The Trail Blazers were one of the teams I was most interested in following entering the 2022/23 season. Perhaps most importantly, I was curious to see how Damian Lillard would perform after the first lengthy injury absence of his career following abdominal surgery last season.
Lillard has been as brilliant as ever offensively, averaging 29.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 7.1 APG on .455/.366/.898 shooting, including a career-best .638 true shooting percentage, through 32 games (35.6 MPG). So, no worries there.
As we noted when we checked in on the Blazers at the end of August, the new front office, led by general manager Joe Cronin, reshaped the roster around Lillard through a series of trades, acquiring Josh Hart, Jerami Grant and Justise Winslow. The team also added Gary Payton II in free agency, re-signed Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, and selected Shaedon Sharpe No. 7 overall in June’s draft.
Portland got off to a terrific start, going 9-3 over its first 12 games. Unfortunately, it turns out that hot start wasn’t sustainable, as the Blazers have gone 12-20 since. They currently sit with a 21-23 record, the No. 11 seed in the West (they are 16-16 when Lillard plays).
Payton has missed most of the season with injury, as has Nassir Little, who recently returned from a fractured hip. Winslow is currently sidelined with an ankle sprain. The team’s bench depth has definitely been tested, even though the starters have been quite healthy overall.
Sharpe has been up and down, which is to be expected for a 19-year-old rookie who didn’t play at all in college. Grant has been very good, posting a career-best .621 TS% while playing solid defense.
Hart was great in 13 games (32.1 MPG) with Portland last season, averaging 19.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.3 APG and 1.2 SPG on .503/.373/.772 shooting, including a career-high 6.4 3-point attempts per contest. However, as John Hollinger of The Athletic writes, Hart has been a very reluctant shooter in ’22/23, averaging just 2.0 3PA despite playing a heavy workload (a career-high 34.2 MPG through 42 games).
Even with notable offensive weapons around him, it’s odd to see a player coming off his best individual season pass up shots like Hart has this season — he’s averaging just 7.1 FGA and 9.5 PPG. Complicating matters further is his unique contract and the team’s future cap outlook, Hollinger notes.
The Blazers want to re-sign or extend Grant, which is understandable. But Hart is almost certain to decline his non-guaranteed $12.96MM player option for next season in search of a longer deal. Keeping both while staying under the luxury tax might be impossible, according to Hollinger, who wonders if Portland would be better off dealing Hart at the deadline while they can still get value for him.
The 27-year-old is a solid defender, excellent rebounder and smart passer, plus he’s a vocal leader who plays with plenty of energy and effort. He will have positive value if Portland does move him.
The last thing I was interested in monitoring with Portland was the backcourt fit of Lillard and Simons, two scoring guards with poor defense. The results haven’t been great — the Blazers rank 11th in offense, but 22nd in defense. It’s hard to envision that changing as long as they’re together.
I actually like both players a lot individually, so this isn’t as critical as it might seem; I just think they’re a poor fit. I could easily see Simons thriving as the lead guard in Portland or another location — he averaged 29.0 PPG and 5.9 APG on .462/.419/.940 shooting in 10 games without Lillard.
The Blazers seem intent on being as competitive as possible this season. They’re only 2.5 games back of the Mavericks, the West’s No. 5 seed, and they could definitely end up there if things go right. But do they have what it takes to win a playoff series if they make it? Anything beyond that seems unlikely, even with Lillard playing at such a high level.
We want to know what you think.Where will the Trail Blazers finish in the standings this season? Can they make noise in the playoffs, if they make it? Should they move Hart while they can still get value for him, or hold off and try to re-sign him, even if it means going into the luxury tax? There are a lot of questions for this team, but not many easy answers.
14 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Portland Trail Blazers”
I was thinking the same thing with Hart. Great attitude, great player, but the team simply needs more defense. Plus he isn’t having the greatest season which is more the team strategy than his abilities. Caris Levert would a little more height & weight, a little more defense, and an expiring contract that can be negotiated into a good deal for Portland.
Another option, I was thinking Hartenstein and IQ for Nurkic and Simons. Trade defense for offense. Hartenstein will get much more utility in Portland and IQ brings the height and defense. NY gets a great shooting gaurd with great upside and a replacement for Hartenstein.
two of our starters for two of your reserves? OH! where do I sign????
Sure.. add draft picks, whatever. Make it work. Hartenstein is 7ft, young, hungry, and from Eugene. Immanuel Quickly can be a starter, especially if a big part of his role is focusing on defense. Plus, give him a summer with Dame and his three point shot should improve.
lmao you couldn’t get Nurkic alone for Hartenstein and Quickley
This Blazer team has a long way to go. Hart is as good as gone for nothing in return. Simons is so bad on defense that its becoming a major problem when they can’t score what they give up. I see major changes over the next 5 seasons,and the rebuild in Portland just beginning.
Lillard is probably the next star to ask out…
Let’s hope so! They need to go total youth movement to fast break these young players! I can imagine a real RIP City youth revival! Amen?
They could get a nice haul if they dealt Lillard.
Blazers have no 2nd unit scorers, Nurkic is a slow OG 5 on both sides, they have done bad deals with Clipps & NOLA to get J.Grant who is not a max contract and have no cap to resign role players … This year pick could be a good way to start a rebuild after all …
The big minus has been Simons who was originally touted as a well above average defender. He’s turned out to be simply a less expensive McCollum. It doesn’t take much of a tout to understand Lillard is going nowhere. He’s made it abundantly clear that he’s staying in Portland.
Love your game Meadowlark!!! I believe Lillard’s the cause of Hart and Simmons lack of consistency “they no longer have freedom” because Lillard is too ball dominant. Think about it, he has so many good young athletes but can’t run the break. This team is at its best running fast break, but then stagnates in half court. Why?
While it is incredibly painful to keep watching this team down by 20 every game, I still think Lillard offers two things: 1) he is clutch and is still possibly one of those rare guys that is actually capable of leading a team to a championship and 2) his work ethic and the community he creates around himself makes for great individual and team development. I guess he hasn’t won anything, but if you look at the Portland rosters over the last 6 or 7 years.. . these teams always overperformed their talent during the regular season and sometimes during the playoffs. And as for the team building, the importnace in the NBA is self-explanatory, and the foundation built in Portland will outlast Lillard’s years on the court. He simply won’t be moved, so the trading options are limited to the other role players.
Sorry but Lillard is: 1. to ball dominant. 2. not a good defender (He can’t defend his grandma!). 3. He’s horrible at pushing the ball up the floor. 4. he should be on a half court team that doesn’t have him as the primary distributor. 5. He doesn’t make his teammates better (he’s the QB without ability to pass effectively). Billups doesn’t make in-game changes, he has his set lineups and seems unable to sub when needed. This team has great young athletes who need to run and play, not stand and watch Lillard chuck up ugly shots. Too much power ($$$ Lillard’s) has corrupted teamwork and stagnated this team. Trade him now while he’s got any value, even if you have to eat part of his contract. Unless he’s willing to take a backseat to the talented young players, this team is going nowhere fast!
Absolutely. Two years ago might have been better. I like Lillard, I think he is a good guy, he loves Portland and he has given the Blazers good years. Why not reward him by sending him somewhere he can get a ring? He won’t get one in Portland, not during the next couple years the way things are now, and he isn’t getting younger. If they send him to another team along with some money, maybe they could get a couple of regulars and a decent draft pick in return. I think they probably wouldn’t be much worse without Lillard than they are with him.