New Season, New Players, New Expectations

Alright Blazer fans, it’s time. The offseason is winding down, hot takes are heating up, and videos of players training in their new threads are filling social media feeds. With the Blazers’ offseason seemingly complete after an active few months, it got me thinking - what was gained versus lost, and what could we as fans reasonably expect once the season starts on October 23rd?

Statistics are a huge part of modern basketball analysis - so I started there. Using information from Basketball-Reference, I added up each of the major stats for the departing eight players and incoming five - and there are multiple things worth noting from the results. Here’s what the stats say:

First and foremost I think it’s a bit intimidating looking at the drop in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Losing that kind of scoring production can hurt, especially when teams are so focused on stopping the McLillard back court. Without a proven killer on the offensive end outside of CJ/Dame, the Blazers could be in trouble. However, there are two silver linings to the drop in production: Anfernee Simons and minutes differential.

After two summer leagues and a year playing against Dame Lillard every day, the second-year guard is widely expected to take the next step and play a role for this Blazers team (averaged around 7 minutes per game across 20 appearances last season). He’s shown well during limited action and has been on the receiving end of extremely high praise from many people within the organization, but now he’s got to back up that praise with on-court production.

Next, there is the clear minutes differential. The incoming players did their work in about ⅔ of the minutes of the former Blazers. Even then, the newest additions were more effective in their time on the floor. More blocks, fewer turnovers, and higher field goal percentages. Hassan Whiteside’s 12.5% clip from behind the arc included, the incomers still shot 2% better from deep. This may point to the Blazers’ shifting identity that coincides with the way the league is trending: pace and space.

As the league transitions into this new brand of basketball revolutionized by our friends in Oakland, versatility is at a premium - and that’s one big thing the Blazers did this offseason. Bazemore, Tolliver, Hezonja, and Gasol are all capable of playing well at multiple positions, as is the case with Rodney Hood who was resigned. Versatility, however, wasn’t the only thing that improved.

Not only did the team find better fits for the offense, they also found some quality veterans to round out the roster. I’m extremely excited to see what Anthony Tolliver is capable of in Terry Stotts’ offense, and I think the same could be said about Pau Gasol if he stays healthy. Their ability to stretch the floor while also providing valuable minutes off the bench is vital for a Blazer team that often sees its stars get trapped running the pick and roll. If the guards get trapped, opposing teams will be forced to leave good shooters open.

While there are positives to the newest Blazers, I still have my concerns; the front-court depth is at the top of the list. Behind the presumed starters of Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins, there’s just Gasol, Skal Labissiere and Tolliver. While that problem should be mitigated once Jusuf Nurkic gets back from injury, getting to his expected late winter return might be a bit of an adventure. The three aforementioned players combined to play just 117 games last season, and Pau is coming off foot surgery. With the lack of frontcourt bodies, I find myself wondering two things: can Pau stay healthy, and can Skal prove that his outburst against the Kings wasn’t a fluke? Only time will tell.

I believe the key to the Blazers’ season is Pau. If he can stay healthy and produce anything similar to what he did in 2017-2018 with the Spurs (averaged 10/8 in 77 games), the team could have a solid start that only will only be bolstered by the return of our beloved Bosnian Beast. However, if Gasol struggles, it could be a bumpy ride until Nurk’s eventual return.

I am predicting the Blazers will win 47 or more games, which is what would need to happen for someone to win money given current betting odds. If the players are able to gel and stay healthy, I believe it's reasonable to expect 50-plus wins. Even if the newcomers struggle to adapt and Nurkic doesn’t return until later than expected, this team still has the pieces to do some damage in the regular season.

We got shooters, we got versatility, and we got a team built to win now.

#RipCity, let us know in the comment section - what are your expectations for the coming season?

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