The 2021 Portland Trail Blazers In Review

July 13th, 2021

By Alan Lu

The Blazers had a decent season, and they had a terrific year out of Damian Lillard, who scored a memorable 55 points, as he made 12 threes in his team’s double OT loss in Game 5 of their first-round series to the Denver Nuggets in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

On the downside, they really struggled defensively, as they were ranked 29th in defensive efficiency, and Portland seemed to be very small in the backcourt, and too big and lumbering among their interior defenders.  They parted ways with Terry Stotts, but that still doesn’t seem to solve that the Blazers continually seem to be a mid-tier playoff team that tends to get bounced fairly early in most years.

Portland Trail Blazers’ superstar guard, Damian Lillard played very well this past season. Unfortunately, his 55 point-game was not enough to help his team get the win in Game 5 of the first round against the Nuggets, and he was unable to save Terry Stotts from meeting his fate at the end of the season.
(Photo:
Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

G Damian Lillard
2021 (POR): 67 GP, 28.8 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.2 RPG, 45 FG%, 39 3PT%, 93 FT%, 25.6 PER, 62 TS%, 10.4 WS, .209 WS48

He had a terrific individual season, and he really excelled as a shooter, scorer, and facilitator to help his team on offense.  He scored 55 points and made 12 threes in a double overtime game in Game 5 of the first round series against the Denver Nuggets, but that was not enough for his team to get the win.  Still, Lillard is Portland’s franchise player, and he is one of the best players in the NBA.

2021 Season Grade: A
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting point guard on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 4 stars

C.J. McCollum pretty much did what was expected of him. He did a very good job of shooting and scoring the basketball, but his team ended up with an early playoff exit once again this year.
(Photo:
Troy Wayrynen/USA Today Sports, via SB Nation’s Blazer’s Edge)

G C.J. McCollum
2021 (POR): 47 GP, 23.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.9 RPG, 46 FG%, 40 3PT%, 81 FT%, 20.8 PER, 58 TS%, 4.7 WS, .141 WS48

He did a good job of shooting and scoring the basketball, but McCollum struggled defensively, and he also didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well in the playoffs this year.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting guard on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 3 stars

F Robert Covington
2021 (POR): 70 GP, 8.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 40 FG%, 38 3PT%, 81 FT%, 11.2 PER, 55 TS%, 3.7 WS, .080 WS48

He is a versatile forward that can defend a variety of positions, and he can adequately space the floor, but he didn’t take many shots nor shot the ball extraordinarily well, and he didn’t get many assists, either.  Covington was much more efficient of a shooter in the postseason, but he’ll need to be far more assertive on offense.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting power forward on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Portland Trail Blazers’ guard, Norman Powell became a fan-favorite instantly with his strong play for them this past year.
(Photo:
Steph Chambers/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Rip City Project)

G Norman Powell
2021 (TOR/POR): 69 GP, 18.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 48 FG%, 41 3PT%, 87 FT%, 16.2 PER, 62 TS%, 4.7 WS, .103 WS48

He is an athletic combo guard that did a very good job of shooting and scoring the basketball, but he and his team struggled defensively this past season, as he was defending out of position this year.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Powell has a player option that he can exercise for next season.

C Jusuf Nurkić
2021 (POR): 37 GP, 11.5 PPG, 9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1 SPG, 51 FG%, 62 FT%, 20.5 PER, 55 TS%, 2.4 WS, .133 WS48

Nurkic showed an improved three-point shot, and he excelled as a passer, rebounder, and interior defender, but he struggled to stay healthy this year.  While he was able to score, rebound, and block shots in the playoffs, he still couldn’t help Portland defend well as a team to help them get out of the first round this year.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting center on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Nurkic is on a non-guaranteed contract for next season.

F Carmelo Anthony
2021 (POR): 69 GP, 13.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 42 FG%, 41 3PT%, 89 FT%, 14.6 PER, 55 TS%, 2.6 WS, .073 WS48

Carmelo played fairly well, and he excelled as a shooter and scorer in his role with Portland.  He also passed the ball more, but he and his team struggled defensively this year.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Anthony will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Enes Kanter
2021 (POR): 72 GP, 11.2 PPG, 11 RPG, 1.2 APG, 60 FG%, 77 FT%, 22.4 PER, 64 TS%, 7.5 WS, .204 WS48

Enes Kanter did a very good job of scoring and rebounding the basketball, but he and his team really struggled defensively this year.  On the downside, he didn’t play nearly as well in the limited amount of minutes that he played in the playoffs this year.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

Kanter will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

Portland Trail Blazers’ guard, Anfernee Simons won the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk contest, and he also excelled as a three-point shooter this past season.
(Photo:
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press, via The Rookie Wire – USA Today)

G Anfernee Simons
2021 (POR): 64 GP, 7.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 42 FG%, 43 3PT%, 81 FT%, 12.3 PER, 59 TS%, 1.8 WS, .078 WS48

Simons had a really good year this past season.  He won the 2021 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and he shot the ball really well this year.  He also shot the ball very well in the playoffs.  He will really need to improve his playmaking and defensive skills, but his shooting, scoring, and athleticism could make him a solid role player on the Blazers.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

F Derrick Jones Jr.
2021 (POR): 58 GP, 6.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 48 FG%, 32 3PT%, 65 FT%, 11.9 PER, 58 TS%, 2.4 WS, .089 WS48

He is an athletic combo forward that excelled at scoring the basketball in his role, but he was fairly mediocre in the other elements of the game, and he barely played in the playoffs this past year.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Jones has a player option that he can exercise for next season.

G-F Nassir Little
2021 (POR): 48 GP, 4.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 47 FG%, 35 3PT%, 80 FT%, 11.6 PER, 59 TS%, 1.1 WS, .082 WS48

He showed an improved jump shot, and he was quite active on the boards, but he didn’t pass nor defend nearly as well as expected.  Little also barely played in the playoffs this year.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

C Harry Giles
2021 (POR): 38 GP, 2.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 43 FG%, 35 3PT%, 59 FT%, 12.4 PER, 50 TS%, 0.5 WS, .069 WS48

Giles is an athletic center that played well in the preseason, but he failed to establish his footing or to get a firm grip onto a rotation spot on the Blazers’ team this year.  He showed an improved outside shot and he rebounded the ball well, but he struggled to score from inside the arc, and he didn’t defend nearly as well as hoped.  He also barely played in the playoffs.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Giles will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Zach Collins
2021 (POR): DNP – Missed the Entire Season (Ankle Injury)

He did not play for the entire season due to an ankle injury, and he hasn’t been healthy or able to play in any basketball games for nearly two years, but he is an athletic big man that has shown some stretch big potential and some shot blocking skills when he is healthy.

2021 Season Grade: I (I for Incomplete)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
2021 (POR): 11 GP, 2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 50 FG%, 56 FT%, 14.4 PER, 54 TS%, 0.3 WS, .147 WS48

Hollis-Jefferson has excelled as a facilitator, rebounder, and defender, but his lack of a jump shot or elite scoring skills made it tough for him to land a roster spot until late in the season.  He’s played well in a bench role, and he excelled in limited minutes in the playoffs, but his limitations on offense may make him top out as a rotation player in the NBA.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Hollis-Jefferson will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F T.J. Leaf (Two-Way)
2021 (POR): 7 GP, 1.7 PPG, 50 FG%, 0 3PT%, 100 FT%, 11.2 PER, 55 TS%, 0 WS, .022 WS48

Leaf was a sizable disappointment for the Indiana Pacers, as he barely played for them, and he wasn’t nearly the shooter or scoring threat off the bench as advertised. His defensive woes also made it tough for him to be playable on the court, and he was also blocked by the talent and depth on Indiana’s roster for all those years. 

This year, he was signed to a Two-Way contract in Portland, but it may be doubtful if he’s made enough of an impression to stick on their team next season.

2021 Season Grade: D
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

G-F C.J. Elleby
2021 (POR): 30 GP, 2.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 38 FG%, 21 3PT%, 73 FT%, 9.4 PER, 47 TS%, 0.1 WS, .032 WS48

He was a surprise draft pick in the second round in 2020, and Elleby is an athletic swingman that projects into a 3 and D role in the NBA.  He played better than expected, but he still did not play very well as a rookie in the league this past season.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA (Rotation player in the G-League)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1 star (2 stars potential)

G Keljin Blevins (Two-Way)
2021 (POR): 17 GP, 0.7 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.2 APG, 25 FG%, 25 3PT%, -0.9 PER, 30 TS%, -0.2 WS, -0.137 WS48

It was honestly a surprise that Blevins made the team, and he probably shouldn’t have.  If he weren’t Dame’s cousin, he probably wouldn’t have made the team, because he doesn’t seem to do anything one particularly well at the NBA level.  It was puzzling why he was able to land a Two-Way contract over some of the more talented players that were either in the G-League or toiling in free agency.  In all likelihood, Blevins was probably the least talented player that played in the NBA this past season.

On the bright side, good for him for being able to land a Two-Way contract, though, and for that, that is why my grade for him is not lower, because I did not think he was supposed to make this team in the first place.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Back end roster player, possible back end of the rotation player in the NBA (Rotation player in the G-League)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 0.5 stars

Former Head Coach:
Terry Stotts
2021 (POR): 42-30, 2-4 in the playoffs
Coaching career: 517-486, 23-44 in his playoff career

This turned out to be Terry Stotts’ final season as the Portland Trail Blazers’ head coach. While the Blazers had a potent offensive attack, they were ill-suited to play defense, and his team ended up losing in 6 games in their first round series to the Denver Nuggets.
(Photo:
Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP, via KGW)

Stotts had a fairly good regular season, and he led the Blazers to win more games than expected.  With Dame and C.J. to lead the backcourt, the Blazers had a very potent offensive attack.  However, as they were undersized out on the perimeter, and also had slow, immobile big men, they really struggled defensively.

The Blazers battled and were able to win a couple of games in the first round of the playoffs against the Nuggets, but they could not hold on, as they ended up losing in 6 games to the more favored, Denver Nuggets’ team.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Head coach somewhere, or assistant coach on a good NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

New, Incoming Head Coach:
Chauncey Billups
2021 (LAC): N/A
Coaching Career: 0-0

He was a star point guard that was on the 2004 Detroit Pistons’ team that won the NBA championship, and he’s known for his steady, efficient play as a reliable playmaker for his teams.  Billlups was also an assistant coach on the Los Angeles Clippers, and his teams were able to rally back to win multiple series in the playoffs.

He also was a draft analyst on television, and his analysis seemed to range from puffery when analyzing prospects to nonsense, because his comparisons when assessing prospects did not always seem to make sense.  While the Clippers are having a great postseason run, it is unclear what Billups’ role on the team is.

Just before he was hired, it was found that Billups was once embroiled with a sexual assault allegation that happened in 1997. I’ve been following his career, and I had never heard of this story until it was brought up recently this year in 2021. It seems like a story that was buried in the deep recesses of the internet until recently. Still, it is not a good look that the Blazers hired him despite those allegations, as it is a significant blemish on Billups’ otherwise sterling profile and résumé due to his strong track record as an NBA player, as well as that he also was a TV analyst for ESPN. It also didn’t help that some of the people on social media also came after Dame for a story that was well-hidden for many years up until this past year.

2021 Season Grade: I (I for Incomplete)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (3 stars potential)

A Brief Summary of the 2020-21 Portland Trail Blazers’ Season:

On paper, it seems as if the Blazers should have been a darkhorse contender to win in the West, but their flaws made it tough for them to advance in the playoffs.

Though they had a tremendous player in Damian Lillard, who can shoot and score from anywhere, anytime he wanted to, the Blazers’ defensive woes and lack of lineup flexibility made it difficult for them to match up to other tough, talented teams out in the West.  Therefore, while the Blazers were fun and entertaining to watch, it was not a surprise when they lost in the first round to a more well-rounded, Denver Nuggets’ team.

The 2020-21 Portland Trail Blazers’ Season Grade: C

The Portland Trail Blazers’ Projected 2021-22 NBA Rotation:

Projected Starters:
C Jusuf Nurkic
F Robert Covington
F Derrick Jones Jr.
G C.J. McCollum
G Damian Lillard

Key Reserves:
C Enes Kanter
G Anfernee Simons
G-F Nassir Little

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
G-F C.J. Elleby

Impending Restricted Free Agents:
C Zach Collins – Not Expected Back

Impending Unrestricted Free Agents:
F Carmelo Anthony – Not Expected Back
C Enes Kanter – Expected Back
C Harry Giles – Not Expected Back
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Expected Back

Harry Giles didn’t see regular playing time, and the Blazers may need to overhaul their roster, so they probably let his roster spot go to someone else. Carmelo’s stock has been rehabilitated to the point where he will attract offers from contending teams that would be willing to sign someone for veterans’ minimum. So rather than stay with the Blazers, he could decide to join a team like the Lakers, Nets, Clippers, etc. Meanwhile, the Blazers may decide to bring back Kanter and Hollis-Jefferson, because they were effective players at a reasonable cost, and they may be able to afford to keep them.

Players with an Impending Player Option:
G-F Norman Powell – Not Expected Back
F Derrick Jones Jr. – Expected Back

Norman Powell may have priced his range out, so he could command sizable offers if he elects to hit free agency. Derrick Jones Jr. didn’t see enough playing time to get nearly as many lucrative offers as Powell, and because he didn’t really put up as strong of a year as he did in 2020, Jones may just decide to opt in and accept his player option.

Projected Players Cut From Next Season’s Roster:
G Keljin Blevins (Two-Way)
F T.J. Leaf (Two-Way)

Projected Offseason Plan for the Portland Trail Blazers:
They don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, but first, they need to improve their team defense, and they need to be taller, more athletic, and quicker on the defensive end.

As fun as it is to watch Dame and C.J., they are entirely too small in the backcourt, and having a 6-4 guard play small forward just makes it very tough for them to get stops defensively.  They also have slow big men in Nurkic and Kanter, and while they can pad their stats and accumulate numbers in the regular season, their lack of mobility makes it increasingly harder for the Blazers to be able to adequately defend pick and rolls or shooters.

The Blazers may have to consider overhauling their roster, which may especially be the case if Damian Lillard wants out.  In the meantime, it seems unlikely that a few tweaks would make them title contenders, especially if they just trot back the same roster.

The 2022 Blazers’ Expected Win-Loss Record, and Projected 2022 Season Finish:
46-36, 6th in the Western Conference in 2022

Expected 2022 Season Outcome: 
With Damian Lillard trending upwards as an elite player and as one of the best players in the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers could make a push to finish with a top-4 seed in the Western Conference next season.  Their ability to score and rebound could net them more wins than expected in the regular season, but their defensive woes could make them an earlier than expected out in the playoffs next year.

I primarily went to Basketball-Reference and No Trade Clause for research purposes. For more information on my ratings scale in how I rate NBA players and coaches, you can find it here. Thank you for reading.

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