The 2021-22 Portland Trail Blazers in Review

June 3rd, 2022

By Alan Lu

After the Blazers had won the play-in tournament games to make it back to the playoffs last year, big things were expected and supposedly on the horizon for the Blazers this season.  However, in the offseason, they fired their head coach Terry Stotts, and then-general manager Neil Olshey seemed to pass the buck on the team’s defensive woes, as he decidedly wasn’t going to blame it on the make up of the team’s roster, lack of size, or on how he structured the roster.  He then hired new head coach Chauncey Billups to take over, and mostly ran the same team back.

This season, the Blazers got off to a really poor start, and Damian Lillard really struggled to make shots in the early going.  Then, Olshey got fired as a result of creating a toxic workplace, and Lillard ended up getting hurt and shut down for the season.  When Lillard got hurt, the wheels really fell off from there, and the Blazers decided to basically throw in the towel on the season by trading one of their beloved stars, C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans.  Despite their disappointing season, head coach Chauncey Billups managed to keep the team competitive and within shouting range of the play-in tournament until late in the season.

Key Players:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers had a tumultuous year in which Lillard posted career lows in field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and the Blazers just won 27 games this season.
(Photo: L
uis Villegas/Associated Press, via KATU)

Damian Lillard
2021-22 (POR): 24.0 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.1 RPG, 40 FG%, 32 3PT%, 88 FT%, 55 TS%, 18.5 PER, 1.7 WS

He is a very agile, superstar point guard that can shoot and score the basketball, and he’s had legendary games and seasons, but this season was anything but legendary for him.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Lillard did not shoot the ball well at all, and he really struggled to make shots early on in the season.  He ended up getting hurt, and his team was really struggling to win games even when he and his team were at full strength.  He struggled to distribute the ball consistently or defend in the Olympics, and then suddenly his shooting woes arrived in the NBA this year before he got hurt.  Lillard is still a superstar in the NBA right now, but if this season is an indication of things to come, it’s that time may be running out for him to win a title as the leading player for Portland or on an NBA team, especially if he continues to struggle to shoot the ball as he did this year.

2022 Season Grade: D
Projected 2023 Rating: 3.5 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Starting point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers’ guard, Anfernee Simons had a very good season for his team, and his strong performance was a bright spot for them this year.
(Photo:
Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images, via KOIN6)

Anfernee Simons
2021-22 (POR): 17.3 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.6 RPG, 44 FG%, 40 3PT%, 89 FT%, 58 TS%, 15.3 PER, 1.9 WS

He had a very good season for the Blazers, and he appears to turn the corner in his NBA career.  He more than doubled his scoring average, he showed significantly improved playmaking skills, and he shot the ball as well as he did last year.  Simons is a very athletic, offensive minded combo guard that really stepped up in the absence of Lillard and McCollum in the second half of the season, and he is a rising star in the NBA.

2022 Season Grade: A-
Projected 2023 Rating: 2.5 stars (3 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Starter on the Portland Trail Blazers

Jusuf Nurkić
2021-22 (POR): 15.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 54 FG%, 27 3PT%, 69 FT%, 59 TS%, 20.0 PER, 3.6 WS

He stayed healthier than he had in the previous two seasons, and he did a good job of scoring and rebounding the basketball.  On the other hand, he still just played 56 games, and he’s struggled against quicker matchups due to his lack of foot speed and immobility.  He’ll need to add a more reliable outside shot and improve his foot speed, but he’s shown that he can score and rebound in the paint when healthy.

2022 Season Grade: C+
Projected 2023 Rating: 2.5 stars

Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Side: Nurkic will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2021-22 NBA season.

Josh Hart
2021-22 (NOP/POR): 14.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 50 FG%, 34 3PT%, 76 FT%, 61 TS%, 16.1 PER, 4.4 WS

Josh Hart had a solid all-around season this year.  He played well for the Pelicans before being traded to Portland.  He’ll need to improve his three-point shot, but he seemed to do everything else well this season.

2022 Season Grade: B+
Projected 2023 Rating: 2.5 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Side: Hart’s contract for next season is non-guaranteed.

Joe Ingles
2021-22 (UTA): 7.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 40 FG%, 35 3PT%, 77 FT%, 55 TS%, 10.0 PER, 2.2 WS

He is a skilled offensive player that can shoot and pass the basketball, but Ingles didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well for Utah before getting hurt and missing the rest of the season due to a knee injury, and he then was traded to Portland, in which he never played a single game for the Blazers this season.

2022 Season Grade: D+
Projected 2023 Rating: 2.5 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Side: Ingles will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2021-22 NBA season.

Other Notable Players:

Nassir Little

Nassir Little is an athletic swingman that projects into a 3 and D role for the Blazers.  He was able to get ample playing time this year.  He excelled as a scorer, and rebounder, but he will need to improve his outside shot moving forward.

2022 Season Grade: C+
Projected 2023 Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers

Eric Bledsoe

After having struggled to produce nearly as much for New Orleans as he did with Milwaukee, Bledsoe ended up with the Clippers this season.  He provided them with some scoring punch and defense, although his outside shooting continued to taper off.  He was traded to Portland midseason, but he didn’t play a single game for the Blazers this year.

2022 Season Grade: C
Projected 2023 Rating: 2 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on an NBA team

Trendon Watford

Trendon Watford played fairly well for the Blazers this year after going undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he provided scoring, rebounding, and playmaking skills off the bench for them.

2022 Season Grade: B
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers

Greg Brown III

He is a very athletic combo forward that was able to get some minutes with the Portland Trail Blazers.  He was able to make some defensive plays, but he didn’t shoot or defend quite as well as anticipated, and perhaps he could’ve used some time in the G-League to hone his game.

2022 Season Grade: D+
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers

Other Players on the Roster:

Justice Winslow

He is an athletic combo forward that defended well, but he struggled to make shots or score efficiently off the bench this year.

2022 Season Grade: C-
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on an NBA team

Didi Louzada

Didi Louzada struggled to play well for New Orleans, but he finally found his shooting touch with Portland after being traded there midseason.

2022 Season Grade: B-
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on an NBA team

Ben McLemore

He shot the ball fairly well this past season, but he struggled with his defense for Portland this year, and didn’t stand out elsewhere.

2022 Season Grade: C
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on an NBA team

Keon Johnson

He is a very athletic swingman that really struggled to make an impact with the Clippers before being traded to Portland.  He showed an improved outside shot and playmaking skills, but he struggled to score efficiently or defend despite getting ample playing time for the Blazers late in the season.

2022 Season Grade: D
Projected 2023 Rating: 1 star (2.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers

C.J. Elleby

The athletic swingman received a lot of playing time this year and was able to have some good games, but he really struggled to shoot the basketball, and he also didn’t defend as well as he could have this season.

2022 Season Grade: D
Projected 2023 Rating: 1 star (2 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on an NBA team

Brandon Williams

The former Arizona point guard played well in the G-League, and it earned him a call-up to the NBA.  He provided scoring, but didn’t shoot nearly as well in the NBA, but it’s still an achievement for himself nonetheless that he was able to make it to the association.

2022 Season Grade: B-
Projected 2023 Rating: 1 star (2 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers

Elijah Hughes

He received more playing time than last year, and he played fairly well in the G-League, but he didn’t shoot the ball well at all in the NBA this year.

2022 Season Grade: D
Projected 2023 Rating: 1 star (1.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe roster player on an NBA team

Keljin Blevins

He played considerably more than last year, but he didn’t play well in the NBA or in the G-League, and he still hasn’t really shown why he should be on an NBA roster, for other reasons other than being Dame Lillard’s cousin.

2022 Season Grade: D
Projected 2023 Rating: 0.5 stars
Projected 2023 Role: Fringe roster player on an NBA team

Head Coach:

New head coach, Chauncey Billups had an up and down season as a rookie head coach for the Blazers, but his team won just 27 games overall and missed both the playoffs and the play-in tournament.
(Photo:
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images, via Andscape)


Chauncey Billups
2021-22 (POR): 27-55, 13th in the Western Conference

He struggled to get the Blazers up and running early in the season when they had everyone healthy, but he kept them competitive even when Lillard was out for the year and when they had traded McCollum.  Billups did a lot with a decimated roster to keep them in the hunt for the play-in tournament until very late in the season, but he also did little with a fully healthy, much more talented team in the early going.

2022 Season Grade: C
Projected 2023 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)
Projected 2023 Role: Head Coach of the Portland Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Projected 2022-23 Rotation:
7th Overall Pick
F Trendon Watford
F Nassir Little
G Anfernee Simons
G Damian Lillard
________

G Keon Johnson
F Greg Brown III
F Justise Winslow
G Brandon Williams
G Didi Louzada

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Picks in the 2022 NBA Draft:
#7, #36, #57

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Projected 2023 Win-Loss Record:
24-58, 14th in the Western Conference

Their Projected Offseason Plan:

The Portland Trail Blazers are expected to have more than $30 million in cap space.  That could give them a lot of money to spend for free agents, in addition to selecting players in the draft.  They could opt to make a run for Zach LaVine in the offseason, look to sign multiple players, or roll over their cap space. 

The Blazers need talent, and they will need to figure out if they can still build a championship caliber team around Damian Lillard, as their superstar is not getting any younger, and they’ve torn down some of the pieces around him by dealing McCollum in an effort to rebuild and retool for next season.  Simons was able to pick up the slack while Lillard was away due to injury and in McColllum’s absence, but the Blazers will definitely need much more help around Lillard and Simons if they plan on trying to compete for a championship next year. Otherwise, they may have to explore the idea of trading their superstar, Damian Lillard if they are unable to get anywhere close to winning, but doing so would mean having to admit that they would be very unlikely to win a title next season, but that could then allow them to plot and chart their path to rebuild and retool for the future.

This was written before the start of the 2022 NBA Draft and free agency. I went to No Trade Clause and Basketball-Reference for research purposes. Thanks for reading.

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