Portland Trail Blazers: Is Portland in play for a Northwest Division title?

Portland Trail Blazers, celebration. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers, celebration. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Many think the Portland Trail Blazers ‘won the offseason’. With their newfound depth, are they being undervalued for a Northwest Division title?

For the first time in Damian Lillard‘s career with the Portland Trail Blazers, the GM went out in the offseason, and addressed every need perfectly. The Trail Blazers needed wings and they needed defense, and boy, did Neil Olshey provide it.

The Blazers brought in Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr, Enes Kanter and Harry Giles, Rodney Hood was re-signed, and CJ Elleby was drafted. I’ll start with the on-court needs, which those two wing players should help with dramatically.

Every year, it seems like Dame drags the Blazers so far, but in the playoffs, they always have one obvious piece missing. Even in their WCF appearance from a couple of years ago, the Blazers didn’t really have a wing who could shoot — Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu were patchy at best. Since, they have added Carmelo Anthony, Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., Gary Trent Jr. has broken out, and Hood has returned from injury.

The Blazers couldn’t defend last season, and Covington and Jones Jr. are being thrown straight into the deep end, both making the starting 5. What they add is defensive instincts, length and athleticism, traits the Blazers have been screaming out for. Jones Jr. also provides some terrific finishing around the rim, a stat where the Blazers finished bottom last season.

With these two on the wings, the Blazers will finally be able to play some defense, which is what’s needed to get them over the hump.

What I really like about Portland this year is their depth. As of now, the bench looks like: Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood, Carmelo Anthony, Harry Giles, Zach Collins, Enes Kanter and Anfernee Simons. Those first 5 names would make up a decent starting lineup, and will be able to completely steamroll a few of the second units around the league.

Trent Jr. is not scared of anything, Melo seems to be getting younger, and Harry Giles has come in looking like prime Draymond Green, full of energy and passion.

The Blazers have so many different lineups to look at, and I don’t see many teams who will be able to outscore them. So many shooters, so many finishers. This is a deep, deep roster.

A healthy Jusuf Nurkic is perhaps the biggest key to the Blazers season. People who watch Portland a lot will know that Nurk is their second best player, and was sorely missed last season. He’s the defensive anchor, and everything that end of the floor runs through him.

Nurk also creates a good deal of offense through his screening and creativity; his passing ability (although not quite as good) has a similar flair to Nikola Jokic’s. His chemistry with Lillard is next-level, and their PnR partnership is extremely difficult to guard, especially with Lillard now claiming he’s wanting to start pulling from half-court.

I fully believe Dame has another gear he’s about to tap into (21/1 for MVP, by the way), and this, combined with Portland’s smart additions, spells a very exciting season for the Blazers.

Now, to win the Northwest Division, they’ll likely have to beat out the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz, as I don’t really see the Timberwolves or Thunder being threats for this crown.

Denver are coming off the back of their own WCF appearance, following their extraordinary bubble run. However, while Jokic, Murray and even Michael Porter Jr. are likely to take a leap, I didn’t love the Nuggets offseason.

They had three main guys who could guard the wings (Jerami Grant, Torrey Craig and Paul Millsap) and two of them moved onto to new teams. Millsap signed on for more, but he isn’t getting any younger. Regular season Jokic isn’t quite a lock to be as destructive as can be — he usually seems a little lackluster if it’s not playoff basketball.

Then there’s Utah, who the public are pretty quiet on right now. Don’t write the Jazz off by any means, especially since Bogdanovic should be healthy, but I’ve never thought that squad moves the needle enough.

Conley struggled last year, and Gobert is still limited offensively. Donovan Mitchell looked superb in Orlando, and I expect that to continue, but I don’t think they’re as deep or as talented as Portland. The Portland Trail Blazers are priced way behind Utah and Denver, which I feel is a little unfair.

The current odds for the Northwest Division are as follows.

  • Denver Nuggets: -115
  • Utah Jazz: +217
  • Portland Trail Blazers: +337

Gambling odds and information courtesy of The Action Network. Displayed odds current as of Wednesday at 4:00 a.m. PT.

If you’re not willing to back the Blazers to go all the way, a divisional title could be a nice way into some value. Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers are once again being underestimated, and that usually produces a pretty dangerous looking Dame Lillard. Back Portland to win the Northwest Division, and hopefully push onto more.

Next. Blazers: 3 early, hypothetical trade deadline deals. dark