On Saturday night, the Portland Trail Blazers‘ season came to a close. The Los Angeles Lakers put them away to win the first-round series four games to one. Now, the Blazers find themselves gearing up for the 2020-21 season which is slated to start in three months. While in the bubble, the Blazers were one of the NBA’s hottest teams. In eight seeding games, they went 6-2 and won the play-in game. Moreover, Damian Lillard was crowned the bubble MVP with a jaw-dropping stat line of 37.6 points and 9.6 assists per game. Certainly, this is a team that can compete next season. But what’s next for the Blazers as they enter their offseason?
What’s Next For The Portland Trail Blazers?
The Star Backcourt
For starters, this is a team that figures to have a similar rotation next season. Lillard will be the catalyst of the team and a sneaky MVP candidate. At age 30, Lillard was able to knock down 40 percent of his threes while averaging career highs in points, assists, and field goal attempts. Somehow, he seems to find new ways to get better every year. And his clutch gene was as evident as ever in the bubble.
Meanwhile, CJ McCollum has been floated in trade rumors for quite some time now. But his 29 million dollar contract will be hard to flip. Admittedly, his efficiency against the Lakers was very poor. He shot just 42 percent from the field, and 57 percent from the foul line. That said, he was dealing with a painful back injury. And he’s still a great help to Lillard in creating buckets and scoring. As long as the two stays put, the Blazers will be competitive.
The Wing Position
If there’s a glaring weakness on this team it’s the wing position. Although that weakness could be alleviated if the Blazers play their cards right. First off, they should bring Carmelo Anthony back. In the restart, Anthony made countless clutch buckets and showed he still belongs in the league. In five of his seven seeding games, he shot 50 percent or above from three. Anthony is 36, however, and is a one year stop-gap in 2020. Gary Trent Jr broke out in the bubble with lights out shooting (50.7 percent from three on 8.4 attempts!) and his defense.
Rodney Hood will be healthy again to offer more shooting and offense. These two players specifically will have a huge chip on their shoulders next year. Finally, Trevor Ariza will be healthy and can be a solid 3-and-D backup. But, like Anthony, Ariza will be 35 and not a long term answer. Bringing back everyone is a fine start, but an upgrade at defense is crucial. They were 28th in defensive efficiency after all. The Blazers have the 16th pick in the draft, so a potential trade package with Ariza or Nassir Little to upgrade the position should be considered.
The story behind the Blazers bubble run was their bigs getting healthy. Jusuf Nurkic made his season debut in the bubble while Zach Collins returned from injury. Nurkic looked like the teams’ third star and put up career highs in points, assists, and blocks. In seven of 13 total games in the bubble, Nurkic had a double-double. While playing at a star level, Nurkic’s contract for the next two seasons is only 12 million. His frontcourt mate Collins will be in a contract year next year. Collins has yet to break out and is under pressure to succeed. Going forward Nurkic will be a focal point of the offense. While Collins will need to gain muscle and become a consistent presence on defense. In addition, another backup big man will be needed with Hassan Whiteside‘s contract expiring.
Depth, Defense, and Health Will Determine What’s Next For Blazers
Arguably the biggest downfall of the Blazers postseason run was injuries. Luckily, neither Lillard nor McCollum will need surgeries for their injuries. On the downside, the 2020 season is slated to start December 1st. This only leaves three months to get healthy. And without the two of them, Anfernee Simons is the only other ball-handler in the rotation. The Blazers should try and acquire another ball-handler who can play defense to spell Lillard and McCollum. After all, the two led the league in minutes per game.
If injuries aren’t a factor, the Blazers have a lot of talent. Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Trent, Hood, Simons, and Collins are seven players the Blazers can count on. If Anthony is brought back, that makes eight. But the Blazers shouldn’t settle with complacency. If their defense doesn’t improve, their ceiling will always be capped. So what’s next for the Blazers after exiting the bubble? Get healthy, add depth, and improve personnel on defense. If they can do that, their lethal offense will take care of the rest.
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