In 2021-22, the Blazers had a miserable season (27-55) in which they snapped a streak of eight straight years of making the playoffs. The last time Portland missed the postseason, Damian Lillard was a rookie.
After a makeover, Portland is hoping to get back in the mix of the playoffs and please Lillard. Newly anointed general manager Joe Cronin made his big offseason move by acquiring Olympic champion Jerami Grant, formerly of the Detroit Pistons, but there will be other changes in the depth chart.
STARTER: Damian Lillard
DEPTH: Gary Payton II, Brandon Williams
Last season, cornerstone Damian Lillard played a career-low 29 games while recovering from an abdominal injury that had plagued him for some time. Entering his age 32 season, Lillard will provide the offensive workload and force defenses to respect him as the star that he has been. The signing of Gary Payton II will give Lillard some leeway on defense. Payton was a huge factor in helping Golden State win their fourth title in eight years. Brandon Williams showed he can be a capable backup guard at both the end of last season, and the summer league.
STARTER: Anfernee Simons
DEPTH: Shaedon Sharpe, Keon Johnson
One huge factor why the Blazers were willing to give up CJ McCollum was their confidence in Anfernee Simons to take that throne as the secondary scoring option. After a huge jump in playing time last year, Simons averaged 17.3 points on 40.5 percent shooting from three. The Blazers quickly extended his contract for four years, $100 million to become Lillard’s backcourt mate of the future. Hopefully, it will be a matter of time before the Blazers’ 7th overall pick, Shaedon Sharpe, can excel and show he belongs in the rotation. Sharpe suffered a small tear in his shoulder in the summer league, but he should be expected to contribute next season.
STARTER: Josh Hart
DEPTH: Nassir Little, Greg Brown, Didi Louzada
Josh Hart, one of the pieces in the McCollum trade, will be asked to solidify Portland’s defense. The returns have been great for the team so far. In 13 games for the Blazers as a starter, he averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. At 6-foot-5, Hart is undersized to play the three, but his defensive prowess should give him ample time on the floor with Lillard.
Nassir Little finally saw playing time open up after the Blazers decided to punt last season. He has shown he is a capable backup as the prototypical 3-and-D wing so many teams covet.
STARTER: Jerami Grant
DEPTH: Justise Winslow, Greg Brown, Jabari Walker
With Lillard watching Portland’s every move, Cronin acquired Jerami Grant just a day before the 2022 draft. Along with Payton II and Hart, Grant will be tasked to provide a defensive front that the Blazers did not have for years. Grant can pick his spots to attack on offense as a second and third option, and that should only help to improve his efficiency. Justise Winslow‘s presence as a playmaker should provide the Blazers bench an upgrade compared to past seasons.
STARTER: Jusuf Nurkic
DEPTH: Drew Eubanks, Trendon Watford
After dealing with his left foot plantar fasciitis injury last season, Jusuf Nurkic returns to Portland with a four-year, $70 million extension. His presence in the middle should give the team the prototypical big who can screen, finish around the rim, and grab rebounds.
Drew Eubanks was a nice surprise for the Blazers last season, averaging 14.5 points with 8.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes in 22 games started. Trendon Watford’s emergence could give Portland two viable backup options behind Nurkic next season.