June 18, 2019, 1:59 am
The Portland Trail Blazers finished the 2017-18 season just three games ahead of the 9th seed in the Western Conference. Their 49 wins also happened to be good enough to nab the 3rd seed in what was seen as a bit of an overachievement after an incredible winning streak. They were promptly swept in the first round of the playoffs by the 6th-seeded Pelicans (48 wins). Having very little flexibility to add talent, the Blazers went into this season with all the same major pieces. With rival teams loading up on talent, would this stagnation result in a significant dropoff or would familiarity bring about an even better season?
2018-19 Record: 53-29
Jusuf Nurkic’s compound fracture. Evan Turner’s back-to-back triple-doubles. Damian Lillard’s 37-foot, buzzer-beating series winner. The Meyers Leonard Game. The last few months of the Blazers’ season definitely had some excitement and fantasy intrigue. Portland was once again in the middle of a tight Western Conference playoff field. And once again, they finished 3rd (five games ahead of the 8th seed and four games behind the first-place Warriors).
To the surprise of many, Portland improved during the regular season and made quite a memorable run in the playoffs, defeating the Thunder and the Nuggets before being swept by Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.
So, how did they get there? Well, the team stayed relatively healthy and consistent, winning the majority of their games in each month of the season. And when CJ McCollum and Nurkic went down with serious injuries toward the end of the season, the team even went on a hot streak. A team that’s had a relatively low ceiling for many years suddenly looks like they deserve contender status.
Let’s take a look at some of their best statistical team rankings to see what brought them success in the regular season.
Offensive Rating: 3rd
3-Point Percentage: 9th
Free Throw Percentage: 2nd
Total Rebounds: 3rd
Two February moves also set them up well for the stretch run and the playoffs. First, the Blazers acquired Rodney Hood from Cleveland for Wade Baldwin, Nik Stauskas and a pair of future second-rounders. Shortly thereafter, they signed the recently-released Enes Kanter. Each of the new acquisitions would become folk heroes of sorts because of some incredible postseason play. And with Nurkic’s season-ending injury, the Kanter signing may have been the most impactful move of the season for any contender (with nods to Marc Gasol and Tobias Harris).
Speaking of postseason heroes, we were reminded many times in the Blazers’ 16 playoff games that they have two superheroes capable of taking over any game in Lillard and McCollum. Beyond their big three, several role players including Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman and Turner stepped up for significant stretches and became worthy fantasy pickups in the meantime.
While there weren’t many dynamic changes to this season’s squad, plenty of Blazers’ values were in flux and are certainly worth a deeper look as we prepare for next season. We’ll delve into each player’s performance shortly.
One of the NBA’s longest-tenured coaches, Terry Stotts’ seventh season as coach of the Blazers was nearly his best in terms of wins. His Portland teams have won 33, 54, 51, 44, 41, 49, and now 53 regular season games. Stotts was Western Conference Coach of the Month for February and for March/April and shouldn’t be going anywhere for quite some time.
This season’s pace ranking was down to 18th in the league, but the pace itself was actually up slightly from previous seasons. Also of note for fantasy is that the players with the most minutes have had their playing time reduced over the past few seasons.
In Stotts’ first season with the club, five players averaged at least 29 minutes per game, with three players getting over 37 minutes each night. This season, it was just that starting backcourt that got more than 29 minutes, and both of them were under 36 minutes. The next six players averaged at least 22 minutes, so there’s a good chance that if you’re looking at a Blazer that’s not Lillard or McCollum, they’re likely to be limited to that 22-to-28-minute range. Al-Farouq Aminu and Nurkic were the only others to play more than half the game, and neither is a lock to be suiting up for this team anytime soon.
ADP: 10/10 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 7/6 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 12/12 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 80
2018-19 Averages: 80 G | 35.5 MP | 25.8 PTS | 3.0 3PM | 4.6 REB | 6.9 AST | 1.1 STL | 0.4 BLK | 2.7 TOV | .444 FG% | .912 FT% |
This is what you want from the 10th pick in a fantasy draft. 80-plus games and totally predictable stats. Lillard’s points dipped slightly due to a small drop in free throw attempts, but he also increased his assists to a career high 6.9 per game to offset that. Sure, 26/5/7 with three triples per game is enough to fall for the 7th-year point guard out of Weber State and take him in the first round. But fantasy veterans know that his free throw shooting is what solidifies him among the truly elite. Even after dropping from 7.4 to 6.4 attempts per game this season, Lillard finished second to James Harden for positive impact in the category.
With the main cogs back in place next season, Lillard has one of the highest floors among point guards. And with Jusuf Nurkic likely out for a few months, it’s easy to imagine Lillard taking on an even bigger role. For much of the first round of the playoffs, Lillard looked like the best player in the league so there’s hope that Dame’s skills are still improving a bit as he prepares for his age-29 season. A slight bump in field goal percentage and attempts, along with recovery of that lost free throw per game could have him neck-and-neck with Stephen Curry.
ADP: 92/90 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 38/37 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 35/37 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 72
2018-19 Averages: 72 G | 27.4 MP | 15.6 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 10.4 REB | 3.2 AST | 1.0 STL | 1.4 BLK | 2.3 TOV | .508 FG% | .773 FT% |
Nurkic finished last season as a player with 9th-round production in 9-cat leagues (7th round in 8-cat). There was legitimate concern that he’d only be valuable to teams punting free throw percentage and that Zach Collins could be ready to take a bigger chunk of the center minutes.
So how in the world did Nurkic finish as a 3rd/4th round guy this season? Mainly, the Bosnian Beast became a good free throw shooter. He had never hit the 64 percent mark for a season, and now he’s hitting 77.3 percent on higher volume? He actually hit over 71 percent in each month of the season with his best marks coming in February and March. That seems sustainable. Secondly, the improvement in value came from Nurkic’s assists as they jumped from from 1.8 assists per game to 3.2. He even increased his rebounds by 1.4 per game.
Nurkic played in 79 games last season and 72 of the Blazers’ 73 games this season before the infamous gruesome compound fracture of his left leg knocked him out of the final nine games of the regular season and the playoffs. He could miss a significant portion of his age-25 season. And once he’s back, he may need many more months to get back to where he was if the recoveries of Paul George and Gordon Hayward are any indication. He’s a stash candidate, but his ceiling in the upcoming year is quite a bit lower.
ADP: 33/31 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 70/68 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 68/59 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 70
2018-19 Averages: 70 G | 33.9 MP | 21.0 PTS | 2.4 3PM | 4.0 REB | 3.0 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.5 TOV | .459 FG% | .823 FT% |
When you watch McCollum, especially while Lillard is on the bench, he can look like a star. You get the impression that if he was the alpha dog of a different team (which seems more unlikely than ever with the success the team had this season) that he’d be 90% as good as Dame. Lillard Lite, let’s say. But while McCollum has been thought of as a third-round player in drafts for a few years, he hasn’t been all that close to meeting those expectations for the last two. Here are his 9-cat per-game rankings over his four fantasy-relevant seasons: 44, 27, 50, 60.
CJ’s stats have remained pretty consistent, so what did he do differently to finish 27th that season? Compared to this year, he shot a better from deep and much better from the line (on slightly higher volume), which resulted in more points, while also dishing slightly more assists. He hasn’t been playing backup point guard as much as he used to, so that partially explains the drop in dimes. McCollum’s usage rate also declined for the second straight season.
So, can he get back to posting third-round value? That’s going to be tough, because it’s looking like that was largely fueled by an outlier free throw year. However, over the previous three seasons, McCollum averaged 41.2 percent from three compared to this season’s 37.5 percent. Getting back to where he was from the perimeter would bump him up a bit in three categories, so he could easily be a fourth-round guy. A safe source of points and threes with a good field goal percentage should be looking pretty enticing around that point of the draft since he also has a floor that can’t be much below where he finished this season.
Health-wise, McCollum suited up for 68 of the first 69 games but then missed 10 games near the end of the season with a left knee injury. He had played in at least 80 games in the previous three seasons and he looked healthy in the playoffs, so there’s very little concern there.
ADP: 58/80 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 109/115 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 101/112 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 67
2018-19 Averages: 67 G | 24.5 MP | 13.7 PTS | 0.1 3PM | 9.9 REB | 1.7 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.8 TOV | .549 FG% | .787 FT% |
It was certainly an eventful season for Kanter. After all, not every NBA player has to worry about foreign government plots to assassinate them. Basketball-wise, he was dominant at times early in the season with the Knicks, for whom he started 23 games, came off the bench for 21 and sat out nine. With their rotating lineups and tanking goals, Kanter eventually lost playing time and was released.
He then signed with the Blazers on February 13th, which he said was “probably the best thing that’s ever happened in (his) career.” It was spectacular for Portland, too, as it allowed them to slide a capable veteran center right into Nurkic’s spot when he went down. Kanter started nine games down the stretch out of his 23 games played with the Blazers.
Playoff Kanter grew into a legend as he played through multiple injuries, including a clearly painful separated shoulder. Much of this also coincided with his fasting during Ramadan, which covered the majority of the Blazers’ 16 playoff games.
With such an inconsistent role, it’s tough to say how his season went as a whole. But when looking solely at games in which Kanter started, his stats look very encouraging and in line with his best seasons. In his 31 starts, he averaged 15.7 points and 10.6 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game with his always efficient percentages.
He will be an interesting free agent to watch, as he’s come off the bench in limited minutes quite often in his career. But it’s clear that if he gets closer to 30 minutes, he’s a nighty double-double guy that, as a center, helps in at least four categories. Kanter will still be just 27 through next season, and this playoff performance might earn him a starting job in which he could have a great peak to his career.
ADP: NA/146 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 92/78 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 137/110 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2018-19 Averages: 81 G | 28.3 MP | 9.4 PTS | 1.2 3PM | 7.5 REB | 1.3 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .433 FG% | .867 FT% |
Aminu was reliable and a great defender once again this season, but his production declined in nearly all categories except the percentages. He’s a just a back-of-the-roster guy to solidify your boards and now maybe your free throw percentage at the same time. The free throws increased from what had been a career average of 72.6 percent to 86.7 percent this season, though that’s still on just 2.1 attempts per game. The field goal percentage moved back into almost-respectable territory as well.
An unrestricted free agent this summer, Aminu could easily drop out of fantasy relevance as a backup on a new team with the type of game he plays. His best path to fantasy usefulness in his upcoming age-29 season is to re-sign with the Blazers, though they may choose not to keep him due to salary cap constraints.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 176/154 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 159/134 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 60
2018-19 Averages: 60 G | 23.6 MP | 7.7 PTS | 0.6 3PM | 4.5 REB | 1.2 AST | 1.1 STL | 0.9 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .487 FG% | .671 FT% |
Harkless came out of the gates slowly and then missed 12 games with a left knee injury. Knee problems dogged him all year long after he underwent surgery last March in order to return to the court during the postseason, and he missed plenty of time for rest purposes and spotty one-game leg issues. It took a while for him to get on track, but he definitely had some useful stretches. In fact, over the final 36 games, of which Harkless played in and started 34, he ranked 133/111 in per-game value (8/9-cat).
He could easily get more minutes next season, especially if Aminu is no longer around. Moe will be 26 through next May, and he should be able to take another step toward shallow-league startability. And even if not, you’ve still got a good steals and blocks streamer in Harkless.
ADP: 114/141 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 166/155 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 202/178 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 72
2018-19 Averages: 72 G | 26.3 MP | 11.2 PTS | 1.2 3PM | 2.2 REB | 1.8 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .435 FG% | .884 FT% |
Hood’s season was a disappointment to those that rostered him in fantasy. Even in his 45 starts in Cleveland, he was only a positive contributor in free throw percentage and turnovers. His February 4th trade to Portland didn’t help, as he lost minutes and everything dipped further.
Hood is a free agent and will turn 27 at the start of next season. His role in the Blazers’ playoff success, including a 25-point game on 12 shots against the Nuggets, surely caught the attention of teams looking for cheap distance shooting. However, it’s unlikely he’ll find himself in a spot that’ll interest standard-league fantasy players this fall.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 220/206 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 269/249 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 71
2018-19 Averages: 71 G | 18.7 MP | 7.6 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 3.1 REB | 0.7 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.6 TOV | .509 FG% | .704 FT% |
25-year-old Layman burst onto the scene after two seasons where he averaged a combined 1.6 points per game. You can see that his final numbers were nothing special, but Layman had some stretches in which he was startable in standard leagues. He averaged over 11 points per game in both January and February while throwing in some threes and blocks with great field goal percentage.
The cap-strapped Blazers may need to hold onto this restricted free agent as a cheap wing this summer, and that could lead to more sustained stretches of fantasy relevance for the third-year man out of Maryland.
ADP: NA/138 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 194/193 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 254/263 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 77
2018-19 Averages: 77 G | 17.6 MP | 6.6 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 4.2 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.9 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .473 FG% | .746 FT% |
Here’s a player to flag for next season’s fantasy drafts. Collins did take steps forward this season, though not as far forward as his drafters had hoped. The 21-year-old from Gonzaga’s minutes hardly increased, but the rate at which he collected stats certainly improved. He clearly won’t be ready for anything close to 36 minutes next season, but his per-36 minute stats remind me a lot of Myles Turner’s stat set (though Turner does it in just about 29 minutes).
With Nurkic out for probably a sizable chunk of the season, it appears that the starting center spot could be Collins’ to lose. If he does end up starting, Collins could easily put up late-round value for a few months and then stick in a sizable reserve role where he also plays a bit alongside a center as he did in the playoffs.
ADP: 140/132 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 227/217 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 282/276 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 74
2018-19 Averages: 74 G | 18.9 MP | 7.9 PTS | 1.5 3PM | 1.6 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .456 FG% | .846 FT% |
Seth Curry bounced back well from a fractured left tibia that kept him out for all of last season. He may never get a role as large as he had in Dallas when he averaged 29.0 minutes per game two years back, but finishing with a 45.0 percent mark from three is to be commended.
Steph’s little brother will be 29 going into next season, and surely someone will want a sharpshooter like him. Still, he’s unlikely to get enough minutes and usage to justify rostering him. His fate is probably to be a 3-point streamer that won’t hurt your field goal percentage when a guard that’s ahead of him misses time.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 265/256 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 294/280 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 61
2018-19 Averages: 61 G | 14.4 MP | 5.9 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 3.9 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.2 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .545 FG% | .843 FT% |
Some NBA fans will remember where they were during “The Meyers Leonard Game”, otherwise known as the game in which the Blazers were eliminated from the playoffs. Leonard went 30/12/3 with five threes in 40 minutes. It’s pretty safe to say we’ll never see that again from the 27-year-old, third-string center. However, his offensive skills have always been there. This season, Leonard went 15/10/3 with over two threes per-36 minutes with his usual sterling percentages (he’s a member of the 50/40/90 club, which typically includes hall of famers).
Leonard has just had a hard time staying on the floor long enough to make an impact. He had quite a few DNP-CDs this season. But if he ever finds himself in a 24-minute role, Leonard would be worth a look in standard leagues. And he may actually find himself near there, as the center position could be manned by only him and Zach Collins for a few months while Nurkic works his way back next season. Keep my fellow Fighting Illini in mind as you watch how the minutes shake out to start the season.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 201/234 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 255/299 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 73
2018-19 Averages: 73 G | 22.0 MP | 6.8 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 4.5 REB | 3.9 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.2 BLK | 1.6 TOV | .459 FG% | .708 FT% |
Turner is a serviceable veteran bench ball-hander at this point in his career. He’ll be 31 near the beginning of next season and he posted his lowest minutes per game to date. Nothing too exciting here. However, as mentioned earlier, he did have back-to-back triple-doubles off the bench while McCollum was out. His per-minute rebounds and assists were way up this season, while his threes dropped off significantly.
With Rodney Hood, Seth Curry and Jake Layman all free agents, there’s a chance he gets a nice bump up in minutes and gets back to his 10/5/5 days. That’s helpful in deep leagues, and he could be a shallow-league play if either starting guard is out.
Health-wise, Turner only missed a handful of games with a left knee injury just after the all-star break. He’s played in at least 65 games in each of his nine NBA seasons.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 458/474 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 493/502 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 20
2018-19 Averages: 20 G | 7.0 MP | 3.8 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 0.7 REB | 0.7 AST | 0.1 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.6 TOV | .444 FG% | .563 FT% |
Simons just turned 20 and unsurprisingly seems to be a few years away from contributing much, considering he didn’t play in college. I did hope to see him play in more than just four G-League games this season. His season highlight, which has a decent chance to be his career highlight, was the final game of the regular season of course. Simons went for 37/6/9 and seven threes while playing all 48 minutes.
With the Blazers likely to lose some veterans, Simons should get some more playing time, but he’ll require some patience from the fantasy community.
Gary Trent Jr.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 502/520 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 516/516 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 15
2018-19 Averages: 15 G | 7.4 MP | 2.7 PTS | 0.3 3PM | 0.7 REB | 0.3 AST | 0.1 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.3 TOV | .320 FG% | .429 FT% |
Another 20-year-old that saw about as much time as Simons, Trent did have some more success in the G-Leauge. He played in just six games, but he averaged over 33 points and five threes per game. Trent also had a pretty good 48-minute showing in that season finale as he put up 19/2/3 with a triple-one.
Same thing as Simons here. Look for a few extra games and minutes, but don’t expect much this next season.
The Blazers are likely to run it back once more with their expensive team. They’re currently well over the cap with the 10 players they have under contract. Portland currently has just one pick in this week’s draft, and that’s number 25.
There’s been a lot of noise over the last few seasons about breaking up the backcourt, but hopefully this second consecutive 3rd place finish in the West and an inspiring playoff run have shown that the Blazers don’t need to shake things up to contend for a title. They could look to ship off some salary to regain some flexibility, but I don’t see any major moves coming this summer for the Blazers.
Get Nurkic healthy, develop some young players, and they could be in a position to surprise once again come playoff time.