PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers tumbled down the collective NBA power rankings on Monday, sliding out of the Top 10 and falling somewhere around the middle of the pack.
The plunge makes sense. Though the Blazers have played a difficult early schedule so far — their schedule is the ninth-toughest through six games — the combination of a slightly above-average offense (11th in the NBA) and a below-average defense (17th) places their net rating 15th.
It doesn't get more mediocre than that.
The biggest concern for Portland is the loss of starting power forward Zach Collins, who will miss an undisclosed amount of time after surgery on his injured left shoulder. It's expected that he'll be out for months.
It's a small sample size, but the difference between the Blazers' starting lineup with Collins and without him has been staggering. The five-man unit of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside outscored opponents by an astounding 25.7 points per 100 possessions in 46 minutes together. The unit with Anthony Tolliver in Collins' place has still been good, outscoring teams by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, but not nearly as good.
For the time being, it looks like the Blazers will make do with what they have, giving more minutes to Mario Hezonja, Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere, and hoping that nagging injuries to Whiteside and Hood clear up.
Portland is unlikely to sign a free agent big man, according to The Athletic's Jason Quick, and probably won't wade into the trade market until after Dec. 15, when players signed during the offseason are eligible to be traded.
On KGW Sports Sunday, John Canzano brought up names that NBA pundits and Blazers fans often float in trade scenarios, like the Warriors' Draymond Green or the Cavaliers' Kevin Love. But he said it's not that easy.
"I keep hearing Draymond Green in a trade. I keep hearing Kevin Love in a trade. And that's great to think about those guys, but you're going to have to give up a lot," he said. "How do you make the salaries match? Whiteside or somebody would have to be involved in that deal. And if I'm the Warriors or I'm Cleveland, I want Anfernee Simons or I want Zach Collins. And those are guys the Blazers are not going to want to give up."
Here's a look at how the Blazers fared in the latest batch of power rankings.
The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 11 (down 3)
What they wrote: I’ll fully admit that I’ve held reservations about the Trail Blazers and how they'll look this season. A lot of that has stemmed from losing Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, while relying on Hassan Whiteside to behave himself in a team-positive manner. I’ve wondered where their quality minutes at both forward positions would come from, especially with Zach Collins having to play power forward a lot next to Whiteside. I just like the idea of Collins at center a lot more than I like him at PF next to Hassan. After two weeks of the season, I still hold those same reservations, but the Blazers were handling this transition extremely well before the Collins shoulder surgery news.
The Blazers' lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Collins and Whiteside has been the second-best lineup in basketball (minimum 40 minutes played). The defense of this lineup was dominating. Teams couldn’t score on them and the lineup was only giving up 98.0 points per 100 possessions. Teams also couldn’t stop this lineup from scoring. It poured in a ridiculous 123.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s a net rating of +25.7 points per 100 possessions. Collins was hyper impressive defending in space on the perimeter and this injury is a blow, especially considering their big man depth right now. That said, never doubt the Blazers in the regular season to figure out their rotations. — Zach Harper
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NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 9)
What they wrote: One reason the Sixers scored 84 points in the paint (without Embiid) on Saturday is that the Blazers didn't have much of a frontline, missing Jusuf Nurkic, Pau Gasol, Zach Collins (set to have shoulder surgery) and Hassan Whiteside (bone bruise in his left knee). Of course, the Blazers almost won the game because Damian Lillard scored 33 points on just 16 shots (and just three free throw attempts) and because his teammates shot 11-for-23 from 3-point range. They got a defensive win in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, but those kinds of games may be few and far between. Five of their six games have been within five points in the last five minutes and both the Blazers (16-for-31) and their opponents (17-for-33) have shot better than 50 percent in the clutch, though they missed all four of their 3-point attempts to tie in the final 30 seconds of their loss in San Antonio on Monday. — John Schuhmann
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 4)
What they wrote: Zach Collins' shoulder injury is a big one for the Blazers because interior depth was already a concern coming into the season. And the game against the 76ers highlighted that issue, as Portland struggled to find a workable front line against Al Horford and Tobias Harris. There's no timetable on Collins yet, but there was belief the Blazers were already going to look at frontcourt upgrades on the trade market, and that plan might accelerate now. — Royce Young
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 14 (down 2)
What they wrote: Is there any chance Damian Lillard pulls off a surprise MVP campaign? The numbers support such a case thus far. Lillard is scoring 29.8 points per game and banging home 40.7% of threes, keeping the Blazers afloat amid a slate of new rotational players. Portland’s record will likely fall short of landing Lillard in the MVP conversation, but the Weber State product deserves a mention among the league’s best players. — Michael Shapiro
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 15 (up 1)
What they wrote: Portland has some big man issues with Zach Collins having shoulder surgery and Hassan Whiteside missing the team's loss to Philly with a banged up knee. That would have been a huge win for the Blazers, but they got Korked and fell to 3-3 on the season. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are doing what they always do, but the offense as a whole has been much worse than last season due to the injuries and new pieces. — Colin Ward-Henninger