PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers are cruising through their preseason schedule and looking ahead to the first game of the regular season, which is less than a week away. It's time to check in on the team with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? No problem! You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
Because the Blazers will have played their first regular-season game before the next 3-on-3, this week is all about season predictions. The questions focus on what can be taken away from the Blazers' performance during the preseason; win totals and other predictions for the Blazers; and picks for the NBA's major awards.
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Meet our panelists
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
1. What is one thing from the Blazers' preseason performance that you believe will translate to the regular season?
Jared: Let's go with 3-point shooting. There has been some angst over how the Blazers will replace the long-distance markmanship of Allen Crabbe this season. But guess which team is leading the NBA in 3-point shooting during the preseason? The Portland Trail Blazers, who are shooting 41.3 percent on about 28 attempts per game. At media day, head coach Terry Stotts brushed off concerns about the issue, saying the 3-pointers would be there. The Blazers are getting great 3-point shooting from CJ McCollum (42 percent), Damian Lillard (37 percent), Pat Connaughton (39 percent), Maurice Harkless (38 percent) and Meyers Leonard (67 percent). It looks like coach is right: the 3-pointers will be there. Honorable mention: Improved defense and Caleb Swanigan getting in a fight every third game or so.
Nate: The continuity this team showed in the preseason stood out to me and I think will be a real advantage in the Western Conference with a lot of new faces. The lineup of Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, CJ McCollum, and Damian Lillard really seemed to click. And to have a guard with Evan Turner’s skillset, and bruisers like Caleb Swanigan and Ed Davis coming off the bench is a nice mix I think the Blazers can take advantage of. The defense appeared to be improved but I’m going to wait until the regular season before fully buying in. For a team that gave up an average of 108 points per game last season, 101 per game, albeit in the preseason, is a positive trend in the right direction.
Orlando: Sure it’s the preseason and the games don’t count, but I got a chance to see the depth in the Blazers front court. If there’s one takeaway, it’s that Caleb Swanigan is for real. He is ready to play right out of the gate and can contribute valuable minutes. He showed his toughness, fearlessness and that he can score beyond just putbacks. He passed the summer-league test, the preseason test and there’s no doubt in my mind he’s ready for the show.
2. Give us your season predictions: How many games will the Blazers win? Will they make the playoffs? Who will lead the Blazers in scoring, rebounding and assists?
Orlando: I’m optimistic this team improves on last year’s 41-41 campaign. I’m also realistic in a loaded Western Conference. Portland has to win the games it’s supposed to. Games against teams at the bottom of the standings, back-to-backs and 4-5 game road trips will make or break the Blazers. Prediction: Blazers win 45 games and make the playoffs. It should be enough to avoid the Warriors in the first round but will likely be a six or seven seed. No surprise here, Damian Lillard leads the team in points and assists. Jusuf Nurkic is your leading rebounder.
Jared: Three teams ranked in the Top 10 in offense and defense last season. Those three teams averaged 60 wins. When Jusuf Nurkic has played, the Blazers have ranked in the Top 10 in offense and defense, both during his 20 games with the team last season and in the four preseason games he's played this season. That's a large enough sample size to predict that if Nurkic stays healthy, the Blazers crack 50 wins this season. However, I don't believe Nurkic will stay healthy all season. He's already missed one preseason game with a concussion and left two others with various leg ailments (nothing serious, thank goodness). Factoring in an extended absence or two for Nurkic this season, I think the Blazers will settle in with 47 wins. Damian Lillard will average about 28 points and seven assists per game to lead the team in both categories. Jusuf Nurkic will average about 10 rebounds per game to lead the team.
Nate: I’m optimistic about how well the Blazers will perform in the stacked Western Conference. I’ll pick them to go 46-36 and be the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference behind Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Minnesota. Damian Lillard will lead the Blazers in scoring and assists, although I think his assist average will rise to seven or eight per game this season, as opposed to the six he averaged last season. Nurkic will be the Blazers’ top rebounder.
3. Who are your choices this season for NBA champion, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year?
Nate: Let me start with the Most Improved Player because I’m going to keep it local and pick Jusuf Nurkic. Obviously, that’s going to depend on his health. But his full season stats last year (including Portland and Denver) was an average of 10 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block per game. If he can average 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks this year, and be the difference-maker he was for the Blazers last season, he’ll be in the running. Got to go with the Warriors winning their third NBA championship in four years. Barring injury or a complete lack of motivation, they’re clearly the best team. I’ll pick LeBron James to win the MVP. I think he’ll be motivated to prove himself this season without Kyrie Irving, and leave a mark on his possible last season with the Cavaliers. I’ll stay with the Cavaliers and pick Tristan Thompson as the Sixth Man of the Year.
Orlando: NBA champ: Golden State Warriors — the only way this isn’t happening is if the Warriors decide to boycott the NBA, unforeseen injuries or LeBron James gets another all-star in his prime. It’s going to be another predictable season in the Association. MVP: LeBron James — This is a fun discussion. Kevin Durant is the best player on the best team, Kawhi Leonard will carry the Spurs through the gauntlet known as the West, maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo continues his rise through the League. LeBron is still the best player in the world and he will be motivated, likely improving on some of the career numbers he posted last season. If you believe he’s leaving Cleveland after this season, he’s going out with a bang. His fifth MVP is on the way. ROY: Lonzo Ball — this class is stacked with talent. You can even put Ben Simmons in the discussion. Lonzo is a star and everything he does will be seen. It's can't-miss TV. He’s not going to average the most points, but he’s going to fill up the stat sheet. Ball is a triple-double waiting to happen. His dad called it, again. Sixth Man: Andre Iguodala — he’s due right? Most Improved Player: Jusuf Nurkic — National voters catch Nurkic Fever.
Jared: Jusuf Nurkic won't win Most Improved Player. He'll be in the running, but I think D'Angelo Russell wins it. He'll average about 22 points and six assists per game for Brooklyn, the Nets will be a little better than expected and he'll edge out Nurkic and Utah's Rudy Gobert for the award. Kawhi Leonard will win his first MVP. He's missed the entire preseason with a lingering quadriceps injury but I think he'll be ready for the regular season. With Kevin Durant and Steph Curry siphoning votes from each other, it will be a close race, but Leonard, the best two-way player in the league, will edge out Durant, LeBron James and Curry. Dallas guard Dennis Smith Jr. will win Rookie of the Year. Clippers guard Lou Williams will win Sixth Man of the Year. It would be nice to pick any team other than the Warriors to win the NBA championship, but they're the clear choice. Golden State will roll through the regular season and dominates the playoffs to win it all again.
If you'd like to submit a Blazers question for our panel to answer in next week's edition of 3-on-3, send it here.