Last Word On Basketball

Don’t Overlook the Portland Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 5: Damian Lillard (0) of the Portland Trail Blazers high fives CJ McCollum (3) after earning a trip to the free throw line against the Denver Nuggets during the first quarter on Sunday, May 5, 2019. The Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers game four of their second round NBA playoff series at the Moda Center in Portland. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The NBA offseason has been a whirlwind of late night news breaks, player movement, and bold predictions for the season ahead. The two Los Angeles teams stole the show with the moves they made. They were able to team superstars together in both Staples Center locker rooms.  Of course, after all of the player movement, predictions for the upcoming season began to pour in. When reading over the views of these prognosticators, it seems the Portland Trail Blazers are being overlooked. Despite reaching the Western Conference Finals last season without the services of Jusuf Nurkic in the post, no one is talking about them as a contender next season.

The Portland Trail Blazers are Being Overlooked

When the 2019-20 NBA season kicks off it will be as wide open as the league has been for quite some time. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers both made big time moves. They brought in the likes of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins (Lakers) Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George (Clippers) to bolster thier respective teams.

It is no surprise that these moves, along with Kevin Durant’s departure from the Golden State Warriors, has made the two Los Angeles teams favorites out west. Even the Utah Jazz have received praise for the addition of Mike Conley to pair with Donovan Mitchell in their back court. However, despite all the talk of these other teams, the Trail Blazers should not be dismissed so easily. They have all the ingredients needed to compete for a NBA Finals berth next season.

Potent Pairing

In assessing the state of the league after this summer’s wild free agency period, the era of the super teams is over. Now it seems as if more organizations are building their teams around a pairing of All-Star players. Portland already has their dangerous duo in place. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are as good as any back court in the league. The two explosive guards carried this team to the conference finals a season ago. They combined for 51.5 points and 10.3 assists per game during their playoff run.

Being overlooked is nothing new to these two. Both players starred at smaller colleges after being overlooked during the recruiting process. Since entering the NBA each of them has played as if they have a point to prove. Lillard has become a star in this league with the aggressive and fearless nature he plays the game. He can equal any guard in the association in terms of talent and production. McCollum has a smoothness about his game, quiet and steady just like his persona off the court. He also has a killer instinct, which showed during his performance in a game seven victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Back In Action

Before a leg injury ended his season, Nurkic was developing into one of the most versatile big men in the league. He averaged 15.6 points, 10.4 boards, and 3.4 assists per game. His game complements well with the Trail Blazers’ talented guards. He can get points in the paint, but is also adept at finding his teammates for open shots. The deep shooting range of Lillard and McCollum allows him to have the room he needs to go to work in the post. He is also active on defense, averaging a steal and a block per night for his career.

New Additions

While the Trail Blazers did not add any superstar names this offseason, their moves to build the roster can not be overlooked. They added veteran Kent Bazemore as a “three-and-D” wing player, as well as big man Hassan Whiteside. Bazemore will add shooting and depth on the perimeter. Whiteside is a curious case. He has proven to be a talented and productive big man for he Miami Heat, but his attitude and motivation have been questioned. Whiteside will be leaned on heavily in the early season as Nurkic continues to recover. If a fresh start on a new team reinvigorates him to be at his best, his addition could be one of this off season’s best pieces of business.

Portland also drafted Nassir Little out of the University of North Carolina last month. He fell from a projected lottery pick to late in the first round and the Trail Blazers snagged him up. Little could prove to be steal if he reaches his full potential as a player. He will bring more size and athleticism to the wing for Portland.

Challenging Out West

It will not be easy for any team in the Western Conference this season. Whomever secures playoff berths will have certainly earned it. Despite the fierce competition throughout the conference, there is no clear-cut favorite. For the first time in a few seasons, the representative in the NBA Finals is not a forgone conclusion. Portland has a returning core centered around a dynamic back court duo, along with some solid off season additions. The Portland Trail Blazers should not be overlooked in the hierarchy out west.

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