After nine years, including eight straight playoff appearances, the Terry Stotts era is over in Rip City. Chauncey Billups takes the reins with the aim of shoring up the defense to complement the Blazers’ number two ranked offense. Aside from the coaching change, Portland retained its nucleus from last season. They will look to take advantage of having a healthy Jusuf Nurkic and a full season of Robert Covington and Norman Powell. Given their ability to run up the score, the Blazers present a target-rich environment for fantasy drafts. Here are the names to watch going into the 2021-22 campaign:
- Projected Starters / Fantasy Relevant Depth
|Jusuf Nurkic||Robert Covington||Norman Powell||CJ McCollum||Damian Lillard|
|Cody Zeller||Larry Nance Jr.||Tony Snell||Ben McLemore||Anfernee Simons|
|Dennis Smith Jr.|
- 2020-21 Record: 42-30
Backcourt: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum comprise one of the NBA’s best scoring backcourts and show no signs of giving up looks in Chauncey Billups’ system. Lillard is one of the few remaining top eight picks in category leagues who genuinely seems to hate load management. While Yahoo’s pre-draft room ranking of three is too lofty for me, I’m more than comfortable drafting Lillard in the five to eight range. CJ McCollum is often mentioned in Ben Simmons trade rumors, but the Blazers do not appear overly interested in the deal. CJ finished as the 30th best player in nine-category leagues last season on the strength of his improved three-point shooting and assist numbers. While it’s possible he replicates that performance in the coming campaign, it’s more likely that we witnessed his ceiling in 2020-21. I would wait until at least pick 40 to select him.
Anfernee Simons is the backup most likely to garner rotation significant minutes behind Lillard and McCollum. He’s a deep league pick or 12-team streamer for points and threes, but he hasn’t shown many capabilities in any other area. Dennis Smith Jr. flashed upside in both defensive categories last season but is buried in the rotation barring significant injuries.
Wings: Shooting efficiency was a hallmark of Norman Powell’s fantasy value in Toronto, but his percentage dropped from 50% in his time with the Raptors to 45% in his games with Portland. This could be explained by potential difficulty adjusting to a new system, but it’s something to take into account given the fact that he’s ranked 44th (!) in Yahoo’s current pre-draft room rankings. There’s also the remote yet plausible scenario that Billups decides to go with a bigger starting lineup with Nance at SF. If that happens, Powell falls outside the top 100. With the downside risk involved in Powell’s case, there are more reliable players available in the top 70.
Frontcourt: I’ll submit one not-so-humble brag here by stating that I was not part of the Jusuf Nurkic hype machine going into last season. However, I didn’t think he’d be THAT bad. Much of the turmoil was attributable to injuries and the fact that he averaged less than 24 minutes per game on the year. The final ten games of the season demonstrated his abilities. He averaged 14/11/3.6 with 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks over that span, coming in as the 56th ranked player. The FT% and lack of threes are painful, but he could be a steal in Yahoo leagues where he’s currently ranked 80. I recommend looking for him in the fifth or sixth round of category league drafts. Robert Covington also found his groove in last season’s terminal phase. He’s a surefire 1/1/1 player, but he is not without limitations: most notably, the horrendous FG% and scant point totals. If you stock up on points and assists in the early rounds, RoCo is another solid consideration for a late fifth or early sixth-round pick in category leagues.
Larry Nance Jr. arrives in Portland after a run of four seasons in Cleveland during which he finished in the top 90 of nine-category rankings. He is most valuable for FG%, rebounds, and steals, and is a player to select in the latter stages of 12-team drafts. Though there are questions surrounding his playing time in a new environment, he’s never needed much time to be productive. He is a value pick for anyone drafting in an ESPN league, where he is currently ranked 176. Cody Zeller is a known quantity at this point in his career. He doesn’t provide much beyond being a deep league rebounder and low volume scorer who will help your FG%.
Bottom Line: There is a lot of fantasy goodness to be mined from the top six players on this roster. Out of this group, Nurkic holds the most upside potential based on where he is currently ranked in ESPN and Yahoo. He could finish in the top 40 if Billups gives him 28+ minutes per night. Otherwise, kick back and enjoy the offensive fireworks that this lineup is sure to generate.