NBA Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 35-39 (.473%), 8th in Western Conference, Lost in 1st Rd.
Head Coach: Terry Stotts

The Blazers had their back against the wall from the get-to, as they were without Jusuf Nurkic for the entirety of the pre-COVID part of the season, as he was recovering from a gruesome leg injury. Of course, they still had Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who led Portland to a top-10 offense in the league. Lillard was simply brilliant all year, averaging 30.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 8.0 apg while making 40.1% of his 3-point attempts. His 6-game stretch in late January was ridiculous, averaging 48.8 ppg including a career high of 61 points versus Golden State. CJ McCollum played an excellent Robin to Dame’s Batman, putting up his typical numbers: 22.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg and 4.4 apg. Unfortunately, their defense ranked near the bottom of the league and they had to use a 6-2 record in the bubble to make it into the play-in tournament against Memphis. Once past the Grizzlies, they were simply overmatched by the Lakers in five games.

Can Damien Lillard & CJ McCollum Continue to lead Portland?

Damian Lillard had an 8-game stretch in the bubble to remind everyone in the NBA that he can be the most dynamic player in the league at times - 37.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 9.6 apg on 39.4% 3-point shooting. If he can get the Blazers into the top 4 seeds in the West, expect to hear some MVP chatter. With a player like Dame it can be difficult to contribute on the offensive end, but somehow CJ McCollum has put together a 5-year stretch where he has been super consistent averaging between 20.8 ppg and 23.0 each year. Can the dynamic duo lead the Blazers to playoff success? No matter how talented they are, they can’t do it alone. 

New Look Blazers

Even though Nurkic came back in time for the bubble, and played well, there was still rust to shake off. Now that he’s healthy and has time to get ready for the season, he should be able to make a difference where the Blazers need it - the defensive end. With career averages of 0.9 spg & 1.3 bpg, Nurkic gives the Blazers a presence in the paint and combined with new acquisition Robert Covington should shore up Portland’s bottom-5 defense. At 6'7" with a 7'2" wingspan, Covington is a former All-Defensive 1st Team member and owns career averages of 1.7 spg & 0.9 bpg. He wreaks havoc in passing lanes – he led the league in 2016-17 and has been in the top 10 each season since. The Blazers also brought in Slam Dunk Champion Derrick Jones Jr. to be a versatile defender on the wing, and provide some flair offensively. With the two new additions and Nurkic, the Blazers should be much tighter on the defensive end.

Tom's Take: Look for a healthy Trail Blazers to jump up in the West, and finish in the middle as the 4th/5th seed for the playoffs. 

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire