The Sixers’ west coast trip begins tonight in Portland, to face a Trail Blazers team who swept them last season. To develop a better understanding of the Blazers, I talked to Eric Griffith of Blazer’s Edge.
When I look at Portland’s cap sheet and depth chart, it almost feels inevitable that they will make a big move before the Trade Deadline in February. Do you agree that the Blazers have a big trade in the works, and if so, who do you see them trying to acquire?
I’d be disappointed if Portland didn’t make a trade. Zach Collins’ recent injury has shined a light on how threadbare the Blazers rotation is at power forward/center. Assuming Collins and Jusuf Nurkic return to form, it would be really nice to see a reliable third big man (apologies to Anthony Tolliver) who can play with Collins OR Nurkic. Hassan Whiteside isn’t it.
So, ideally, they’d send out Whiteside’s expiring contract and an asset or two and get back a very good forward. The names being thrown around right now are Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. I could see someone like Danilo Gallinari being an option in the inevitable event that the bigger names turn out to be pipe dreams. (But, seriously, if it’s Griffin the Blazers are going to make the ‘77 Finals look competitive when our teams play in June.)
The last time Portland missed the playoffs was 2012-13, Damian Lillard’s rookie season. Other than injuries, what would have to go wrong in 2019-20 for the Blazers to find themselves on the outside looking in?
It’s worth noting that the Blazers have been one of the healthiest teams in the league in recent years, Nurkic’s leg breaking in half notwithstanding. I don’t think that’s pure chance, although admittedly some of it is -- Director of Player Health & Performance Jesse Elis is very up to date on modern training and it’s really helped.
ANYWAY, Damian Lillard, Terry Stotts, and to a lesser extent CJ McCollum know how to keep a possibly overmatched Western Conference team in the playoff picture. Stotts is basically a Ph.D. in alchemy -- except instead of turning lead into gold he turns mediocre projects into seemingly serviceable NBA players (say thank you, Allen Crabbe!). Dame is Dame -- capable of keeping you close in any game. Honestly, given what I’ve watched Dame/Stotts/CJ do the last 4 seasons, I don’t get how three all-stars and Steve Kerr can’t drag a bunch of nobodies to the playoffs.
In the last few years, the Blazers have liked to surround their dynamic guards with two true wings and only one big-man in their starting lineup. But now they are relying on third-year big Zach Collins to start at the four next to trade acquisition Hassan Whiteside. How do you expect the Collins-Whiteside pairing to perform?
In general, the pairing is looking fine. Collins still doesn’t really know what he’s doing on offense but he’s showing potential as a perimeter passer and has the green light to take open jumpers. Defensively he’s probably the best team defender the Blazers have already and is figuring it out in individual situations. You’ll notice that neither role is going to tie Zach to the basket, exactly — hence his comically low 7.8 percent rebounding rate.
Whiteside, on the other hand, rarely lingers outside of the restricted area on the other end. I’m exaggerating but just barely. That’s fine on offense where Dame can throw him lobs all night, but defensively Whiteside isn’t really capable of guarding stretch-5s and hasn’t shown the ability to make fast decisions when trying to contain a guard in open space. So, yeah, my concern isn’t so much whether or not Collins and Whiteside can play together, but more that Whitesides’ weaknesses will render him unusable against certain teams.
Big thank you to Eric for giving us all of the essentials!