2022–23 Portland Trailblazers Preview
Time to put down some thoughts about the 2022–23 Portland TrailBlazers season. This is often the very best part of the NBA season for Blazers fans as no games have been lost, no players injured and it is the easiest time to start talking yourself into things like “I’ve heard (fill in the name of your favorite Blazer small forward) has been really working on his jumper this offseason, if he can hit a 3, this team will make a deep run in the playoffs.” There’s hope, optimism, irrational expectations, delusion and anticipation. So, let’s dive in.
This preview is likely to get long and unwieldy and deep in some weeds. So, here’s the top line takeaways to save you if you just kinda want to know. Dame is back after surgery and should be ready to dominate once again as he continues to cement himself as the best Blazer player of all time. While much is being made of the Blazers’ offseason additions, they are really pretty “meh.” Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II are both good and good fits but the Blazers added no one likely to play at an allstar level.
The Western Conference is exceedingly difficult this year but if everything goes right for the Blazers they could be in contention for the final playoff spot. After that, anything is possible, but unless Billups gets buy-in that he didn’t get last year, Dame plays at an MVP level, and Simons takes another huge step to even approach matching what CJ gave us, Portland will have another quick run and early exit if it makes the playoffs. But all of those things are possible.
There are reasons to believe this team could be very good. I’ll get into that. There are also reasons to believe this team will be around 35 wins and miss the playoffs. I’ll get into that too. The best part of the season will be watching Dame play. He is an incredible player and leader and a joy to watch that should be appreciated as long as we have him. And this should be a fun team that can get out and run and shoot and is full of likable guys. I think the fans will like the product they see, but it’s hard to pick this team to finish high in the West unless some other teams really go off the rails or get hit hard by injuries. This is not the most talented team Dame has played with, but they could…if everything breaks right…be the best fit together. So, let’s start there.
The starters are mostly, but not entirely set. Nurk will start at the 5, newcomer Grant at the 4, Simons at the 2 and Dame at the 1. The 3 or small forward is the only position up for grabs. Little, Hart and Winslow all have a shot and bring different things. I am hoping it will be Little, which is why I included him here. More on that below. The starters finally have a bonafide borderline all-star level player at the PF spot in Grant which makes this team different than any in the post Aldridge era. It is a balance that fans believed was the biggest missing piece. We will see. I honestly think this has the potential to be one of the better starting 5s in the league. But it will require them to gell quickly and a couple guys to take some big steps or play out of position. Let’s take a look at each player.
Jusuf Nurkic — Nurk is a bit of a throwback. Huge player. Decent back to the basket inside game. Just enough shooting touch to be effective in the midpost. He’s an underrated interior defender because he’s not a big shot blocker. But he holds ground, bothers shots and is smart on the interior. He lacks the lateral quickness to switch out on wings or guards in the pick and roll. He’s not Hassan Whiteside or Enes Kanter bad, but it could keep him on the bench in late game situations. He is a plus passer and especially loves to hit backdoor cutting wings. Given Grant will be the best one he’s played with in Portland, I suspect they could develop some good chemistry and become a high/low problem for teams. Watch for Nurk to camp in the high post and pull the opposing big out on him while Grant and Little/Hart cut and move without the ball.
Nurk’s biggest issue is consistency. When he is not locked in, he casually flips the ball at the basket instead of finishing stronger. His great touch turns into a negative as he tries to finesse everything without concentrating. This leads him to an embarrassingly low FG% for a guy his size who takes so few jumpers. When he’s not focused, he also tends to foul needlessly and get himself into foul trouble. And then there are the injuries which may not be his fault, but are still part of the package. He just can’t stay on the court a whole season. So, really, he is a big guy who will miss a bunch of layups, and a bunch of minutes to foul trouble and injury.
Personally, I had hoped for an upgrade. And it’s possible I got my wish if Grant can play real minutes at the 5 down the stretch. But I was ready to move on. His passing and good relationship with Dame do make up for some of his faults, but I would have preferred a more defense oriented big who came ready to play every game.
In the West I would rate him as about the 4th best starting center depending on how you categorize guys and how much you like Bryant in LA and Powell in Dallas. Not bad. Not great. The key for him will be staying healthy and being productive on both ends early in the game and staying out of foul trouble so the rotation and minutes allows for guys like Grant, Winslow and even Watford to play the 5 at the end of games. And so we never, ever, ever have to watch Eubanks play any minute that matters. He may be the worst backup center in the entire NBA. If he helps the team in practice, great, but if Nurk gets hurt or gets in early foul trouble, we are playing 4 on 5 unless we trade or go small.
Jerami Grant — Grant started making his name as a defender. He’s long, athletic and plays with a lot of energy. Perfect tools for a defender. And he wasn’t quite good enough offensively to see minutes early in his career for his scoring, so he relied on defense and started earning playing time. Then he started making some shots, especially 3s and that completely changed the game for him. Right after a superstar offensive player, the most valuable thing in the NBA is a wing who can play D and shoot. This is primarily a function of the pick and roll that is at the heart of every NBA offense. You need a guy who can switch to guard multiple positions and a guy to hit shots when teams rotate to stop the pick and roll. Then Grant went from a nice defender to a super valuable 3 and D guy. Then he started creating his own shots and went from nice role player to borderline all star.
Then Detroit paid him way too much money and treated him like a franchise player. And then he had to carry the offense, which is not who he is. So all that attention to his scoring obligations meant his D started to slip. So, the last couple years he has become a slightly overrated offensive player who is fairly one dimensional, and a former defender living off his reputation.
So, the question for Portland is, “who are we getting?” Is he the high energy 3 and D guy evolved to be a legit wing 2nd or 3rd option on offense while being a shut down wing stopper and defensive glue guy? Or is he an aging has-been defender and inefficient scorer who started believing his own press clippings? Is he the guy in Denver who seemed like the guy everyone in the league would want? Or the guy in Detroit who could score, but wouldn’t really help you win?
Honestly, I expect it to be closer to the good Grant than the bad. He’s playing with 2 guys who will be expected to do most of the scoring in Dame and Ant and even the other role players are much better scorers than he had in Detroit. And, this is a vet team playing to win now. I think Billups and Dame will help him reach back to his former self. If that happens, he is close to an ideal player for Portland. He can play both forward positions and maybe some 5. And, on the switch he can guard all 5 positions. He is a pretty good 3 point shooter to keep the floor spread and a plus athlete to catch lobs and putbacks and even finish drives.
The keys for Grant to be great for Portland are 2 things. 1. Can he still be a great defender? Not “ok”. Not pretty good. Great. 2. Can he play the last 6–10 minutes of the game at the center with a lineup of Dame, Ant, Hart, Little/Winslow, Grant? If he can do both of those things, Portland likely moves from a probable 9th seed to a possible 6 in the West. If he struggles with both, Portland will likely miss the playoffs.
Right now, I am cautiously optimistic. He’s in a perfect position for him. No offensive pressure and playing with smart players. And I think he’s ready to start winning again. I worry that he’s not a good enough rebounder to be our only “big” at the end of games, but I’m hopeful.
Nassir Little — Nas was absolutely crushing it last year before an injury ended his season. He looked like my description of Grant but with maybe a better shooting stroke. Off the charts athlete who was becoming a very strong defender and excellent shooter. It was exactly what we needed. His injury was one of the most disappointing aspects of last season because it really looked like everything was clicking with him. Now he’s starting over a bit. But if he wins the starting job, it does a few things for this team, all of which are great.
One, it means he is still trending up which would be great.
Two, it gives Portland size in the starting lineup which it lacks while playing 2 small guards and a somewhat undersized power forward.
Three, it would allow Hart to play more guard (where he is better) and give us a legit ball handling and scoring option off the bench, which is pretty thin in that department if Hart starts.
Four, it would mean better spacing for Dame and Ant because Hart likes to occupy the same places on the floor that they do while Little tends to be a perimeter stander, screener and slasher/shooter.
I’m high on Little. He’s strong and skilled and seems to finally be reaching his once projected to be a number 1 overall pick, potential. Seeing him start would validate that and really provide the team some good options.
Anfernee Simons — Simons could be a D. Booker caliber player. For real. He has every offensive tool and is a better athlete than Booker. He plays hard, shoots the lights out and is becoming an excellent finisher with a variety of floaters. He needs to improve his IQ, passing, ability to get to the FT line and defense, but all are possible and all could happen this season. Playing next to Dame, it would not surprise me to see him hit 50 at some point this year and I think he has the potential to be MIP and really turn some heads. But right now it is mostly speculation. He had some great stretches last year when Dame and CJ were gone, but he’s yet to do it for a whole season on a good team. But I have become a believer. He doesn’t have CJ’s handles, but he’s a better shooter and better athlete. He will have some off nights like young scorers do, but I think he is going to play a lot both with Dame and with the bench unit as the primary ball handler and I am excited to see him take the next step.
If he doesn’t, the Blazers will be a 30 win team. But I think he will. Just probably not from the jump. Look for him to really start clicking 20 or so games into the season. So far in the preseason he looks completely lost and unsure of himself. That will switch and he will run some with the second unit and start figuring it out. But it won’t likely be in the first game or even the first week.
Damian Lillard — He’s the best Blazer player in history already and he isn’t done. This year he will pass Clyde Drexler and become the all time leading scorer in franchise history. He’s a great leader, helps develop the young guys, and is great in the community. He’s the best rapper in the NBA and one of the league’s best ambassadors. He is basically everything you want in a franchise player except that he’s not 6’10”. His defense has improved, but it’s still not great, but other than that, he does it all and is probably the best clutch shooter in the game.
But the real story this year is that he is actually fully healthy to start the season for the first time in more than 4 years. In those years he played like a top 5 player in the NBA so I’m pretty excited to see what he looks like healthy. After offseason abdominal surgery to fix the lingering issue, he already looks fantastic in the preseason. Explosive, confident, in total control. He may be the one thing you can really count on for this team. If Dame is on the floor, the Blazers have a chance to win every game they are in.
Also, a couple notes to the fans and media about Dame. Quit saying “Lillard Time.” I suppose this is some weak take on “Miller Time” which is already a crappy slogan about a bad beer. The saying is “Dame Time” as in the fitting take on “Game Time.” I still hear both and it bugs me. Dame time. Say it with me. Dame time. Second, stop chanting at Dame while he’s shooting freethrows. I get it. You love Dame and want him to know he is your “M-V-P”. Me too. We all love Dame. But free throws are important and about concentration and it is supposed to be part of home court advantage that your own fans don’t yell at you when you’re trying to make yours. Chant MVP during timeouts or after clutch baskets or something if you must. But when a Blazer is at the line, and I mean this with the most sincere respect, SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE. Ok, that’s all about that.
But a team is more than just the individual players, so a few thoughts on how well this team fits together in the form of some question and answer.
Will it work to play 2 small scoring guards in the backcourt? Haven’t we seen that movie already?
One popular theory among fans and talking heads is that the Blazers have been capped by playing two smaller guards (under 6’4”) who are both offensive oriented players. Dame and CJ playing together meant the Blazer D was never going to be very good and so we needed to move one of them (probably CJ) and get a bona fide forward and a bigger 2 guard to play with Dame and handle D. So, the Blazers realized this built in limitation and immediately went out and traded CJ for Joe Dumars. Or was it Klay Thompson? Or maybe D Wade? No, they did not do that and of course could not do that which always made the criticism a little silly to me. They had 2 All-Star caliber guards who played well together, shared the ball, played off each other, could play with or without the ball and were generally great teammates. Meanwhile, we surrounded them with undersized forwards who couldn’t shoot or score and blamed CJ for our lack of success.
I mean, if the Blazers could have just gone out and replaced CJ with Kawhi and Klay, I’m pretty sure they would have, but that’s not how the NBA works…or anything else in life. And yet, fans still act like trading CJ was the answer.
So, finally, the Blazers pulled the trigger and traded a truly fantastic guard, capable of giving you 50 on any given night for a Detlef Schrempf rookie card and a box of 2 day old donuts. But they had to break up the two offensive small guards, right? So it would be worth it to rebalance the roster right?
Let me introduce you to Anfernee “Ant” Simons. Spoiler alert, they don’t call him Ant ironically. Simons is basically a less accomplished CJ. He’s small in both height and frame and can’t defend at all. He’s younger than CJ and has a higher ceiling I think and he could learn to play D which CJ stubbornly refused to do, but this is basically the exact same backcourt except Ant isn’t as good. It’s kinda mind boggling.
The good news is that people were wrong about Dame and CJ being the problem in the first place. Sure, it would have been great for one of them to play D or have some positional flexibility but they were so good offensively, with even a little help from the wing and front court, they would have been fine. And so, I believe, will Dame and Simons. Simons can still improve and is already a better 3 point shooter than CJ. i think Simons is ready and I think this will work fine. This is unlikely to be a championship backcourt, but that backcourt was not available. Put another way, the backcourt won’t be the problem if the Blazers can’t figure this out.
Like CJ, Ant plays well off the ball because he’s a good shooter and like CJ, he can also run point with the second unit. If he learns how to defend even a little and get to the FT line, we’ll be fine here. And Ant could be MIP.
Will Grant fit in?
Short answer is yes. I won’t repeat what I’ve already said above, but Grant should be the perfect fit. He shoots, defends all positions and doesn’t need a bunch of plays run for him to be productive. If he plays to his potential and defends well he’s close to an ideal fit. On offense he will keep the spacing good and won’t crowd Nurk. On D he allows the Blazers to switch on screens which helps the D tremendously. I wish he was a better rebounder and passer, but that’s getting pretty picky. With a true center, we needed a forward who could shoot and he can. With defensive challenged guards, we needed a big wing who can defend and he can. He should play like a borderline all star and be a big upgrade over the forwards we’ve had in the recent past.
Which 3 fits best?
As I said above, I hope the final answer is Little. But the answer right now is probably Hart. Hart is a marcus smart type physical pest on D, can shoot, can take a guy off the dribble when the offense breaks down and can lead the break. Add that to his rebounding instincts and overall IQ and he actually hides some of Simons’ deficiencies better than the other options at 3. After watching Winslow in the preseason, I’m convinced he’s a better back up 4. He is no threat to shoot and only a marginal rebounder. He is a solid defender and can guard both forward positions but he needs to stay within about 12 feet of the hoop on offense because he’s not a shooter and not a great passer. But that clogs the lane or forces Nurk out of position. I think he will be better off the bench. Little is the ideal fit, but he may not quite be ready and might work better once Ant gets more comfortable. I like Hart and Ant on the floor together both with the first and second unity as I think their games compliment nicely. I would bet we start the season with Hart at the 3 and that probably makes the most sense.
Do we have enough Scoring? Rebounding? Shooting? Switchability? Playmaking?
Scoring? Yes. The starters should be a really hard unit to defend. All 5 can score unless Winslow is the 5th. And Dame is a top 4–5 scorer in the league. Did you know he already has more 50 point games than Iverson? Nurk can post you up. Hart/Simons/Grant can all score from anywhere. Everyone can pass. 4 of the 5 can take you off the dribble. This starting unit will score. They will have off nights when the 3 isn’t falling or when Nurk is lazy, but generally, they just have too many natural bucket getters to not be effective.
Rebounding? No. I’m really concerned here. One true big and he’s just an ok rebounder. One natural rebounder (Hart) and he’s a guard. Watford and Parker are both plus rebounders, especially on the offensive glass, but I’m not sure they can crack the rotation. Dame and Ant don’t really help at all. I’m worried that lesser teams are going to stay in games because we won’t close out possessions with defensive rebounds. I hope I’m wrong here, but this is one of my biggest concerns going into the season. Everyone talks about Grant as a “small ball 5” or this team having the talent to “go small” and that could be. But the Warriors do this because Draymond is an elite rebounder and they get help from Klay, Wiggins, Iggy, or whoever. The Blazers will have to be very aggressive as a team and I don’t know if that’s in the cards. Maybe they can all go spend a few practices with Tom Izzo and figure out how to crash the boards.
Shooting? Wait, why are you talking about shooting after you already discussed scoring? Are you just seriously trying to make this as long as possible? Boy am I glad you asked. The real difference is that shooting allows you to keep the floor spaced which both helps every facet of offense and even keeps you in better position to get back on D. You need to make the defense cover every player even when they are far away from the basket. Dame is the easiest example. By being a threat to shoot from anywhere past half court, his defender has to stick close to him which makes the defense vulnerable to everything from the pick and roll to other more motion oriented offenses. It keeps people spread out so guys have room to drive. It keeps the D from collapsing to help on a guy posting up. It is the thing you need the most to be a good offensive team (maybe besides IQ and playmaking) This team has tons of shooting in the starting 5. Nurk should be the only non-shooter. Even if Winslow wins the SF job, Simons and Dame and Grant are so good, it should be enough. Ultimately, it will be why Winslow doesn’t play a lot with that group, but we have shooters. Especially if Hart or Little start.
Switchability? It’s better, but not great.. This just means can guys defend multiple positions in a way that will allow them to switch on screens to take away the offensive advantage. Grant helps out here a lot as discussed above. Dame and Simons are basically the same defender for better or worse, but it is mostly worse. Nurk can’t really play on the perimeter which is why people think Grant will close games at the 5. The real problem here though is that the 2 guards are almost useless guarding bigger guys. And Nurk can’t move laterally. So, Grant and whoever plays the SF are really going to have to be amazing. They have to lock up whoever they play and move the man toward nurk’s help at the rim. For this team to be good at D it will take more than buy in and effort. It’s going to take everyone really working together. Steph Curry started his career as a massive defensive liability. That didn’t change by him becoming Pat Bev. It changed when the GS warriors let Draymond QB that end of the floor and now they all work together closing off lanes and disrupting the ball so that no one player has to be a “stopper.” This will be the goal. Sure seems like we are a long way from that now.
Playmaking? I think so. Especially if Hart is out there. Then you basically have 3 guards who have shown they can play the 1 and 2. Nurk is a good passer and Grant is an unselfish player that can get his own shot. I actually think you may see too much playmaking and too little play finishing with this group at the start. This will be a strength of this offense. 4 guys can break down the D and make plays for themselves or others. This will be a problem for most opposing defenses.
I’m just going to assume, for the sake of discussion, that Little gets the starting job. I really think it will be Hart, but I’m going with my heart and choosing Little. If that’s the case, the bench unit will look something like this:
Hart, GP and maybe Keon Johnson as the back up guards
Winslow, Hart, GP at the forward
Eubanks at the center.
I’m not going to write anymore about Eubanks since I just posted about him in my game recap of the second preseason game. Other than to reiterate that he should not be in the NBA. He is a terrible player. One of, if not the worst in the NBA. I am just praying that Billups chooses to play really anyone else as the back up center. Watford, Walker, Grant, Winslow. Really anyone. I still can’t believe he might get actual rotation minutes for this team. But Nurk is a real problem here because he gets in foul trouble, sometimes just isn’t good, gets injured and can’t really close out games because he can’t defend wings on the pick and roll. so…..Eubanks? Please God, no.
Otherwise, the bench is pretty good, but a bit undersized and redundant unless Watford and/or Walker really surprise and get into the rotation. From the looks of the preseason, Billups doesn’t think they are ready.
If Little starts, Hart will likely be first off the bench and spell Dame allowing Hart and Simons to play as the guards. Winslow and/or Little if he’s a bench guy will be not far behind. Right now Keon is 6th man, but I don’t think that will carry over to the regular season when GP returns. Hart and GP will both play guard and SF. One issue will be shooting and ball handling. I’m guessing there will be precious few minutes when both Dame and Ant are off the floor at the same time.
The bench is a defensive minded group who should play hard and gritty but lacks the scoring punch of the first unit. There is some flexibility here as long as you don’t need to go big (what happens when we play the TWolves???? Or the Nuggets? Yikes). But there is some ball handling and some shooting. Still not much rebounding though which could be an issue.
You kind of know Winslow and Hart from last year so I won’t break those guys down. So, what about GP II. He was, afterall, one of the two “big” FA signings this offseason with the other being Grant. Son of the Glove, he has clearly learned a few things from his pop about playing D. He is relentless, strong and smart on D. The kind of guy you don’t want to take off the floor because he’s causing the other team’s best player so many problems. They guy you are glad isn’t chasing Dame around for the other team. He was an important role player for GS last year and a major reason their D improved enough to get them another ring. But that’s all he is. He is a defensive role player. He might make a shot here and there or finish at the rim a couple times, but if he averages more than 7ppg, it will be a big upset. He is very limited offensively and not nearly as good as the other guys with whom he is fighting for minutes. I suspect we will see some nights when he gets a bunch of minutes at the 3, especially in the 4th quarter and there could even be stretches when the Blazers play micro-ball with Grant, Hart, GP, Ant and Dame. He’s a perfect fit, but a limited contributor overall. He will never be an allstar, but he will help. I don’t know if the Blazers are good enough for him to make a big difference though. It’s a bit like having Mariano Rivera on this year’s Reds. He’ll be good at what he does, but will it really matter? Not sure yet. I like the addition even if he did get a bit overrated playing for the smartest team in basketball. But he’ll help, maybe just not as much as the fans hope.
The X factors and real unknown about the bench and depth generally are Watford, Walker and Sharpe. We know what the other guys are. The guys mentioned above can all play, though none can dominate. They will defend and give you lots of effort and reasonable basketball. But their ceiling is pretty low.
The other guys I haven’t mentioned: Brandon Williams, Greg Brown, just don’t look ready to help much unless we lose some guys to injuries or to provide different looks in practice.
Watford I really like. High energy. High IQ. Very good passer. Plus rebounder. He’s not a good shooter and a marginal scorer generally. And he’s undersized to be the 5. And, sometimes he’s a bit wild. But I think he could become a Draymond Green type without the terrible attitude. I truly believe he could be this team’s back up center and be a really exciting energizer off the bench. But it’s not looking like Billups agrees with me. If he keeps improving, maybe he becomes a crowd favorite glue guy and that could be huge. If he could play with the second unit and give us 12–15 minutes, it would totally change the dynamic of this team. But only if he’s ready.
Walker was either the surprise of the draft or the surprise of summer league. If you watched the Pac 12, you might have been surprised that Walker fell as late as he did. He was great at Colorado. Did everything for them and showed up big in big games. I thought he would be closer to a late first rounder than he was. So, it seemed like a gift when the Blazers were able to get him. Even still, he outperformed expectations in summer league. I don’t know how to explain this but some guys just always seem to find the ball. They get rebounds, steals and putbacks. Their shots go in, while other guys’ bounce out. They just know how to play. Walker is one of those guys. He’s young, but he may be hard to keep off the floor. Again, especially given the Blazers’ alternatives. I was hoping to see more of him in the preseason, but Billups has to play the vets. I get that. But I like Walker. I bet the coaches do too in practice. He’s going to be the guy who gets 9 points and 4 rebounds in 3 minutes of play in garbage time and leaves everyone thinking….”should we be playing him more?” He probably won’t crack the rotation this year but I wouldn’t entirely rule it out, especially if there is an injury to someone like Winslow.
Sharpe is the real mystery here. As I wrote in my last post, I think he could be the next Vince Carter. Then again he could be the next Derrick Jones Jr. I’m optimistic though, which is not exactly on brand for me. I think he has the skills, shooting stroke and bounce to be the next face of the franchise. But he doesn’t look ready yet to even be a major contributor. I doubt he gets more than garbage time for the first half of the season unless things start to click earlier than expected. If they do, watch out. It could be like bringing Jaylen Brown off the bench. More likely, he plays a bunch of garbage time, misses a ton of shots and throws down some highlight dunks. He may look like another Greg Brown while you watch this year, but I’m telling you right now, he is something different. Mark my words, this kid could be special. I mean first ballot hall special if he has the drive, will and gets the coaching.
The rest of the guys, listed below, either won’t make the roster or will never crack the rotation. They are here to help in practice. That’s it. ….and all of them are better than Eubanks.
The Coaching Staff
Maybe the biggest question of the season we should all be asking is: Can Billups coach? I’m not sure we learned much from last year. At the beginning of the season, he started out with a proven roster of good players. Dame, CJ, Nurk, Roco, Powell. Like this season, slightly undersized but very skilled. Billups put in a new system on both ends. The first 10 games they went 5–5 with several really really ugly losses. CJ refused to play in the new offensive system, as he could not get away from his free-lancing habits. Guys were trying on the D side, but it wasn’t working. It really looked like they got worse on both ends. But…
Dame was hurt. CJ wasn’t having it. Only Roco penciled out as a plus defender and even he was an overrated on ball stopper. And they had all played for Stotts for years and it was all new. So, how much was that Billups fault and how much was it the team he inherited?
Then guys started getting really hurt and missing games and the wheels came completely off. From Thanksgiving to the end of the year, the Blazers won 3 games and the season was essentially over. The Blazers went in to full tank mode. Then after a brutal losing streak, something strange happened. Simons seemed to “get it” and started scoring like he was one of the best guards in the league. He was efficient and clutch and started dominating. Then guys like McLemore, Winslow, Watford, Elleby, came out of nowhere, started really playing good team defense and beat the Lakers, Knicks, Bucks and Grizz in 4 straight games. They rode their defense and one really good offensive player to beat rosters with twice the talent.
The Blazers quickly put a stop to that and shut Nurk and Simons down to make sure the tanking continued, but it could have been a small window into what Billups could be doing here. Or it could be a complete fluke. Did Billups show us all that with his system and emphasis on D, even a rag tag bunch of G leaguers could compete? Did he make his case that if talented vets buy in, this team could be the surprise of the league? Or was this just a random lightning strike as guys got hot and the better teams coasted into the all star break?
I genuinely don’t know. I know, the Blazers looked awful to start the season. I know they played really hard after the talent drain. I don’t know what any of that means. Dame and the rest of the players seem to like Billups so that’s something. They should at least play hard for him. I don’t think we will know much about how good a coach he is until about April
Keys To A Good Season
There are a bunch as always. Some I’ve mentioned. Here’s another partial list:
Need to rebound above expectations.
Need to come together and play team D, not relying on individuals as stoppers.
Need Nurk and Dame to stay completely healthy
Need Ant to prove last year was no fluke
Need Little to keep improving
Need to not play Eubanks
Need to keep Nurk locked in
Need to find ways to win that don’t have Dame playing 43 minutes a night
Need for Billups to actually be able to coach
Need to improve at the trade deadline.
Here are some random predictions for the new season.
Dame will finish top 5 in MVP voting
Blazers will win 44 games and fight for the 8 seed up through the last week of the season.
Team will struggle out of the gate and go 3–7 in its first 10.
Sharpe will have at least 3 dunks that make you want to just hug your loved ones.
Ant will have at least 2 40 point games
Dame will go for 60
Fans will have an irrational love affair with GPII and Hart
Fans will start openly criticizing the team for trading CJ when he tears it up for the Pels even after saying he needed to be traded for years.
I will wildly overreact to one Blazers game positively and negatively at least 47 times.
This team is not likely a championship contender. I’m not even sure they have as much talent as they did to start last year. But it could be 30 years before the team has a player like Dame again. So, even if the team struggles or doesn’t meet your preseason optimism, take a deep breath, set aside the outcome, and just enjoy watching Dame play. He does things almost no one else can and does it with class. Just love it.
Ok, that’s enough words for now.