2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers made a thrilling run in the Orlando bubble, and start the season looking healthy and deep. Could this year be the one?

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

After deepening their options both in the starting 5 and down the bench, is it championship or bust in Portland?

When last seen, the Portland Trail Blazers were … contemplating elimination even before the conclusion of their series against the Los Angeles Lakers, after Damian Lillard suffered a knee injury in the third quarter of Game 4 that forced him to leave the NBA bubble. Lillard was already playing through a dislocated left index finger suffered in Game 2, and you just knew at that point the magic was all but gone. Lillard had earned recognition as Kia NBA Player of the Seeding Games through a series of gutsy performances in which he averaged 37.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 9.6 assists in more than 40 minutes; basically carrying the Trail Blazers to the postseason after they entered the bubble sitting at ninth in the Western Conference standings.

What’s new? Portland traded Trevor Ariza and a couple of first-round picks to land Houston Rockets wing Robert Covington, who adds athleticism on defense and a reliable outside shooter capable of hitting open looks generated by Lillard and C.J. McCollum on drive-and-kicks. The Blazers also added depth in the frontcourt by trading for Enes Kanter, in addition to signing Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles in free agency. Like Covington, Jones is versatile and boosts Portland’s athleticism. Portland made sure to re-sign both Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony, too. Hood is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury suffered last December, but he was shooting 49.3% at the time of the injury. So, if Hood can return to form, Portland will benefit from the depth he and Anthony provide.

What’s missing: Portland’s porous defense was its most significant weakness last season, and while it appears the Blazers worked to address those problems in the offseason, it’s still unknown whether they did enough to make a real difference. On paper, it looks good. But remember Portland finished last season ranked No. 28, defensively. The addition of Covington and Jones should help, but Lillard and McCollum aren’t known for locking down opponents on defense, which means opponents can and will still attack the Blazers’ backcourt.


POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE

Damian Lillard | 30.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 8.0 apg
Entering Year 9 with all he’s accomplished, the 30-year-old is still searching for ways to take the next step.

C.J. McCollum | 22.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.4 apg
Has vowed along with Lillard to improve defensively this season.

Derrick Jones Jr. | 8.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 apg
Expect a more significant role than you saw last season in Miami.

Robert Covington | 12.4 ppg 6.6 rpg, 1.3 blk
Won’t be loaded down with as much responsibility as he had in Houston, and that should result in even more playmaking.

Jusuf Nurkic | 17.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.0 blk
Finally healthy after missing all of last season until the NBA restart in Orlando.


KEY RESERVES  

Gary Trent Jr.| 8.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.0 apg
Showed plenty of range last season (41.8% from 3-point range) while emerging as one of the breakout players of the bubble.

Carmelo Anthony | 15.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
Accepted a reserve role for the upcoming season but will still contribute quality minutes.

Enes Kanter | 8.1 ppg, 7.4 rbg, 1.0 apg
Last stint in Portland led to a run in the 2019 Western Conference Finals.


LAST FIVE SEASONS

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 35 39 0.473 113.2 3 114.3 27 -1.2 18
2018-19 53 29 0.646 113.7 3 109.5 16 +4.2 7
2017-18 49 33 0.598 108.4 14 105.7 6 +2.7 9
2016-17 41 41 0.500 109.4 11 110.0 22 -0.6 18
2015-16 44 38 0.537 107.6 6 106.8 19 +0.8 13

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


SEASON PREDICTION

We forget how much injuries slowed down Portland to start last season, not to mention the fact it benefitted from the NBA’s hiatus due to the coronavirus, which allowed Nurkic and Zach Collins to become healthy enough to contribute to the Trail Blazers’ leaky defense. Add up their improved health with the offseason acquisitions of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. in free agency. Toss in the new commitment to improvement on the defensive end from Lillard and McCollum, and we just might be working with something going into 2020-21. Portland improved its versatility and athleticism, which is a must in the rugged Western Conference. The Blazers should be in the mix for a postseason berth, but they’re still not talented enough to go toe-to-toe with the conference’s elite teams.

Predicted finish: 42-30

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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