PORTLAND, Ore. — It's season preview time!
There are ONLY six days left until the Portland Trail Blazers open the regular season against the Denver Nuggets at the Moda Center on ESPN!
That means it's time for our annual super-awesome and always accurate season preview! If you want to know precisely what's going to happen with the Blazers and the NBA this season, you're in the right place, because we are NEVER WRONG. Ever.
Just kidding. We're constantly wrong.
For example, last season, two of us picked LeBron James to be MVP. Wrong. One of us said the Chicago Bulls might make the playoffs. Wrong. And all three of us picked the Blazers to win between 46 and 47 games, and said they'd be competing for one of the final playoff seeds in the West. Wrong. The Blazers were a heck of a lot better at basketball last season than we were at making predictions.
But will that stop us from making our annual predictions and talking about them on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast? No way! Plus, we know all our predictions will come true this season.
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LISTEN: Blazers season preview 2019
Listen to the most recent episode of KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast!
On this week's SEASON PREVIEW episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we predict how many games the Blazers will win and where they'll finish in the Western Conference playoff race; discuss which Blazers player we think will exceed expectations and which won't live up to expectations; and make our picks for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, and NBA champion. Plus, the season premiere of everyone's favorite podcast game, Rip It!
1. The Blazers won 53 games last year, which was good enough to be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference (for the second consecutive year). How will the Blazers fare this season? How many wins? Do they make the playoffs? If so, what seed? Who else makes the playoffs in the Western Conference?
Orlando: Expect the Blazers to be in the mix once again. Players, coach and GM have all been on the same page referring to this team as deeper and more talented, but it is a new team and it's going to take some time before it all comes together. The West is up for grabs and it could be more competitive than it has been in years. The Blazers will have to catch some breaks along the way and like all teams, avoid significant injuries. Portland is a playoff team. I'll put their win number at 48 that probably puts them in the 3-7 seed range.
Jared: The past two seasons, I picked the Blazers to win 47 and 46 games, respectively. At the time, I thought my projections were optimistic. But the Blazers proved me (and almost everyone else) wrong, exceeding everyone's expectations the past two seasons. I don't want to underestimate this team again. Even though the Western Conference is as tough as it has ever been, I think this squad has the potential to be the best Blazers team in a long time. The front office made a lot of changes and there are certainly question marks, but this team still has Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Terry Stotts. I'm also confident the front office will make a move or two to boost the roster at the deadline. That's enough to make me a believer. My prediction is the Blazers win 54 games and finish second in the West. The rest of the Western Conference field plays out like this: 1. LA Clippers; 2. Portland Trail Blazers; 3. Denver Nuggets; 4. Golden State Warriors; 5. LA Lakers; 6. Utah Jazz; 7. Houston Rockets; 8. San Antonio Spurs.
Nate: I gave a list last week saying I thought the Blazers had the fifth-best chance of winning the Western Conference. With that said, when talking about regular-season finishes, I’m going to give them a bump. I expect some teams, like the Clippers, will rest their players more often in the regular season and others, like the Lakers, will have chemistry issues before they get rolling. With that in mind, I’m going to say this is how the Western Conference seeds shake up: 1) Jazz, 2) Warriors, 3) Clippers, 4) Blazers, 5) Nuggets, 6) Lakers, 7) Rockets, 8) Spurs. Last year, the four seed finished with 53 wins. Throwing a dart at the board, I’m going to say Portland finishes with 52 wins.
2. This is a two-part question. Which Blazers player do you think will exceed expectations this season? Which Blazers player do you think won’t live up to expectations this season?
Jared: I'm picking CJ McCollum to exceed expectations this season. He had his Most Improved Player season in 2015, but he really broke out the next season, averaging career highs in points (23.0), field-goal percentage (48%), 3-point percentage (42.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.2%). But the past two seasons, his scoring, assists and efficiency all went down. I don't know if it's because he was so good in last season's playoffs, but my gut says McCollum will take a step forward this season, scoring more efficiently and showing more as a playmaker. I think Hassan Whiteside will be good this season, but I fear he won't live up to what Blazers fans expect from a starting center. They've been spoiled the past few seasons by Jusuf Nurkic. I expect Whiteside to average a double-double, block a couple shots per game, and help lock down the paint defensively. But I also expect there will be times this season when Whiteside doesn't give 100% effort, fails to provide help defense on the perimeter, sets lazy screens, or sulks. Those moments are going to frustrate Blazers fans.
Nate: I’m going to say Kent Bazemore exceeds expectations. Because of the addition of Hassan Whiteside and Bazemore not being in the starting lineup, I think we forget about how important of an addition he can be for the Blazers. At his best, Bazemore is the 3-and-D player the Blazers have long coveted. I think he'll be rejuvenated to be on a team with championship aspirations and may play himself into the starting lineup by season's end. I've hinted at this throughout the offseason, but I have my concerns about Zach Collins. The next step in his progression is to be a starter. But I'm not certain he's ready for it, and the lack of depth behind him could be problematic. Becoming a full-time starter comes with a learning curve. Jusuf Nurkic talked about his struggles with that after his first full season in Portland. I've previously said for better or worse, Collins is the biggest X-factor for the Blazers. I still believe that. I think Collins will have good moments this season, but of all the players on the Blazers roster, he's the one I'm most concerned about.
Orlando: Oooooh! This is tough. I'm going to fall prisoner of the moment on this one. Kent Bazemore will exceed expectations this season. He's in a great place mentally and physically this season. He's embracing his role on the team and his new home. The thought of being on a team that can contend should bring out the best in him. His skill set fits the Blazers needs and he's going to play big minutes as the sixth man or even as a starter. He's going to have an impact on this team. On the flip side, it is going to be a challenge to get everyone playing time. My answer to the second question is going to trigger some of you and that's probably what set me over the top to go this way. I think the expectations for Anfernee Simons are unfair and I think it's going to take a little longer before we witness his breakout season. This will be his first time getting meaningful minutes in the league, so I'm expecting some growing pains along the way. Simons is a star in the making, but give the man some time to get there!
3. Championship and awards time! We did this last year and it did not go well (out of 15 total picks, we got four right, because we're geniuses). Let’s see if we do better this year (we won’t). Which team hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the year? Who wins the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards?
Nate: I was wrong last year but I’m going to roll with the Warriors for one more season. I think they'll be hungry to shake off last year's disappointing NBA Finals, much like they did after blowing a 3-1 lead against Cleveland in 2016. They should have Klay Thompson back for the postseason run. Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell (if he's still there at season's end) is as formidable as any team in the West. Give me the Warriors. Sticking with Golden State, I'm going to say Steph Curry wins MVP. I'm buying into the hype for Rookie of the Year. Tyler Herro has looked great in the preseason, I'm rolling the dice on him. Dejounte Murray wins Most Improved Player. The Spurs had high hopes for him last season before he got hurt. And I don't want to go chalk and pick Lou Williams for sixth man. I'll take Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie.
Orlando: NBA Champion: Bucks
MVP: Stephen Curry
ROY: Zion Williamson
MIP: Bam Adebayo
6th Man: Kyle Kuzma
Jared: Let's get the easy one out of the way first. Zion Williamson will be Rookie of the Year. I'm going to pick Terry Rozier as Most Improved Player. He's going to play a ton of minutes in Charlotte and will see big gains in all counting stats. My Sixth Man of the Year is Lou Williams. He'll set two NBA marks, winning it for a third season in a row and a fourth time overall. My MVP is going to be Steph Curry. He's going to lead the league in scoring, carry the Warriors all season, and win his third MVP. My NBA champion pick is the LA Clippers. I think they have the most star talent and the most depth.
SEASON OPENER PREDICTIONS
The first game of the regular season is Wednesday, Oct. 23 against the Denver Nuggets at the Moda Center. That means it's time to start making predictions! So, who wins the season opener?
Orlando: Blazers win opening night. They’re at home.
Jared: I'm tempted to pick the Nuggets to win. They're talented, deep, have continuity, and are motivated. But I already said I'm not going to doubt the Blazers anymore, so why would I start now? The Nuggets still have no answer for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum (or Rodney Hood, for that matter). Nikola Jokic will get his, but I expect the Blazers to come out on top. Make it 19 in a row.
Nate: The Blazers have won 18 straight home openers, right? Damian Lillard is still on the team, right? That’s all I need to pick Portland. I get Denver is really talented and will want revenge for the Blazers winning on the Nuggets’ home floor in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. But I’m rolling with this winning streak until it ends.
MEET THE 3-ON-3 BLAZERS TEAM
Jared Cowley is a digital producer who writes about the Blazers and other topics for KGW.com. Jared has written about the Jazz and Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
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.