NBA Season Preview 2022-23: Can the Portland Trail Blazers bounce back?

Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview

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Are the Portland Trail Blazers primed to bounce back from their 27-55 season?

Last season did not go according to plan for the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard got off to a disappointing start before suffering a season-ending abdominal injury. Lillard was limited to 29 games, and he posted new career lows in field goal percentage (40.2) and 3-point percentage (32.4).

With Lillard sidelined, the Blazers embraced the tank. They traded away CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Lance Nance Jr., and Tony Snell. Subsequently, they finished with an abysmal 27-55 record. It marked their lowest win total since 2005-06.

Despite rumors, the Blazers did not trade Lillard in the offseason. Instead, they retooled the supporting cast acquiring Jerami Grant, Gary Payton II, and Shaedon Sharpe. With Lillard on the roster, the Blazers are looking to contend now.

Portland Trail Blazers offseason overview

Players in:

  • Jerami Grant
  • Gary Payton II
  • Olivier Sarr
  • Shaedon Sharpe
  • Jabari Walker

Players out:

  • Eric Bledsoe
  • Kris Dunn
  • Keljin Blevins
  • C.J. Elleby
  • Ben McLemore
  • Joe Ingles
  • Elijah Hughes
  • Didi Louzada
  • Brandon Williams
  • Reggie Perry

Jerami Grant headlined the Blazers’ offseason. He will be the best two-way forward that Lillard has played alongside. During Portland’s conference finals run in 2019, their starting forwards were Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. Grant is a strong, versatile defender, who can create his own shot. Importantly, he can knock down open 3s. With defenses focused on Lillard, Grant should have plenty of open jump shots. Last season, he made 38.0 percent of his wide-open 3-point attempts.

Gary Payton II is another nice addition. Payton is a good defender, who was an integral piece of Golden State’s championship team. During the playoffs, Payton averaged 16.9 minutes per game, and he made two starts. He is a good fit alongside score-first guards Lillard and Anfernee Simons.

Portland Trail Blazers projected rotation

PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Anfernee Simons
SF: Josh Hart
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Jusuf Nurkic

Bench:

  • Gary Payton II
  • Shaedon Sharpe
  • Nassir Little
  • Trendon Watford
  • Drew Eubanks
  • Justise Winslow
  • Keon Johnson

Lillard, Simons, Hart, Grant, and Nurkic make up a strong starting five for the Blazers. However, the second unit carries some question marks. Payton is a solid backup point guard, but he is set to miss the start of the season with a core muscle injury. Behind Payton, there is virtually no guard depth.

On the wing, Sharpe and Little both carry high ceilings, but how impactful will they be this season? Sharpe is only 19 years old, and Little is still developing as a shooter. Little shot 33.1 percent from three last season. The Blazers need Payton, Sharpe, or Little to take a leap forward in their offensive development for their bench to be impactful.

Best-case and worst-case scenario for the Portland Trail Blazers

Best case: Lillard returns to form, and he is able to carry the Blazers on his back, once again. Simons continues his ascent to stardom. Sharpe’s shooting immediately translates to the NBA. Payton and Nurkic are able to stay healthy. The revamped Blazers are able to make the playoffs, and Lillard’s heroics carry them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Worst case: Lillard’s shooting efficiency does not rebound. Nurkic, who has missed 120 games over the last three years, suffers another injury. Payton, Sharpe, and Little fail to provide consistent floor spacing off the bench. In a competitive Western Conference, the Blazers fall out of the play-in.

X-Factor: What will the Portland Trail Blazers get from Anfernee Simons?

After the McCollum trade, Simons erupted averaging 25.4 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from 3. In his final game of the season, he scored 38 points (11-of-25 from the field, 9-of-17 from beyond the arc) against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Simons was a highly regarded high school recruit. 247 Sports ranked him as the eighth-best player in the 2018 class. He ended up entering the NBA Draft straight out of high school, where he was selected 24th overall by the Blazers.

The 23-year-old is finally living up to his star potential, but how high is his ceiling? Lillard is a bona fide superstar, but he has not had an All-Star teammate since LaMarcus Aldridge in 2014-15. If Simons can maintain his level of play from last season, it will completely change the trajectory of the franchise.

Portland Trail Blazers predicted record and finish

There are a lot of variables at play for Portland. I don’t believe everything will go wrong, but it is also improbable for everything to go exactly right. The most realistic result is somewhere in the middle — 42-40, Eighth in the Western Conference

One reason the Portland Trail Blazers are worth watching this season

Damian Lillard. Few players in NBA history have Lillard’s combination of scoring prowess and competitiveness. With unlimited shooting range, Lillard has consistently been one of the most fun players to watch in the NBA. Since 2020, Lillard has the most 50-point games in the NBA (7). This season, “Dame Time” should continue to be must-watch TV.

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