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9 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Author:

A MODEST PROPOSAL ...

LET JUSUF NURKIĆ SHOOT THREES

When you're as financially tied to your core players and strapped for cap space as the Trail Blazers are, major improvements have to come internally. Over the past few years Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have become a lethal one-two punch by being turned loose on and off the ball in Terry Stotts's frenetic system. But the role players around them have mostly plateaued.

The NBA's increasing emphasis on versatility has led to more traditional centers stepping out to the perimeter. So why not let 24-year-old 7-footer Jusuf Nurkić follow suit?

Well, Nurkić is 0 for 13 from beyond the arc in his four-year career. But he did shoot 37.9% on his 124 midrange jumpers from 16 feet and beyond last season, according to Synergy data, and he took multiple threes playing for Bosnia and Herzegovina over the summer. For what it's worth, he has told reporters he plans to shoot more threes this season. The key is actually giving him the confidence to take and make those shots.

If the experiment succeeds, Nurkić could become a lethal pick-and-pop partner for Portland's guards and open up more lanes to find cutters from the top of the arc. Hey, for the Blazers to improve on 49 wins, they'll have to try something.

STARTING 5

COACH TERRY STOTTS

2017--18 RECORD: 49--33

PREDICTION: Miss playoffs

SG CJ MCCOLLUM (33 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

21.4

PPG

SF MAURICE HARKLESS

41.5

3FG%

PF AL-FAROUQ AMINU (81 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

7.6

RPG

C JUSUF NURKIĆC (64 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

9.0

RPG

PG DAMIAN LILLARD (15 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

26.9

PPG

After a regular season in which he was named first-team All-NBA, Lillard saw his points per game plummet to 18.5 in the Pelicans' first-round sweep.

BENCH

SF EVAN TURNER

SG SETH CURRY [NEW ACQUISITION]

C ZACH COLLINS

(*) NEW ACQUISITION

(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP PORTLAND

IT'S FAIR to wonder if their approach on offense is better for the regular season or the postseason. This isn't a team that you fear in April and May, even when DAMIAN LILLARD has it going.... Shabazz Napier was in a lot of their good five-man lineups last year. That's a big loss. [Losing] Ed Davis [to Brooklyn in free agency] was crippling.... The tricky thing is whether they use ZACH COLLINS as a four or a five. To me, he's more of a five, but that's JUSUF NURKIĆ's spot, and he's a stone-cold five. So that limits Collins to a backup role, or it forces you to play him at the four with Nurkić, which could make for some spacing issues. They need to get Collins on the court as often as he can handle. Looking ahead three years, I'd rather have Collins than Nurkić.... Their defense was top 10 last season because of its discipline, rather than its versatility. That came back to bite them in the postseason.... I've given up on MEYERS LEONARD at this point, and I bet Portland would have given up on him by now too if they could have. But now Davis is gone, so they have a hole at the fourth big spot. I can't believe Leonard didn't block a single shot last year.... CJ MCCOLLUM is a stud on offense. He's a dynamic scorer. He can get better at getting to the free throw line, but he's so crafty that he shifts away from defenders. He's not huge on seeking out contact.... I think they're looking at SETH CURRY stepping into Napier's minutes. He's a better shooter, a little more dynamic with the ball. He can be a secondary playmaker.