented and promising. Portland has talent that makes enough sense together when everybody is healthy, but their bloated payroll is still remarkable, considering it has only one All-Star to show for it.
• And while it's not technically a grade, John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 8 in his Western Conference Power Rankings...
Three numbers to know…
• The Blazers led the league in points per possession on both isolation possessions (1.06) and pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions (1.00).
• The Blazers have had the league’s worst defense over the last two seasons, allowing 114.8 points per 100 possessions.
• In the first round, the Blazers’ starting lineup outscored the Nuggets by 47 points in its 112 minutes, allowing Denver to score just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. All other Portland lineups were outscored by 55 points in 186 minutes, allowing 135.4 per 100.
Key question: Just how urgent is this situation?
How good do the Blazers need to be — and how quickly do they need to be that good — for the Damian Lillard chatter to quiet down? Is extending the league’s longest active playoff streak (eight seasons) good enough?
Snagging Nance in the Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade deal was a nice move, though maybe just a modest upgrade. The Blazers’ starters were solid defensively last season (the 104.8 points per 100 possessions they allowed ranked ninth among 30 lineups that played at least 200 minutes), but have players who are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-3 on the perimeter remains a tough ask on that end of the floor. Starting Robert Covington and Nance (sixth and ninth, respectively, in deflections per 36 minutes last season) — with Norman Powell moving to the bench — would add size and better neutralize the defensive deficiencies of the backcourt. The departures of Anthony and Kanter will help the defense, too, though the frontline would seemingly be less likely to withstand a third straight season where Jusuf Nurkic missed extended time.
Internal improvement will have to come from the coaching change, though teams that have made an offseason hire over the last 10 years have been more likely to improve on offense (43/69) than on defense (26/69).
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Warriors at No. 7 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 9.