One way each Portland Trail Blazers member can improve this summer

CJ, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
CJ, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

It remains unknown if the Portland Trail Blazers will play prior to 2020-2021. Here’s one thing each of the core players can work on in the offseason.

The NBA appears to be coming back in July, but there are still questions about the Portland Trail Blazers return. Several options are being laid out regarding the remainder of the season. One includes the top 16 teams immediately advancing to the playoffs, which would by default end Portland’s season, as they sit just outside qualification.

Should the league return with a shortened remainder of regular season play, Damian Lillard has already stated he will not participate, as this would give Portland no ability to move up in rankings. As the Portland Trail Blazers wait in limbo, players must continue to develop in these strange times.

Whether it’s for the postseason or the 2020-2021 season, here’s one thing each of Portland’s players can improve on with their time off. Because much is unknown about players with expiring contracts, we’re only focusing on the guys expected to be around for the long haul.

Nassir Little: Three-point shot

As the 25th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Nassir Little was likely not expecting the minutes he saw in his rookie season. Thankfully, the 20-year-old has played fearlessly at the professional level, starting at both the small and power forward positions multiple times this season.

While his athleticism and rebounding skills were well known, he came into the league as an unimpressive shooter. The issue was noticeable, especially when Little would find himself open behind the arc and be unable to execute.

Thankfully, he has already shown improvement, shooting 31% from three since the new year, compared to 16.7% in 2019. As Little matures, Portland will need more offense from him, and a clean catch-and-shoot jumper could be the perfect weapon.

Gary Trent Jr.: Attacking the rim

If any one player has benefitted most from Portland’s whirlwind of a season, it has to be Gary Trent Jr. Injuries and midseason trades gave the 21-year-old an opportunity, and he took it. After spending his first year on the team mostly serving as a well dressed sideline fan, his behind the scenes hard work and patience have been rewarded. Trent Jr. could very well be a Sixth Man of the Year contender this following season, and a boost in his finishing game would only bolster his chances.

The 6’5” guard can shoot, defend, and as of recent has been doing some high flying. This could serve Portland well moving forward, as their numerous shooters would love another teammate who can crowd the paint in an instant. Portland’s iso-ball often appeared sluggish this season—an explosive Trent Jr. could may be the perfect remedy.

Anfernee Simons: Facilitating

Potentially finished with his sophomore season in the league, Anfernee Simons has yet to establish a consistent position within the roster. From the start, the Portland Trail Blazers seemed to be pushing the combo guard into the point position to eventually serve as Lillard’s backup. With Trent Jr.’s recent rise predominantly at the shooting guard spot, it is increasingly evident Simons will need to excel as a full fleshed leader and facilitator.

At just 20-years-old, his on court presence will continue to develop as he ages. In the meantime, advancing his passing game is likely a crucial factor in Portland’s bench producing consistent offense. With someone like Lillard to guide him through the process, Simons can hopefully become the player the franchise needs him to be.

Zach Collins: Deeper range

It was absolutely devastating to see Zach Collins go down with a left shoulder injury just three games into the season. Without seeing him play in what could have been a breakout season, it’s difficult to say what aspect of his game requires the most work.

Still, if Collins has been working on his range during rehab, it could leave defenses around the league extremely vulnerable. With Nurk holding down the paint, and Dame and CJ working their offensive magic, Collins is likely to find himself freed up quite often. If he can regularly sink open threes and mid range jumpers, he may soon be taking on much more offensive responsibility.

Rodney Hood: Defending bigger players

Another player who was just coming into his own on the team when a season ending injury took him down. While the team was struggling even before Rodney Hood’s Achilles injury, he was a bright spot in an already tumultuous season.

While his offensive efficiency was inarguable, his defensive efforts struggled against bigger players. Should he come back with added weight and strength, he seems poised to be the long term franchise starter.

CJ McCollum: Earn first All-Star nod

For the past three seasons, CJ McCollum has been on the fringe of the All Star conversation, but still has yet to earn his first nod. If the Blazers are to be a true contender next season, McCollum will need to be playing at star level night in and night out.

It’s difficult to pinpoint any specific aspect of McCollum’s game to improve, especially as he’s become one of the best ball handlers and mid range shooters in the game. On a small market team in a conference filled with talented guards, McCollum faces an uphill battle in earning the elusive All-Star nod.

It can also be argued the offensive contributions from Portland’s role players may hinder CJ’s ability to earn the eye popping stats often necessary to earn a spot on the roster. Regardless, if he can play at peak level, Dame and CJ have a strong chance at topping any of the league’s top duos.

Jusuf Nurkić: Quickness

Portland Trail Blazers fans were devastated when COVID-19 suspended league play on March 12, just three days before Jusuf Nurkić was supposed to make his long awaited return from injury. With over a year since Nurk last suited up, it’s difficult to say how his game and physique have developed as of recent. However, if the big man can return with added speed and lateral quickness, the team would receive a boost from one of their top players.

As a great defender, passer and expert at the pick and roll offense, Nurkic  is a more well rounded center than most in the league. A little added speed would give him huge advantages over bulkier centers, while also protecting him from blow-bys down the lane. While of this would be great, quite frankly, Nurkić simply has to step on the court to excite Rip City.

Damian Lillard: Keep doing Dame

After the season Damian Lillard was having, there’s seemingly not much to do to further improve his game. Despite the team’s 2019-2020 struggles, Dame left fans speechless, quite literally doing things the franchise had never seen before. Currently in the middle of his prime, he very well could be a top MVP contender come next season. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing and the pieces around him come together, Portland will be just fine.

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