Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 Team Preview

  • How’d We Get Here?

    The Blazers put together a great regular season in which they surpassed all expectations. They received a rude awakening in the form of a first-round sweep at the hands of the Pelicans and will look to retool their roster somewhat around their star backcourt.

    The Blazers didn’t make any impact moves but did lose some notable veterans, clearing the way for the team’s best prospects to stake their claim going forward. Dame and C.J. can carry this team through the regular season but the Blazers still need to find additional contributors if they hope to have any postseason success.

    Offseason Moves

    Arrivals: Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas
    Rookie Arrivals: Anfernee Simons (No. 24), Gary Trent Jr. (No. 37)
    Departures: Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Georgios Papagiannis
    Retained: Jusuf Nurkic, Wade Baldwin IV

    Depth Chart and Minutes Per Game

    PG: Damian Lillard (34-36) / Wade Baldwin (0, 14-20)
    SG: C.J. McCollum (35-36) / Seth Curry (0, 18-25) / Nik Stauskas (0, 8-18) / Gary Trent Jr. (0, 8-12) / Anfernee Simons (0, 6-12)
    SF: Moe Harkless (22-28) / Evan Turner (24-27) / K.J. McDaniels (0, 5-15)
    PF: Al-Farouq Aminu (29-30) / Jake Layman (0, 8-16) / Caleb Swanigan (0, 6-12)
    C: Jusuf Nurkic (24-27) / Zach Collins (23-27) / Meyers Leonard (0, 6-12)

    Position Battles

    Point Guard: Damian Lillard will be good for his usual 36 mpg or so and C.J. McCollum can handle the work whenever their minutes are staggered, so there won’t be much left for anyone else. Seth Curry will get the first crack at being the technical backup with Wade Baldwin IV working as the third man.

    Shooting Guard: McCollum will do the heavy lifting here with Curry likely functioning as his primary backup. There are big questions after that, with only Nik Stauskas and rookies Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons on the depth chart.

    The Blazers have already said they’d like to see Trent contribute this year while they’ll take things slow with Simons (who went the prep school route rather than NCAA) so we’ll go with Trent-Stauskas-Simons as the bottom three. We wouldn’t expect rotation minutes for more than one at a time.

    Small Forward: The Blazers could opt for either Moe Harkless or Evan Turner in this spot. Harkless couldn’t build off a nice 2016-17 season and struggled for long stretches of last year, though he’s a solid defender who can stretch the floor.

    Portland’s probably regretting the free agent deal they handed to Turner but he’s a nice secondary playmaker and a big body who can switch across multiple positions. For now we’ll guess that Harkless starts and the Blazers use Turner to keep things flowing in the second unit. Jake Layman can also pitch in but probably won’t be in the rotation.

    Power Forward: Al-Farouq Aminu is coming off a strong season and will be looking at 30-plus mpg again. He’s made big strides as a 3-point shooter and gives Portland some defensive toughness and rebounding ability.

    Those latter two qualities could be in short supply with Ed Davis gone, and the rest of the frontcourt rotation will rely largely on young and unproven players. Caleb Swanigan will handle the backup minutes here, and anything he can’t handle will probably go to Turner or Harkless in small groups.

    Center: The Blazers were able to bring back Jusuf Nurkic on a fairly affordable deal and he’ll be key to Portland’s future. Zach Collins seems primed to handle the backup work and the team can throw a lot of different looks at opponents if he hits his ceiling. Meyers Leonard will slot in third.


    The Blazers can bank on their star backcourt, but the rest of the squad offers up plenty of questions. A consistent Nurkic would help greatly but there’s still little in the way of wing depth and the frontcourt reserves haven’t really been tested at the highest level yet. They’re clearly good enough to make the playoffs but would need to be incredibly lucky to get past the second round – if not the first.

    The big takeaways from this season will be how Swanigan and Collins, the latter in particular, fare in real minutes. If they improve as hoped the Blazers will be looking alright in the short term. If they don’t, Portland could be staring down the barrel of some difficult questions.

    Damian Lillard

    Total Value: 10/9 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 9/8 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 73

    2017-18 Review: Dame continued to deliver elite fantasy value, and owners who were able to snag him at his ADP got a tidy little profit out of the deal as well. He delivered numbers that were right in line with last year’s, with his assists, steals, 3-pointers and free throw percentage rising marginally while his rebounds and field goal percentage fell. He set a new career-low in games played but owners won’t complain about 73 contests.

    This Year: Look for more of the same for Lillard. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for the Blazers and he’s going to be near the top of the league’s leaderboards in scoring, 3-pointers and free throw percentage while posting fewer turnovers than most of the other elite point guards. Some improvement on the defensive end would be big for the Blazers but at age 28 it’s probably not something to hold your breath for.

    Injury History: Lillard had something of an Ironman reputation working, but those have always been a little disingenuous – you’re an Ironman until you aren’t. After opening his career with three straight full seasons Lillard missed seven games apiece in the following two (with an ankle sprain serving as the notable injury) before missing nine this season.

    He missed seven games with a right hamstring strain, two with a right calf strain and one game with a left ankle injury. Dame has also dealt with reported plantar fascia issues for the last few years but they haven’t been enough to shelve him. While he’s no longer sporting the highest durability rating, Lillard is still pretty safe given the workload he’s absorbed through his first six seasons.

    Outlook: Lillard’s counting numbers have been pretty steady throughout his career so any real movement in his value will come as a result of his percentages. If he can stay up in the high-.430s and above, he’ll be a late first-round option. If he goes back into the .420s or below he’ll be more of a top-15 option. Either way he’s off the board by the middle of the second round. With all the stars atop fantasy draft boards, Dame usually provides a little bit of profit at his ADP despite his consistent excellence.

    C.J. McCollum

    Total Value: 35/34 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 53/50 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 81

    2017-18 Review: It wasn’t a great fantasy year for McCollum even though he was up to his standard work for the Blazers. A 50-point outing against the Bulls sticks out in particular but McCollum lost 20-25 spots in the per-game rankings as a result of his percentages. After he impressed by going .480 from the field and a league-best .912 from the line in 2016-17, his numbers fell more in line with career norms last season at .443 from the field and .836 from the charity stripe. It was nearly identical to his MIP season, but McCollum raised the bar pretty high two years back.

    This Year: Even with the fluctuating percentages McCollum only lost 1.6 points per game, and given the lack of major changes to the roster there’s little reason to expect his statistical output to change. Like Lillard, McCollum’s defense remains a problem and the two were picked apart pretty good by the Pelicans in the postseason. Hopefully the playoff disappointment will light a fire.

    Injury History: McCollum dealt with major foot problems through college and his first two NBA seasons but has only missed five games in the last three years, with one of those a suspension. He’s looking pretty low-risk at the moment.

    Outlook: The percentages from 2016-17 looked like obvious regression candidates and fulfilled the prophecy. He’s more of a third/fourth-round option than the second-round player he was treated as last year but he’s got a really nice floor and we know he can hit the top-25 at his peak. Draft accordingly.

    Evan Turner

    Total Value: 178/188 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 235/256 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 79

    2017-18 Review: Turner’s stock has taken a tumble since he left the Celtics. His points fell from 9.7 to 8.2 per game while his rebounds fell from 3.8 to 3.2 and his assists dropped from 3.2 to 2.2 per game – well below the 4.4 dimes he dropped with Boston before signing that big free agent deal. As Turner has never been a big cash counter contributor, when he’s not gutting out 11-4-4 lines you end up with a season well outside the top-200.

    This Year: The Blazers got sucked in by the idea of Turner’s game two summers ago and ignored the fact that his skills just weren’t a great fit with the core of their roster. He can’t make defenses pay from behind the arc and while there was a little success when he played de facto point guard with one of Portland’s backcourt duo on the bench, they play so much that those opportunities are firmly capped.

    If he wants to get back into the good graces of fantasy owners either the Blazers will need to revamp their playbook or ET will need to start picking up more steals and blocks.

    Injury History: Turner only missed one game in the regular season with a real injury, as he missed one game with a left calf injury, another with an illness and a third for personal reasons. He also missed Game 3 against the Pelicans with a toe contusion and dealt with back soreness late in the season but that didn’t cost him any time.

    The year before saw Turner miss five weeks with a fractured third metacarpal in his right hand but he’s been healthy in the preceding years, so he still grades out well in terms of durability.

    Outlook: Turner’s usage might rebound a bit after last season’s dip but even then he’ll only have the stat set to support top-200 numbers on this roster. Consider him a late-round plodder for 16-team formats with a little upside if someone gets hurt.

    Al-Farouq Aminu

    Total Value: 116/92 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 110/88 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 69

    2017-18 Review: Aminu put together a season that was reminiscent of his 2016-17 campaign with the only notable change coming in his increase in 3-pointers from 1.1 to 1.8 per game. He’s still not a great shooter (.395 from the field) but was able to post solid rebound and steal numbers while playing big minutes as one of Portland’s better defenders.

    This Year: The lack of impact adds here really helps Aminu, as unless Caleb Swanigan really takes off he won’t be pushed for minutes. He’ll still do more offensive work on the perimeter than he probably should but it’s a function of Jusuf Nurkic’s own lack of range.

    Injury History: Aminu’s dealt with a few injuries since joining the Blazers and getting a big minutes bump. Last season he missed 13 games with a right ankle sprain and the year before that he missed 12 games with a sore calf, five with a sore back and two with a knee sprain. He’s only a moderate injury risk but we’re not expecting much more than 70 games after his last two years.

    Outlook: Aminu is a nice late-round option in standard leagues who can help anyone in need of rebounds, 3-pointers and steals. His game isn’t too exciting so he’ll likely hit the waiver wire once or twice in 12-team leagues but Aminu will be worth owning as long as he’s healthy.

    Jusuf Nurkic

    Total Value: 57/73 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 77/104 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 79

    2017-18 Review: Nurkic posted another season that was basically half wasted but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as his 2016-17 campaign, where he moved from bench guy to big-minute starter and solid fantasy asset.

    Last year he was expected to produce from the jump and ended up puttering about until January, shooting .451 through the end of December before going .547 the rest of the way. In that same spirit he also saw his rebounds (7.6 to 9.9), steals (0.7 to 0.9) and blocks (1.3 to 1.5) increase despite actually losing playing time – his turnovers managed to decrease from 2.8 to 2.0 as well.

    Nurkic was only worth holding for his upside for the first 30 games or so (top-150/235 through December 31), but he did enough the rest of the way (top-60/60 thereafter) to reward anyone who remained patient or bought low.

    This Year: That’s two straight years with a Jekyll and Hyde act, and only one with a reasonable excuse. If Nurkic can lock in for October he’ll have an excellent shot at returning top-50 value. One concern is the playing time, as Nurk averaged 29.2 mpg post-trade two seasons ago but was down to 26.4 last year.

    The game is trending away from his skillset, so unless he develops a functional jumper Zach Collins might chip away at his minutes. There’s still room to grow for him and he’s a nice on-paper fit, but he’s not in untouchable territory.

    Injury History: Nurkic was finally healthy last season, missing three games with a sprained right ankle but playing through a few other dings. It’s a sight for sore eyes after he suffered a torn left patellar tendon in 2015-16 and a right fibular fracture at the end of the 2016-17 season. Nurk has also dealt with left knee soreness before, and it’s something to watch even if he’s slowly improving his durability rating.

    Outlook: Last season’s poor start should push Nurkic’s ADP down by a few rounds, which is great news. It’s not the safest bet in the world but there’s no denying his early-middle round potential when everything is clicking.

    Owners in 8-cat formats can start to take a look in rounds seven or eight while 9-cat players might want to wait a little longer, but if you’re a big believer and want to go a round earlier than that we won’t complain. You should be able to let the ADP set his market.

    Moe Harkless

    Total Value: 229/204 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 215/185 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 59

    2017-18 Review: Harkless was coming off a breakout season but squandered all of his momentum early, getting moved to the bench after shooting .406 from the field and just .242 from deep over the first 18 games. He’d dip to only 11.8 mpg over the next nine games and even fell out of the rotation at times.

    Harkless was mostly a passive observer until March injuries pressed him into more duty, and he looked like his old self with 14.8 points, 3.8 boards, 1.8 assists, 2.2 triples, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals on 66.0 percent shooting and 61.9 percent from deep over six games. Unfortunately he sustained a knee injury and would miss the rest of the season, undergoing surgery before the playoffs began. He’d return but made minimal impact in the first-round sweep.

    This Year: Harkless looks like the team’s starting small forward and he should be fine for a solid role as long as he avoids another dreadful start. While his playing time was down his cash counter rates were still strong, so if he can stay engaged and put his best foot forward there won’t be too many threats here.

    Injury History: The left leg was problematic all season long, as Harkless missed three games in early March with a sore left knee before missing the final 10 of the regular season with more soreness that led to arthroscopic surgery. He also sat out two games in December with a left quad contusion.

    Outlook: While Harkless was a major letdown a season ago, there’s nice bounceback potential here. His confidence was most certainly shaken in the early going and it seemed like a lot of his issues had more to do with the mental side of things than a deterioration of skills. He’s not the highest-upside grab but Harkless is a definite last-round flier in 12-team formats considering he’s just one year removed from a top-115/100 season without a ton of shakeups in between.

    Seth Curry

    Total Value: N/A (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: N/A (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 0

    2017-18 Review: Curry spent the entire year on the sidelines because of a stress fracture in his lower left leg. News of the injury hit just before the regular season and his timeline was “week-to-week” until weeks turned into months and he underwent season-ending surgery in February.

    This Year: Curry joins the Blazers to help deepen their backcourt and offset the departure of Shabazz Napier. He was a top-90 player in 2016-17 but most of those numbers came when he was given an expanding role. Given the defensive capabilities of him and the two guards ahead of him, three-guard groups seem unlikely to see the floor, capping him with reserve minutes.

    Injury History: The leg stuff is bad news but he’s expected ready for camp so keep an eye out for updates out of Portland. He missed time with a sore shoulder and a bruised knee but that pales in comparison to the stress fracture.

    Outlook: Curry has some skills but we’ll need to see how he looks in the preseason before endorsing him confidently. Between those concerns and the hard ceiling on his playing time for the Blazers, he’s not someone that will need to be drafted in 12-team leagues. Owners in 16-team formats can take the plunge late and hope for at least a partial return to form.

    Zach Collins

    Total Value: 295/307 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 375/390 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 66

    2017-18 Review: Although the Blazers drafted Collins at 10th overall, it was clear that he needed some time to develop before being thrown into the mix. He came around after the All-Star break and had a few games that showcased his long-term upside, even though he never really put together one true eye-popping fantasy performance.

    There was a three-block game, a couple double-digit rebounding games and a handful of multi-three performances but ultimately little to get excited about in re-draft formats.

    This Year: With Ed Davis gone Collins looks like the team’s second option to soak up minutes at center. With the way his shooting ability complements the skillset of the burly Jusuf Nurkic, whose minutes declined after the break, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him push towards 20 mpg.

    Injury History: Collins looks to have avoided injuries to this point.

    Outlook: It’s easy to see why the Blazers like Collins – he’s a seven-footer who can shoot from outside while displaying impressive rim-protection instincts on the other end. There’s still plenty of development to do but the stat set makes him an interesting flier candidate in deeper formats, and this season could go have a major effect on his dynasty stock.

    Caleb Swanigan

    Total Value: 427/443 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 472/487 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 27

    2017-18 Review: Swanigan’s hype train got rolling after a big Summer League but he couldn’t carry it over into the regular season at all and wound up playing far less than Zach Collins, who was generally thought of as less NBA-ready at the time.

    This Year: The Ed Davis departure really opens things up for Swanigan, as he plays a similar style of aggressive ball. He should be able to hold his own on the glass but there will still be growing pains as he gets his first extended taste of NBA action.

    Injury History: Swanigan has no serious injuries on record and isn’t an injury risk.

    Outlook: Swanigan could be looking at 15 mpg this season but we’re still a little skeptical about his stat set. He made nice strides as a shooter over his NCAA run but probably can’t be relied on for more than hollow double-doubles at this stage of his professional career. He’s a low-ceiling flier in leagues with 20-plus teams but dynasty players can be a bit more aggressive given the Blazers’ lack of frontcourt depth.

    Nik Stauskas

    Total Value: 370/376 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 410/418 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 41

    2017-18 Review: Stauskas came to Brooklyn in the Okafor trade but actually made a little sense from a basketball perspective, joining a Nets time that loved to rise and fire from beyond. A 22-point, five-triple debut (in a 33-point loss to the Raptors, it should be noted) ended up being the high point of his year. He’d fall out of the rotation a month later and only return for spot minutes.

    This Year: Stauskas heads to the Pacific Northwest, joining the Blazers to help add some depth to their backcourt. They’ve already spoken about making sure that rookie Gary Trent Jr. gets playing time. There wasn’t a lot available to begin with, so that doesn’t bode well for Stauskas.

    Injury History: Stauskas hit the injury report with a pair of ankle sprains this year that were immediately followed by 11 cumulative absences but only two of those can be directly credited to the ankles – the rest came when he was playing under 10 minutes a night anyway. There’s a hip injury from his high school days and a bunch of smaller items from his Philly days that didn’t cost him much time, but he’s not one to worry about.

    Outlook: There’s 3-point specialist potential but Stauskas will struggle to make the rotation so he’s not worth drafting in fantasy.

    Meyers Leonard

    Total Value: 387/381 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 407/390 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 33

    2017-18 Review: Leonard saw a career-low 7.7 mpg last season, his sixth in the league. That’s not a great sign for a guy who looked to be trending upward just two years ago. He shot it well but didn’t get enough volume to matter.

    This Year: Leonard should slot in at third on the depth chart at center, though he could become the backup if Zach Collins struggles. You can bet the Blazers would dump him and his contract in a second if they could so he’s unlikely to emerge as any sort of priority and will probably float in and out of the rotation.

    Injury History: Leonard missed about a month with a lateral sprain of his right ankle and also appeared on the injury report with back problems, though he was out of the rotation at that point.

    Outlook: Leave Leonard on the wire in all but the deepest of formats. If you’re in a league with a huge player pool you can feel free to keep an eye on the box scores to see if he gets minutes but Leonard isn’t someone who will require an initial investment.

    Wade Baldwin IV

    Total Value: 447/447 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 386/380 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 7

    2017-18 Review: The Grizzlies waived Baldwin, a former first-round pick, allowing him to sign a two-way deal with the Blazers. The writing was on the wall for him in Memphis when the team opted to bring Mario Chalmers in for a look. Baldwin underwent thumb surgery shortly after signing and only played in seven games for the Blazers.

    This Year: Baldwin slots in at third on the point guard depth chart, and his minutes will fluctuate depending on how exactly the Blazers deploy Seth Curry. There don’t figure to be many minutes available for a third ball-handler anyway but Portland did have some success with Shabazz Napier playing alongside Lillard and McCollum, so it could be a look they turn to again with Baldwin in Bazz’s place.

    Injury History: Baldwin underwent surgery for to repair the UCL in his right thumb in October of 2017. He’s still got a high durability rating.

    Outlook: Baldwin can be left undrafted in just about all formats but is a name to know in case injuries strike.

    Anfernee Simons (R)

    2017-18 Review: Simons decided to take the prep-to-pros route and generated interest from a handful of teams despite his unique situation. He’s explosive but raw, and was a top-10 recruit even if he chose to forgo the NCAA entirely.

    This Year: With Simons so young and needing to build up strength the year should be largely developmental. The Blazers have enough backcourt depth that they shouldn’t need to call on him for meaningful minutes.

    Injury History: All clear.

    Outlook: It’ll take at least a year for Simons to sniff a rotation spot. He’ll need to add strength to his frame but has the looks of a potential high-end scorer, though that’s a few seasons away. Nothing to see here for fantasy.

    Gary Trent Jr. (R)

    2017-18 Review: Trent finished as Duke’s third-leading scorer and their best spot-up shooter, knocking down over 40 percent of his triples en route to 14.5 points a night. His athletic profile isn’t anything too special but he’s shown the ability to hit tough shots and carry the offense in times of trouble. He’ll be a solid floor-spacer with room to grow in other areas.

    This Year: The Blazers have already said that they’d like Trent to factor in right away, so he’ll be used to help inject Portland’s bench groups with some shooting. Their depth has left a lot to be desired in recent years and Trent won’t be a major player, but every little bit helps.

    Injury History: There’s no major issues in Trent’s history.

    Outlook: Trent figures to be fairly low-upside in the near future though the fact that Portland gave him a pretty good contract for his draft slot suggests they’ll look to him for more immediate production. He might be an option in deep leagues (20 teams and up) but it’ll hinge on playing time.

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