Portland Trail Blazers: What are NBA experts saying about the Blazers after the opening week?

CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers have opened an up-and-down season with a 2-2 record. Here’s where experts across the NBA are ranking them.

The history books are officially closed on the first week of the 2020-21 NBA season, which, in some ways, feels like a surprise. Hot takes and overreactions are already in midseason form, and for pessimists, the Portland Trail Blazers have been eliminated from postseason contention, everywhere but mathematically.

Over the course of 210 articles in the last nine months, I’ve likely had a share in some of those knee-jerk reactions. Today, though, we’ll be gathering a one-stop-shop, gathering up what experts across the NBA are saying about the Portland Trail Blazers after a tumultuous 2-2 start.

With a week’s worth of film, the dog tops have been pumping out Power Rankings and evaluations on the Blazers as a team, and as individuals. Here’s a round-up of how those without ties and rooting interests are assessing them after nine days.

  • ESPN.com  — No. 13 (↓ 4 from last week)

ESPN jumped into their Power Rankings after just two games, when the Trail Blazers were 1-1, and fresh off of CJ McCollum’s exhilarating 44-point game against the Houston Rockets. ESPN expert Royce Young offered a tempered assessment, citing the Gary Trent Jr. benching debacle as a potential concern:

The latter part is interesting. He does project an improvement on that end, and we’ve seen it in some ways already. After finishing dead last in bench points in 2019-20 (26.6), the Blazers have jumped to 39.3 points, perched at No. 13.

Once they find time for Harry Giles III and find a way to stagger say, Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter’s minutes to maximize their abilities, we could be looking at something even more formidable.

  • NBA.com  — No. 20 (↓ 4 from last week)

In what’s become a widespread trend, experts appear taken aback at how futile the Blazers’ defense remains after the additions it made to its roster. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann notes, the Blazers essentially committed the defensive cardinal sin, allowing 87 percent of their shots either from 3-point range or at the rim. (Which is scary considering how much they played drop in that first game.)

As he noted, the Blazers had the rest advantages during their California trip, and finished 1-1. With their generous upcoming schedule, they could be poised to make a major jump across the league’s Power Rankings.

SI.com’s Michael Shapiro addressed arguably the two most preeminent concerns during his Week 1 look at the Blazers: the defense and the bench. The two, in many ways, go hand-in-hand. Here’s the full statement:

One of his judgments — the Blazers’ lack of an intimidating rim protectors beyond Jusuf Nurkic — is both truthful, and also acutely-distressing no? The Blazers bought stock in ensuring opposing players couldn’t get to the rim. But what about when they do?

Within five feet, opponents are shooting 64.2 percent against Portland, the eighth-worst percentage in the Association. It provokes a question. Should we have faith that the new schemes address that, or should the Blazers be looking for a reinforcement?

This quarantine has forced most of us to redefine what “fun” is. It comes with great disappointment in saying it’s been entertaining to watch Portland Trail Blazers fans raise their pitchforks in response to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor calling the Blazers “comically overrated” on Opening Night.

To his credit, at least he’s been consistent. Portland had chances to refute those claims, but, as O’Connor noted, needed additional time to put away an eight-man M.A.S.H unit in Houston, and went from 27th in defensive rating to …. 28th.

Positives are probably on the horizon. Until then, the Blazers look more likely to make a run for the No. 33 spot in a 32-team league than an above-average one on defense. Limited complaints here.

CBS Sports — No. 19 (↓ 7 from last week)

Colin Ward-Henninger’s No. 19 spot could lead to some hostility among optimistic Blazers fans. But, his rationale is understandable. He recognizes that the Portland Trail Blazers remain in the process of adding new wrinkles to their defensive gameplan, and that’s reasonable.

Power Rankings, by nature, aren’t to be getting up in arms about. But these are unique, in that they only evaluate what a team did this week. With the Blazers entering a soft zone in their schedule — no Playoff teams from last year until Jan. 11 — it’s easy to anticipate a major jump incoming.

Bleacher Report — No. 16 (↓ 5 from last week)

Playing a similar tune to CBS Sports’ rankings, B/R’s Mo Dakhil recognizes quickly that it will take for the Blazers to fully familiarize themselves with the new defense. Beyond a more aggressive defense, he notes something of note.

Beyond all of this added length and athleticism, the Portland Trail Blazers are still having trouble attacking closeouts and defending the 3-point line.

Opponents are salivating when they play Portland and their 14.5 3-pointers allowed per game (sixth-worst in the NBA). Sticking to a positive tune, it should be fun to see this team when they do begin to peak defensively.

HoopsHabit — No. 10 (↓ 4 from last week)

Our brothers at HoopsHabit offered one of the most reasonable analyses when it came to the Trail Blazers’ first week. Corey Rausch recapped a bit of what we’ve seen, and acknowledged something we shouldn’t quickly forget.

This was, quite possibly, the worst season to be adding in new defensive schemes with the shortened season.

In an unforgiving Western Conference, Portland will need to find a way to expedite this process and get it together quicker rather than later, or they could find themselves in familiar territory, fighting for a bottom spot. They’re currently in a five-way tie for sixth.

Length constraints in mind, here are a few other noteworthy rankings across the league.

  • The Athletic  — No. 13 (subscription-required)
  • NumberFire — No. 17
  • UPROXX — No. 6
  • NBC Northwest — No. 10

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