3 Pivotal takeaways from the Portland Trail Blazers preseason

Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /
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Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Scoot Henderson, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

2. Development, not winning, will be Portland’s main priority

In his first preseason with the Blazers, Henderson’s inexperience and incomplete offensive game showed. A handful of turnovers and out-of-control shots were indicative of the growing pains rookie guards experience that Blazers fans should expect to see from Scoot.

By contrast, Malcolm Brogdon’s preseason performance affirmed his ability to deliver steady point guard play off the bench. As the more experienced guard, Brogdon is better equipped to contribute to winning than Henderson right now. That doesn’t mean Brogdon will see more playing time.

Turning the page on the Lillard era meant beginning a new one with Scoot as the centerpiece. Henderson’s preseason miscues will continue into the regular season, but he’ll be given a long leash to play through errors.

Developing Henderson will be a priority for head coach Chauncey Billups, even if it costs the team some wins in the short term.

Henderson admitted his room for growth after an up-and-down preseason: “I got a lot of work to be done if I want to be the player I want to be,” he said.

Strengthening his jump shot is the primary avenue through which Henderson can achieve growth. In the four preseason games, defenders consistently went under screens on Scoot or baited him into jump shots.

Identifying and addressing particular weaknesses – such as pull-up shooting, which will help unlock his explosive driving game – will define a successful season for Henderson.

Portland’s other young guard, Shaedon Sharpe, will benefit from a steady stream of touches as well. After not playing in any games at the University of Kentucky, Sharpe spent the majority of his rookie year as a role player offensively, generating most of his offense as a catch-and-shoot threat, lob target and cutter.

When the team shut down Lillard, Sharpe had a chance to step into an expanded offensive role and thrived as a primary playmaker with averages of 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 46/38/77 shooting splits in his final 10 games.

Without Lillard’s on-ball dominance, Sharpe’s increased on-ball workload should carry over to this season. The preseason offered a taste of what Sharpe’s role may look like.

Against the Jazz, the 20-year-old came off the bench and led the second unit in scoring. In a two-minute window early in the second quarter, Sharpe exploded for 9 points on four self-created jump shots, demonstrating poise in the pick-and-roll and an improved handle.

It won’t always look so pretty for Sharpe. He has struggled with ball control and reading defenses, but as a 20-year-old sophomore who missed college basketball, he needs a high volume of repetitions to grow as an on-ball weapon.

Allowing Henderson and Sharpe to play through mistakes could make the team’s spacing clunky, especially as Scoot works on developing his jump shot.

Integrating Ayton into the offense may involve some growing pains as the coaching staff pins down an ideal role for the new big. It may take time for Portland’s guards to develop chemistry with Ayton, but allowing the young guards to play through mistakes will take priority over winning for Billups and his coaching staff.