Portland Trail Blazers head into the new season embarking on a new era after Damian Lillard was traded to Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason.
Seven-time All-Star Lillard was selected by Portland in the 2012 Draft and led the team to the conference finals in 2019 but they have missed out on the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
The Blazers picked up five future draft picks as part of their summer business and have now entered a transitional period, with a number of players leaving the team over the last few months.
Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic were regular starters last year but have now joined Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns respectively, with Cam Reddish and Drew Eubanks also among those who have departed.
There have been some big arrivals in Portland as well, with Deandre Ayton and 2023 Sixth Man of the Year award winner Malcolm Brogdon joining - although there are trade rumours involving the latter as the new season approaches.
|2022/23 Portland Trail Blazers||Record: 33-49|
|Result: 13th in the Western Conference|
|To win 2023/24 NBA Championship||+25000|
|To win 2023/24 Western Conference||+12500|
Anfernee Simons had a breakout season with Portland last year as he firmly established himself as a regular starter. He should take on more responsibility in the season ahead following Lillard’s switch to Milwaukee.
The 24-year-old is preparing for his sixth season in the NBA and averaged career-highs in nearly every significant statistic last season, as well as producing some eye-catching performances - including a career-high 45 points in a win over Utah Jazz.
The third pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Scoot Henderson has some huge shoes to fill as he will probably fill the void left by Lillard at point guard, although if the team opt to keep hold of Brogdon that isn’t necessarily a given.
Henderson comes into the NBA after two years with G League Ignite and should be among the Rookie of the Year contenders. He has the second shortest odds in that market at +300, behind only first-overall pick Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs.
Deandre Ayton arrives in Portland with a bit of a point to prove after his spell with Phoenix Suns.
The Bahamian center was the first pick in the 2018 Draft and helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals in 2021 but his time with the Suns was marred slightly by protracted contract negotiations spanning across seasons. Ultimately, he was included as part of the three-team trade that saw Lillard end up with the Bucks.
Ayton now has the chance to focus solely on basketball with Portland, and the 25-year-old has the potential to be the best player for the Blazers at both ends of the court in 2023/24.
|Robert Williams III||Boston|
|Scoot Henderson||Draft/G League Ignite|
|Rayan Rupert||Draft/New Zealand Breakers|
|Cam Reddish||LA Lakers|
Portland open the season with a trip to the Los Angeles Clippers on October 25th and host the Orlando Magic two days later, before three road games against Eastern Conference opponents the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, and Detroit Pistons.
The Blazers then have two consecutive home games against the Memphis Grizzlies in early November before another three-game road swing against Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.
The last two weeks of November pick up in difficulty: Portland plays the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and Ayton's former team the Phoenix Suns.
Head coach Chauncey Billups is entering his third season in charge and he is yet to guide Portland into the playoffs. Reaching the postseason will be a goal but that is perhaps unrealistic and the odds reflect this as the Blazers are +1125 to make the playoffs.
The Blazers have one of the best collections of young talent in the league, plus hungry veterans like Ayton, Jerami Grant, Matisse Thybulle, Robert Williams and Kevin Knox.
Adding Ayton and Williams means nothing will come easy in the paint for Blazers opponents, and a full season with Thybulle patrolling the perimeter will only make their defense tougher.
The issue is offense.
Grant and Simons both averaged 20 points per game last season, Ayton has never averaged less than 16 points a game, and Brogdon - if he stays - can shoot the lights out. Aside from those four, there's not much to write home about.
Williams averaged exactly 10 points - his best single-season average - in his one season as a starter for the Boston Celtics in 2021/22, Knox hasn't averaged over 10 per game since his rookie year in 2018/19, Thybulle is unreliable on the offensive end, and the rest of their projected rotation are rookies or unproven at the NBA level.
Rookies Henderson, Rayan Rupert, and Toumani Camara will likely be thrown into the deep end with lots of playing time as soon as the season begins.
A spot in the play-in tournament may be achievable, but the new recruits and younger players need to adapt quickly to make it happen. Portland is +600 to make the Western Conference play-in tournament.
The Blazers managed 33 regular season wins last season but may struggle to match that again this year as they begin a period of rebuilding without superstar Lillard. The goal for Billups will be to improve as the season progresses and the team's over/under for total regular season wins is 29.5.
Simons is rated among the early contenders for the Most Improved Player honor at +1600, giving him the joint-seventh-shortest odds in the betting behind the likes of Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham and market leader Mikal Bridges.
Brogdon is +900 to be named Sixth Man of the Year for a second successive season and Shaedon Sharpe is +5000 in that market - although he could be a regular starter. Players must come off the bench more often than they start to be eligible for the award.