Tonight, the Sixers’ west coast trip continues as they have their first matchup of the year against the Portland Trail Blazers, a team who they split two games with last year.
To learn more about Portland, I caught up with Liberty Ballers’ resident Blazers fan Jackson Frank. In addition to his excellent work for us, Jackson writes for The Athletic’s Philadelphia branch as well as The Step Back.
Question #1: Whether the Sixers win or lose will often come down to how the other team defends Joel Embiid. Assuming Embiid plays (currently listed as questionable due to knee soreness), how do you think Jusuf Nurkic and the rest of Portland’s bigs will fare against Philly’s superstar?
I think Nurkic is a great test for Embiid. He’s one of the strongest and largest bigs in the league, and a pretty good post defender. While he’s not as mobile as Embiid, the Sixers star isn’t a player who thrives and operates in space on offense. Expect Embiid to get some open 3s, though, as Nurkic is often glued to the paint. I expect Portland’s two bench bigs — Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard — to struggle mightily against Embiid, However. Collins is slight of frame and Leonard has struggled to completely grasp his role most seasons, though looks more composed this year. But the headlining matchup — Embiid vs. Nurkic — should be an intriguing battle.
Question #2: As someone who follows the Blazers, you’ve been a witness to many CJ McCollum trade rumors. And as someone who also follows the Sixers, you’re familiar with the new “star-hunting” mentality in Philadelphia. So in the hypothetical scenario that Portland explores McCollum’s value in the trade market, is he a player who the Sixers should pursue?
I don’t think he’s someone the Sixers should pursue, no. He’s a talented shot creator but has only posted one season with a true shooting percentage above league average. As a very good shooter — over 40 percent from 3-point range for his career — he could fill JJ Redick’s role in the coming seasons. But he’s a 2 guard trapped in a point guard’s frame, which severely hinders his defensive capabilities. In the Sixers’ switch-heavy scheme, I fear he’d be targeted to the same degree as guys like Redick, Landry Shamet and Furkan Korkmaz. Plus, I’m not sure Philadelphia could put together a worthwhile package to entice the Blazers to break up their star backcourt duo. They are not exactly flush with win-now assets that Portland would want to surround Damian Lillard with during his prime.
Question #3: What is one matchup in this game between two players that you’re looking forward to watching?
Damian Lillard vs. Jimmy Butler. Lillard is one of the best off-ball movers in the league and Butler is a better on-ball defender than off-ball one. At the same time, Lillard often has the ball in his hands and is creating through pick and rolls and isolations. The Sixers have struggled against primary imitators all season and Lillard fits that mold of a guy who could go off. His clone out East — Kyrie Irving — dropped 40 just five days ago. If Butler can limit Lillard, the Sixers have a much better shot at winning.
Big thanks to Jackson for taking part in this Q&A to help educate us about his hometown team!