After a season marred by the arrival of a new head coach, the departure of CJ McCollum and injuries to key players, the Portland Trail Blazers were out of the Western Conference playoffs for the first time since 2013, ending the regular season with their worst record. (27-55) since 2005/2006. Misadventures along the way caused the Blazers to abandon the nine-year-old group formed by Damian Lillard and McCollum to embark on a journey of overhaul, in order to return to the Western spotlight.
It was an eight-season streak in which the Blazers made the tight Western playoffs, from Lillard’s second season through 2021. In 2019, the team’s ceiling for accomplishments: a discredited team led by guard duo managed to reach the Western Finals, but was uncompetitive against the Warriors and was swept. A breakup that seemed imminent didn’t happen and the core of Lillard, McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic were still together for two straight seasons, which ended prematurely in the first round of the playoffs, with three wins in just two rounds. .
To start 2021/2022, the team has indicated a path of change. He brought in Chauncey Billups to replace Terry Stotts at the helm and even before the 2022 All-Star Game sent McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell to the New Orleans Pelicans to draft players to compose the roster and first-round picks. Even then, injury problems surrounded the main players. Lillard, who had never played less than 66 games in a season for the Blazers, only played 29 games due to chronic abdominal problems. Nurkic also missed 26 games of the season due to ankle and foot problems and only confirmed the main aspirations of the franchise for the rest of the season: to develop young people without worrying about victories in order to have more chances in the June draft.
The draft arrived and the team did not let Canadian guard Shaedon Sharpe pass in seventh position. The 19-year-old has great stature and hasn’t even played a college game for Kentucky, but his physical explosion on offense and big metrics to make him a good defender speak for themselves and put him there. where he was in the last draft. In his first chance to appear for the fans. the player barely played in the Summer League and had to see the team led by Keon Johnson, Brandon Williams and Trendon Watford shine in Las Vegas and win the tournament title. The Williams point guard and Watford striker were already with the Blazers last season and showed an evolution to stay in the team, with Williams on a two-way deal and Watford on a guaranteed year. Point guard Johnson came from the Clippers in the trade that sent Robert Covington to California and also showed service to stay on the roster in his second of four years on his contract.
Right before the Summer League in Las Vegas and right in the middle of the tournament, the franchise moved on and hinted that they wanted to sort out some things now, like show themselves as a competitive team so maybe they could get stronger in the season and take a big flight in 2023. In July, the team sent first-round picks to Detroit and brought in Jerami Grant on an expiring contract, signed three-year free agent Gary Payton II, who has had a stellar season with the Warriors, and signed Anfernee Simons extensions (incredible four years and $100 million), Nurkic and Lillard, i.e. he assembled the season’s core team in practically a week and signed for a season in search of wins.
With Lillard injured, Simons had a lot of responsibility with the ball in his hands to create plays and he did not disappoint. Aged 23 and entering his fourth year in the league, he averaged 7.8 to 17.3 points, 1.4 to 3.9 assists, shooting 44.3% from the field in 29.5 minutes , mean, in action. With Lillard back, the point guard will take McCollum’s place of the pair, a different role he had in the final stretch last season, but it could work well as the responsibility of carrying the ball and creating plays will drop considerably. . On the serve, Grant is expected to play a role that Covington has recently played, only better. A great defender, the winger will help improve the team’s very weak defence, while also being a good attacking option, with a larger arsenal than the former incumbent. If Nurkic remains healthy, this quartet proves to be very competitive in the fight for the playoffs/play-in.
The room may be the big chip behind Billups’ ear. Midway through his best season, Nassir Little suffered shoulder problems and ended up missing the rest, playing just 42 games, a common occurrence during his three-year league career, all under 50. matches. While playing, the winger averaged 9.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 25.9 minutes of action, all the best numbers of his life. The fight for more minutes will be in Billups, who can play it with smaller players, like Payton and Josh Hart, like bigger ones like Little or even pull Grant and put another less mobile player in the paint, like Drew Eubanks . I believe game circumstances will dictate preferences and the Blazers have players who change their style of play a lot as games go by.
As second-to-last in the West, big numbers weren’t to be expected last season, but they themselves were disastrous. If in terms of offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) the team had 107.3, fourth worst rating in the league, compared to defensive rating, the Blazers managed to have the second worst rating of all the league (116.3), only topping the Houston Rockets, resulting in a net note (offensive index – defensive index) of -9.1, simply the worst number in the entire league.
Since 2019/20, the Blazers could not escape being among the four worst defenses in the league, however, the new acquisitions invite an attempt to improve in this aspect. Improving behind and maintaining a strong offensive performance with healthy Lillard, the Blazers have everything to get back to where they’ve always been used to: the playoffs.
(Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Main arrivals: Jerami Grant, Shaedon Sharpe and Gary Payton II
Main products: nothing
Highlight: Lillard. More than his great individual value, Lillard is a game enabler in many ways: whether it’s attracting doubles and freeing up teammates, or creating plays for himself or teammates themselves. . The machine turns easier with Lillard and that should be a key offensive factor in the Blazers’ success this season.
Weakness: Defense. That’s three straight seasons among the four worst defenses in the league. Although the new acquisitions, mainly Payton II and Grant, show an attempt to improve this aspect, it is only in practice and with the chemistry between the players that we will be able to assess if this is no longer a weakness of the game. ‘crew. For now, that’s where the losses will come.
Campaign in 2021/22: 27-55 (third from bottom in the Western Conference)
Probable quintet: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic
franchise player: Damien Lillard
sixth man: Gary PaytonII
The Head Coach: Chauncey Billups (second year with the Blazers)
to fight for: play in
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