Portland Trail Blazers: Are They Ready to Compete?

Portland Trail Blazers
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First and foremost, superstar Damian Lillard is committed to the Portland Trail Blazers. The star guard just signed a massive two-year extension.

Last season, the Trail Blazers decided to commit to a very quick rebuild/roster change. This included parting ways with a major face in CJ McCollum, as well as other solid contributors in Norman Powell and Robert Covington. Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic hardly played after the trade deadline, and the Trail Blazers were one of the worst teams in the league.

They used their poor record to get a high draft pick and made some other moves throughout the offseason (so far). The question, however, is if they’ve done enough to compete while Lillard is still a star.

Are the Portland Trail Blazers Ready to Compete

Lillard the Star

Lillard is a superstar and one of the best guards in the entire NBA when healthy. There’s no debating that. He has yet to lead Portland to a Finals appearance, however. They’ve made it as far as the Western Conference Finals, but the West is as strong as ever.

The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the crop. New powerhouses have emerged in the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies. The Phoenix Suns should be stellar once again. Health will see the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets return to prominence. The New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves have improved. Then, of course, the Los Angeles Lakers still have LeBron James. This is an extremely tough conference.

Lillard can lead this team, though. He only played 29 games last season due to injury, but still averaged about 24 points and seven assists per game. The season prior, he averaged about 29 points and eight assists per game. Those kinds of numbers can be expected this coming season. Lillard is known as a leader and a ferocious competitor. His recent long-term commitment to Portland shows that he cares about this team and wants to win for them. Lillard will certainly play his heart out, but it remains to be seen how the rest of the roster will perform.

New Additions

The headline addition is Jerami Grant, who Portland brought in from the Detroit Pistons. Grant is a very solid scoring forward. Last season he averaged about 19 points and four rebounds per game. He only played 47 games, however, as his season was clouded by injuries and constant trade rumors.

The season prior, his first with Detroit, Grant averaged about 22 points and five boards per game. He looked decent as a first option on offense, but he’s better suited as a second or third option. That’s what he’ll be in Portland. Should Grant start at the four, which is likely, he needs to improve his rebounding.

Gary Payton II was also brought in from the Warriors. This is an excellent addition for Portland. Payton II is known for his defensive tenacity, which is stellar, but he’s more than that. He was a reliable contributor on both ends of the floor for the championship-winning team. He’ll be a difference-maker.

Shaedon Sharpe carries plenty of question marks. The Trail Blazers’ tank job allowed them to select him, although he didn’t play at all in college for the Kentucky Wildcats. His talent is well known, although it’s rarely been displayed. He just got injured in the Summer League too, so he remains a major mystery. Portland needs him to contribute rather quickly considering their roster construction.

Players Retained

Three players expected to be major contributors this season who were on the roster last season are Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, and Josh Hart.

Nurkic has been an above-average center for a while now. He’s not on an elite level but is very steady overall. Last season he averaged 15 points and 11 boards per game. Nurkic will be expected to own the paint and collect the majority of rebounds. This is a task he’s well suited for.

Simons is certainly the player to watch. He broke out last season, especially after Lillard was announced to be out for the season. In total, Simons averaged about 17 points, four points, and three assists per game. He’s expected to be the second option on this team and Lillard’s backcourt partner. Simons is as explosive as guards come, both in terms of scoring and athleticism. He was awarded a huge $100 million contract extension this offseason, so expectations are very high.

Hart remains underrated. He’s by no means a star, but he’ll contribute. As a matter of fact, he averaged about 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game last season with Portland after arriving from New Orleans. The sample size was very small (13 games), but the talent is apparent. Hart is likely to start at the three, but he’ll be the fourth or fifth option on offense. That’s good news for Portland.

A Look at the Portland Trail Blazers Roster

The starting five, barring any major trades, will feature Lillard, Simons, Hart, Grant, and Nurkic.

Payton II is likely to be the first name off the bench. Sharpe’s role remains undefined as he’s a total mystery outside of the Portland training facility.

Nassir Little is a solid prospect on the bench. Keon Johnson is working his way up. Brandon Williams showed flashes during the team’s tank job. Justise Winslow remains on the roster, although he never lived up to his hefty expectations coming out of Duke.

The starting five looks very good overall. Portland’s bench, however, leaves a lot to be desired. There are too many unproven players – in fact, the only “reliable” bench player is Payton II. For that reason, Portland is likely not ready to contend in the Western Conference, even after all their reshuffling.

Portland can still make a trade, or continue to maneuver the roster and add free agents. Notable bench options left include Montrezl HarrellHassan WhitesideEric PaschallJeremy LambAustin RiversDennis Schroder, and others. The well is certainly drying up.