The Blazers are coming off a second straight year in which they struggled initially, then made a successful playoff push in the final few months.
Help arrived last season on Feb. 12, after a trade with the Nuggets: 7-foot, 280-pound Jusuf (the Bosnian Beast) Nurkic, who's both a brick wall when setting picks for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and a surprisingly nimble receiver on rolls to the rim. In addition to making the offense harder to guard, he provided double-digit rebounds and an anchor to the defense.
The acquisition of Nurkic unlocked some of the best basketball of the Lillard era: Portland was 14--5 with Nurkic in the starting lineup.
Is the Blazers' late-season winning percentage sustainable? The 23-year-old Nurkic will be playing for a new contract, but he still has much to prove: While he averaged 15.2 points in 29.2 minutes for Portland, he had put up just 8.0 points in 17.9 minutes before. And Nurkic's presence can't entirely make up for the deficiencies of Lillard and McCollum on D: Portland was just 23rd in defensive rating.
But even if the Blazers start slowly, the past two years suggest they can make up ground quickly.
COACH TERRY STOTTS
(6th season with Trail Blazers)
2016--17 RECORD 41--41
(3rd in Northwest)
17 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG DAMIAN LILLARD
27.0 PPG; 5.9 APG; 44.4 FG%; 37.0 3FG%
39 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG CJ MCCOLLUM
23.0 PPG; 3.6 APG; 48.0 FG%; 42.1 3FG%
SF MOE HARKLESS
10.0 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 50.3 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
PF AL-FAROUQ AMINU
8.7 PPG; 7.4 RPG; 39.3 FG%; 33.0 3FG%
69 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C JUSUF NURKIC
15.2 PPG; 10.4 RPG; 1.9 BPG; 50.8 FG%
SG EVAN TURNER
9.0 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 3.2 APG; 42.6 FG%
PF ED DAVIS
4.3 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 52.8 FG%
PG SHABAZZ NAPIER
4.1 PPG; 1.3 APG; 39.9 FG%; 37.0 3FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP PORTLAND
They had a really quiet summer. Their continuity should help them get a fast start, and they showed they could play winning basketball after the JUSUF NURKIC trade.... I don't think the Allen Crabbe [trade to the Nets] is addition by subtraction. It's just subtraction. There are more minutes and clearer roles for MOE HARKLESS and EVAN TURNER, but they needed Crabbe's shooting. It's O.K. to overpay for shooting, and he was part of their best five-man lineup.... DAMIAN LILLARD doesn't have any weaknesses on offense. He hits big shots, runs an efficient offense, shoots from deep, he's a caretaker. It's all on his shoulders.... Lillard deserves a lot of credit for finding a good balance with CJ MCCOLLUM; there's no real jealousy or push-and-pull between the two of them. It's seamless how they play off each other. They both get naturally more aggressive when the other one is on the bench.... McCollum's midrange game is a big-time weapon. His handle and his craftiness and his ability to play in pick-and-rolls are all pluses—he can score at all three levels. He can hit you at any moment.... All the concerns about Turner's fit came to fruition. He kills their spacing both for the guards and around Nurkic inside. There's nowhere to hide him. His contract is so, so bad.... It's never going to happen for MEYERS LEONARD. He doesn't believe in himself, so why should anyone believe in him? ... ZACH COLLINS was struggling everywhere in Summer League. Even when he improves, I'm not sure he has a position. That looks like a bad pick.
TELLING 14--5 STATISTIC
Nurkic puts them back in the playoffs, but they don't have enough to make it out of the first round.