Looking Back at the 2019-20 Portland Trail Blazers

November 13th, 2020

by Alan Lu

The Portland Trail Blazers’ logo.
(Photo:
The Portland Trail Blazers/Sports Logo History)

It was a roller coaster of a year for the Blazers, with the positives outweighing the negatives in the end.  The 2020 Blazers had underachieved for most of the regular season, but then they started to find their stride when they signed Carmelo Anthony, and they were in shouting range of the 8th seed prior to going to the Orlando bubble. 

Once there, they received tremendous play from perennial All-Star Damian Lillard, and they also received strong performances from others such as Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Trent Jr.  The Blazers were able to reel off big wins late in the regular season, as that jolted them to be in the play-in game against the Grizzlies, and they managed to pull a big win to make their way to the playoffs to play against the Lakers in the first round.

The Blazers even managed to win Game 1 of the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs, and they as well as some of the other teams managed to put enough doubt to cause people to wonder if the LA teams and the Milwaukee Bucks were equipped to handle the postseason.  (The answer was, for the first round, all three teams were equipped to handle the rigors of playoff play.  But for later rounds, only the Lakers amongst the three of them could handle tougher teams later on, as the Lakers ended being the eventual champsions of the 2020 season.)

Unfortunately, the Blazers could not sustain their postseason success, as they had to win three more games to advance past the Lakers to the second round, and the Blazers were unable to.  The Los Angeles Lakers won the next four games to defeat the Blazers, and the Blazers’ season was over.  All things considered though, it was a successful year for the Blazers, and Damian Lillard was named the Seeding Games MVP of the bubble.

Portland Trail Blazers’ superstar guard, Damian Lillard had a very good season in 2020, and he saved some of his best basketball for the Orlando bubble late in the year.
(Photo:
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images, via Essentially Sports)

G Damian Lillard – A-

2020 (POR): 66 GP, 30.0 PPG, 8.0 APG, 4.3 RPG, 46 FG%, 40 3PT%, 89 FT%, 37.5 MPG, 26.9 PER, 11.6 WS

Damian Lillard had a stellar season in 2020.  He did a terrific job of shooting and scoring the basketball, and he also displayed very good playmaking skills to help boost his team on offense.  He was one of the best players in the NBA, and he was named the Seeding Games MVP in the Orlando bubble.  He will need to improve his defense, but still, he is a stellar player he is one of the bright young stars of this league.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Franchise player/Starting point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2021 Rating: 4 stars

Portland Trail Blazers’ guard, C.J. McCollum was tremendous in the play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies to get his team to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
(Photo:
Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP, via Oregon Live)

G C.J. McCollum – B

2020 (POR): 70 GP, 22.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, 45 FG%, 38 3PT%, 76 FT%, 36.5 MPG, 17 PER, 4.1 WS

McCollum is an agile, sharpshooting combo guard that excels at scoring and knock down shots to help his team on offense.  He also displayed fairly solid playmaking skills this year, but his lack size makes it tough for him to guard taller players on the floor defensively.  Still, he has been a good player for Portland, he has been a mainstay for them, and he will likely continue to excel for years to come.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting shooting guard of the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

Portland Trail Blazers’ center, Jusuf Nurkic played well when he was on the floor in 2020, but that was not often, as he missed a lot of games due to a knee injury this year.
(Photo:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images, via Eurohoops.Net)

C Jusuf Nurkic – B

2020 (POR): 8 GP, 17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.0 BPG, 50 FG%, 89 FT%, 31.6 MPG, 22.6 PER, 0.9 WS

Nurkic missed most of the season due to a knee injury, but when he was healthy, he did just about everything well on the court, sans an outside shot.  There are still concerns about if he can excel defensively against upper echelon teams in the playoffs due to his mobility concerns, and he also has been injury-prone over the years.  Still, he is a solid interior player that passes and rebounds the ball well, and he will likely be a solid player for the Blazers next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting center for the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

Portland Trail Blazers’ forward, Carmelo Anthony was rejuvenated as he had a strong bounce back year in 2020.
(Photo:
Abbie Parr/Getty Images, via Rip City Project)

F Carmelo Anthony – B+

2020 (POR): 58 GP, 15.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 43 FG%, 38 3PT%, 84 FT%, 32.8 MPG, 12.4 PER, 1.3 WS

Carmelo Anthony was sort of in the twilight of his career before he joined the Blazers this past season.  The former superstar forward that previously starred with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks and found himself in an unfamiliar, background role with the Thunder, and he ended up being squeezed as the odd man out the next season with the Rockets. 

The Blazers rescued him from the depths of free agency limbo, and he signed early in the season to be a contributor for them.  Anthony was able to rejuvenate and jumpstart his career back up again, and he managed to provide some solid shooting, scoring, and rebounding for his team.  He’ll still need to improve his passing ability and defense, and scoring wise, he doesn’t get to the free throw line nearly as much as he used to, but Anthony played well enough to earn plenty of playing time in the NBA next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starter/solid bench player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

F Trevor Ariza – C (D with Sacramento, B- with Portland)

2020 (TOT): 53 GP, 8.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 44 FG%, 37 3PT%, 84 FT%, 28.2 MPG, 11 PER, 2.5 WS
2020 (SAC): 32 GP, 6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 39 3PT%, 35 3PT%, 78 FT%, 24.7 MPG, 9.4 PER, 1.1 WS
2020 (POR): 21 GP, 11 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 49 FG%, 40 3PT%, 87 FT%, 33.4 MPG, 12.8 PER, 1.4 WS

Ariza had been having a rough season with Sacramento when he was traded midway to join the Portland Trail Blazers.  He excelled back in his 3 and D role, this time for Portland, and he played like his old self once again.  His season ended abruptly as he opted out of the Orlando bubble so that he can spend time with his son.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

C Hassan Whiteside – B-

2020 (POR): 67 GP, 15.5 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 62 FG%, 30 MPG, 25 PER, 8.5 WS

Hassan Whiteside had a good season with the Blazers this year, and he excelled as an interior presence for his team on both ends of the floor.  He rated well in many statistical categories, but there are concerns that when he blocks shots, he doesn’t swat it to his teammates or keep balls in play, which would lead his team to be vulnerable to allow scores on the next possession. 

He’s developed a rep for being something of a selfish defender in addition to having a limited skill set offensively, as he was benched by the Heat in the 2018 playoffs a couple of years ago.  Still, teams will look for shot blockers and interior players, and Whiteside could command plenty of money in the open market in the offseason.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starter/solid bench player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

F Rodney Hood – B

2020 (POR): 21 GP, 11 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 51 FG%, 49 3PT%, 78 FT%, 29.5 MPG, 12.2 PER, 1.1 WS

Rodney Hood played very well for the Blazers before going down to a season ending Achiles injury.  He is a tall, sharpshooting forward that excelled at knocking down shots to space the floor for his team.  In the meantime, he will need to improve his rebounding and defense, but the Blazers will hope that he can make a speedy recovery to return in time for next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Missed most of the season due to an Achilles injury.  Has a player option at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Gary Trent Jr. really improved as a basketball player in his second year in the NBA, and he played some of his best basketball in the Orlando bubble.
(Photo:
Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images, via Hoops Habit)

G Gary Trent Jr. – B+

2020 (POR): 61 GP, 8.9 PPG, 44 FG%, 42 3PT%, 82 FT%, 21.8 MPG, 12.9 PER, 2.5 WS

Gary Trent Jr. had a good second-year with the Blazers, and he played better as the season wore on.  He did a very good job of knocking down threes to provide floor spacing for his team, and Trent did a good job of scoring off the bench.  He will need to improve in the other facets of the game, but his ability to knock down shots could allow him to provide valuable rotation minutes for his team next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars (2.5 star potential)

G Anfernee Simons – B-

2020 (POR): 70 GP, 8.3 PPG, 40 FG%, 33 3PT%, 83 FT%, 20.7 MPG, 9 PER, 0.2 WS

Anfernee Simons is a scoring combo guard that really endeared himself to Portland fans with his ability to shoot and score the basketball.  Unfortunately, he’s still not a tremendously efficient shooter nor much of a playmaker on offense, as he doesn’t really look to create shots for others, and his current usefulness on an NBA basketball court appears to be overstated when viewing through a statistical lens.  He will need to continue to improve as an overall player, but it looks like he will be the team’s backup point guard once again in 2021.


Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars (2.5 star potential)

C Zach Collins – C

2020 (POR): 11 GP, 7.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 BPG, 47 FG%, 37 3PT%, 75 FT%, 26.4 MPG, 9.9 PER, 0.3 WS

Zach Collins played in 11 games, but ended up missing lots of time due to shoulder and ankle injuries.  Zach Collins showed off a burgeoning jump shot, but he will need to improve his rebounding and defensive skills in the meantime.  He’s also not really a scorer on offense, but his ability to knock down threes and block some shots could allow him to get some rotation minutes on the Blazers next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars (2.5 star potential)

F Wenyen Gabriel – B-

2020 (TOT): 30 GP, 2.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 44 FG%, 30 3PT%, 68 FT%, 7.8 MPG, 9.6 PER, 0.2 WS
2020 (SAC): 11 GP, 1.7 PPG, 35 FG%, 13 3PT%, 60 FT%, 5.5 MPG, 7.4 PER, 0 WS
2020 (POR): 19 GP, 2.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 48 FG%, 42 3PT%, 75 FT%, 9.2 MPG, 10.3 PER, 0.3 WS

Wenyen Gabriel is an athletic, energetic combo forward that didn’t play much throughout the season, but he played some of his best basketball late in the year in the Orlando bubble.  Gabriel has a variety of skills that could prove to be useful one day, and he could be groomed to be like an Al-Farouq Aminu type when Aminu was with the Blazers.  Gabriel will still need to continue to improve as an overall player, but his ability to make shots and defend combined with his high-motor style of play could allow him to provide valuable rotation minutes for Portland next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 star potential)

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G-F Nassir Little – C

2020 (POR): 48 GP, 3.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 43 FG%, 24 3PT%, 64 FT%, 11.9 MPG, 9.6 PER, 0.6 WS

Little is an athletic swingman that excelled at attacking the basket and he also rebounded the ball well this past season.  Plus, he also showed that he can be a capable defender when he was on the court.  He struggled to knock down outside shots, and he will need to improve his passing ability.  Most likely, he will compete for playing time with the Blazers next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 star potential)

G-F Mario Hezonja – C

2020 (POR): 53 GP, 4.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 42 FG%, 31 3PT%, 81 FT%, 16.4 MPG, 9.5 PER, 0.8 WS

Mario Hezonja is a former 2015 top-5 pick that signed on to play for Portland this past season, to which he saw mixed results this season.  He scored points in volume off the bench, but didn’t make shots efficiently, but he did do a good job of rebounding the basketball, and was a capable defender for his team.   Hezonja will need to improve his shooting and passing ability, but he could compete for a spot on an NBA team’s rotation next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 star potential)

Side note: Has a player option at the end of the 2019-20 season.

C Moses Brown (Two-Way Contract) – C-

2020 (POR): 9 GP, 1.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.1 BPG, 40 FG%, 3.7 MPG, 6.7 PER, 0 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 30 GP, 14.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 64 FG%, 19.4 MPG, 27.1 PER, 1.7 WS

Moses Brown is a tall, athletic center that played sparsely on the Blazers as a rookie this past season after having signed with them on a two-way contract.  Brown didn’t get a chance to do much, but he showed that he can rebound the basketball.  On the plus side, he did play much better when he was in the NBA G-League. He likely won’t get many minutes next year, but would project to be a rim protector if he does get playing time in the NBA in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth big man, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

F Jaylen Hoard (Two-Way Contract) – C-

2020 (POR): 13 GP, 2.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 47 FG%, 0 3PT%, 62 FT%, 7.9 MPG, 14.9 PER, 0.2 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 24 GP, 16.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 52 FG%, 22 3PT%, 61 FT%, 27.6 MPG, 18.5 PER, 1.1 WS

He is an athletic, combo forward that was an undrafted rookie that signed on a two-way contract with the Blazers prior to the start of the 2019-20 season.  Hoard showed the ability to attack the rim to score the basketball, and he also is a good rebounder.  He will need to improve his jump shot and passing ability, but he could project into a 3 and D role if he can knock down threes consistently one day.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth forward, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

C Caleb Swanigan – D (D- with Sacramento, C- with Portland)

2020 (TOT): 27 GP, 2.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 60 FG%, 10.7 MPG, 7.6 PER, 0 WS
2020 (SAC): 7 GP, 0.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 50 FG%, 3.3 MPG, -0.1 PER, -0.1 WS
2020 (POR): 20 GP, 3.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 60 FG%, 0 3PT%, 53 FT%, 13.3 MPG, 8.2 PER, 0.1 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 5 GP, 8.6 PPG, 10 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 BPG, 50 FG%, 0 3PT%, 73 FT%, 17.5 PER, 0.2 WS

Caleb Swanigan had not really done much of anything in 2 ½ seasons in the NBA when he was traded back to the team that drafted him in 2017, to the Portland Trail Blazers.  Swanigan showed a brief rejuvenation in his game, as he played with a high-motor, and he excelled as a finisher, passer, and rebounder for his team off the bench. 

He still hasn’t really developed the outside shot that he showed in college at Purdue though, he was still quite turnover prone, and he didn’t take many shots on offense this season.  There are also concerns about his mobility and his ability to defend in space.  It’s uncertain if Swanigan showed enough for Portland to re-sign him, and he will likely fight for a roster spot in the NBA in the upcoming season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth big man, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (1.5 stars potential)

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

PG Jaylen Adams – Incomplete

2020 (POR): DNP – CD
2020 (NBA G-League): 33 GP, 21.5 PPG, 5.7 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 49 FG%, 41 3PT%, 79 FT%, 32.7 MPG, 19.4 PER, 3 WS

Having signed late in the season by Portland to play in the Orlando bubble, Jaylen Adams did not appear in one NBA game in 2020.  He is a skilled playmaker that can shoot and pass the basketball, but he will need to improve his scoring ability and defense, and he struggled to make two-point shots during the 2018-10 season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth guard, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Head coach:
Terry Stotts – B
2020 (POR): 35-39, 1-4 in the playoffs
Head Coaching Career: 475-456, 21-40 in his playoff career

Terry Stotts is a good regular season coach that has found a way to maximize the most out of his team during the regular season, and he’s helped the Blazers get to the playoffs for the 7th straight year in a row.  His best coaching job was in 2019, when he got the Blazers to win 53 games in the regular season, and they ended up getting all the way to the Western Conference Finals before they got swept by the Warriors in 4 games.

Portland struggled early on in the season, but they picked up steam after having signed Carmelo Anthony, and then, they played very well in the Orlando bubble.  They managed to get to play in the play-in game and defeat the Memphis Grizzlies there.  He also helped lead the Blazers to a Game 1 win over the Lakers in the first round of their series, but his team couldn’t sustain their early playoff success, as they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the next four games, and were ousted in five games total in the first round.  All in all, it was a pretty good year for the Blazers, and with Damian Lillard being one of the best players in the game, Terry Stotts will comfortably lead the charge for the upcoming season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

2020 Portland Trail Blazers, season grade: B-

The Blazers had their ups and downs, but they were the darlings of the Orlando bubble, and they pulled off some solid upset wins to make it to the playoffs, and they had their one shining moment by winning the first game of their first-round series before ultimately losing to the Lakers in 5.  As a team, they excelled at shooting and scoring the basketball, and they excelled at rebounding and limiting turnovers.  However, they will need to improve their defense and passing ability as a team.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Projected 2020-21 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
Jusuf Nurkic
Carmelo Anthony* (UFA)
Trevor Ariza
C.J. McCollum
Damian Lillard

Key Reserves:
Hassan Whiteside* (UFA)
Rodney Hood
Gary Trent Jr.
Anfernee Simons
Zach Collins

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
Wenyen Gabriel* (RFA)
The 16th Overall Pick of the NBA Draft
Nassir Little
Mario Hezonja

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
Moses Brown (Two-Way Contract)
Jaylen Hoard (Two-Way Contract)
The 46th Overall Pick of the NBA Draft

Players that will be Restricted Free Agents:
Wenyen Gabriel

Players that will be Unrestricted Free Agents:
Hassan Whiteside
Carmelo Anthony
Caleb Swanigan
Jaylen Adams

Projected Players Cut from Next Season’s Roster:
None

2020 NBA Draft Picks:
#16, #46

Projected Offseason Plan for the Blazers:

The Blazers have a really solid backcourt duo in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, although there is the concern that their lack of size may cause them to struggle defensively in the playoffs.  They also boast having a productive interior player in center Jusuf Nurkic, although injuries and conditioning have tended to be an issue with him. 

Carmelo Anthony had a solid bounce back year, but both he and Ariza are in their mid-30s, so the Blazers may want more youth and upside on the wings and in the forward positions.  They also were not a very good defensive team, so they could look to draft a forward that can defend and also play off of Lillard in the future. 

The Blazers are said to have roughly over $4 million in cap space to spend on free agents according to Spotrac, but they don’t seem to have a lot of cap space, and therefore, they may spend this offseason trying to re-sign their players, and to bring in others could make their team on minimum contracts.

Expected Regular-Season Record in 2021*: 38-34, 6th seed in the Western Conference

In this scenario, the 2021 Portland Trail Blazers would play against the 3rd seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the 1st round of the 2020 NBA playoffs.

Expected 2021 Season Outcome: The Portland Trail Blazers have a talented group of players that could be poised to make a fairly deep playoff run, and they are led by MVP-candidate Damian Lillard.  They were able to generate a lot of positive momentum as they played well in the Orlando bubble, and the Blazers could be poised to make the playoffs as a 5-8 seed out in the West in 2021.

(* – The asterisk denotes that the expected regular season win total is adjusted for the 72 game schedule that the NBA will play for the 2020-21 season.  The initial projection for the Trail Blazers was for them to get 43 wins in an 82-game season.  Also, the projected record does not take into account for the NBA draft or free agency, as those events have not happened yet.)

In case if you need the rubric for my player rating system of projecting NBA players for the 2020-21 season, here is the link. In addition, Basketball-Reference, RealGM, and Spotrac were vital information sites that I used to look at player and team statistics, as well as contract information.

Side note: Also, the letter grades attached to the player name was my grade for their 2019-20 season, as it is my judgment of their performance and whether or not they met or exceeded my expectations, and didn’t have much bearing on my projection of how they will perform for the 2020-21 NBA season.

Thank you for reading my review and grades of the 2019-20 Portland Trail Blazers, and it also served as an early forecast on what to expect out of them for the upcoming season. There’s still the 2020 NBA Draft, which will be held on November 18th, and free agency that will be held on November 20th, as big events to come, so stay tuned for that, and thanks for reading.

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