2018-19 Season Preview Extravaganza | Are The Blazers’ Star Guards Enough To Win?
Twenty-nine different opposing NBA teams will walk through the doors of Target Center to play the Wolves this season, and we want you to know as much as you can about all of them. We’re going worst to first in order of last year’s standings and telling you everything you need to know. Next up, a Blazers team that is trusting their internal development… but will it be enough?
Notable Players Acquired: G Anfernee Simons (draft), G Gary Trent Jr. (draft), G Seth Curry (free agency), F Nik Stauskas (free agency).
Notable Players Lost: G Pat Connaughton (free agency), G Shabazz Napier (free agency), F Ed Davis (free agency)
The Blazers overachieved in the regular season and underachieved in the playoffs. The team rode a surprisingly good defense and the star power of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to a 49-33 finish and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, but was swept by the Pelicans in the first round.
The Blazers spent much of the offseason dealing with questions about whether or not they would choose to break up their star backcourt of Lillard and McCollum. The pair is one of the most dynamic scoring duos in the league, but their defense leaves much to be desired. However, last year demonstrated that the Blazers have the ability to execute a good defensive system despite a lack of strong one-on-one defense from their guards. The team decided to keep their backcourt intact.
What is no longer intact, however, is the team’s bench. Last season, Ed Davis showed that he is one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s a hard-nosed rebounder and defender, and gave the Blazers valuable minutes behind Jusuf Nurkic alongside young big man Zach Collins. However, the Blazers elected not to bring Davis back for this season, a move that drew the ire of fans and disappointed Lillard who is one of Davis’ best friends. The decision not to bring Davis back indicates that the Blazers are high on the potential of Collins and fellow 2017 draftee Caleb Swanigan. Time will tell, but the development of Swanigan and Collins could be the defining issue of the next few years for this team.
The Blazers also chose not to re-sign Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier, who served as the backup backcourt for most of the season. In their place, Portland brought in Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, and drafted Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. Simons showed a ton of promise in Summer League, but it’s a little unclear how he’ll fit in such a stacked guard rotation. At the moment, Curry will probably dominate backup minutes at the point, but Simons and Trent Jr. both have a chance to make a case for themselves.
The Big Question:
Can the Blazers revitalize their offense?
For the last few years, the Blazers have been known as one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league. However, last season they became one of the league’s best defensive teams but sacrificed their offensive production. The reason behind this regression isn’t complicated—the Blazers’ stars all underperformed. Lillard and McCollum both averaged fewer points per game than they did in 2016-17, and Jusuf Nurkic didn’t live up to expectations in his first full year with the team. It might be unfair to put all the weight on the Blazers’ leaders, but stars need to produce. The good news is that the Blazers’ bench will be more dangerous on offense this year, so that pressure might be lifted a little. However, the Blazers need to make sure their work on the defensive side of the ball isn’t lost as they work to turn things around on offense.
How Do The Wolves Beat Them?
Take McCollum out of the game. Lillard is one of those rare players in the league that is always going to get his, so while it is important not to let him go off for too many points, he’s going to score. McCollum is talented, but he can be bothered more than Lillard. If Josh Okogie is as good of a defender as it’s looked like he is in the preseason, the Wolves’ matchups with the Blazers will be a great time to prove it.
The Blazers will make the playoffs but I don’t expect them to have home-court advantage. If I was a betting man, I’d say they will finish with the No. 6 seed. It really depends on how good Nurkic can be. If he blossoms into a legitimate No. 3 option behind Lillard and McCollum, this team could be very good. If the two guards have to do everything, things could get ugly.
Describe This Team In 15 Words Or Less
Dynamic scoring potential, but questions about defense and depth remain.
So When Can I See Them?
The Blazers visit Target Center on Nov. 16 and Apr. 1, the Wolves travel to Portland on Nov.4 and Dec. 8.