Jusuf Nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic has fun with a Twitter trade

Jusuf Nurkic has fun with a Twitter trade

Last September Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard was breaking news on Twitter about national NBA analysts taking new jobs.

This summer, it’s Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic who is breaking news.

Okay, not really. But, he is having some fun on Twitter.

Nurkic and one of his favorite Bosnian musical groups Dubioza Kolektiv are testing the waters on Twitter.

Is the Bosnian Beast on the trading block?

Huh, no.

However, according to Dubioza Kolektiv, the trade of the year is going down. The Blazers will send Nurkic to play in the band and in return the Blazers will receive Dubioza Kolektiv’s keyboardist Brano Jakubović.

You probably weren’t expecting that trade news.

Nurk has been known to play the rock group’s tunes at the Trail Blazers practice facility and before and after Trail Blazers games.

You may have heard one of their hits at a Blazers game.

Dubioza Kolektiv’s song ‘Wild Wild East’ has been played at Moda Center numerous times. Dubioza Kolektiv’s music is very catchy and now their tweet has caught the eye of the Trail Blazers.

Emojis say it all.

The former 16th overall pick is spending time in his home country this summer, while continuing to rehab after sustaining compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula last March.

There is still no official timeline for his return, however, this July, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said he believes Nurkic is “on or ahead of schedule.”

In 72 games last season, Nurkic racked up averaged 15.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks.

Who else is wondering if Dubioza Kolektiv’s keyboardist is a good basketball player?

Social Media Roundup: The weekend that was for your Portland Trail Blazers

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Anferfee Simons IG

Social Media Roundup: The weekend that was for your Portland Trail Blazers

It was an eventful weekend for your Portland Trail Blazers on social media. ICYMI, get all caught up right here:

Damian Lillard took to this twitter account to ask some questions coming off his third album release. Normally Dame fields the questions, but today he was asking!

As the conversation spun into his dual life as a basketball player and a rapper, we were treated to a throwback RT of last year's "training video" that was used to mock haters telling him to get in the gym more:

Even Jusuf Nurkic got in on the action. Who knew the Bosian Beast was a Taylor Swift fan?

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was back home doing some work for a kids camp and surely wasn't going to miss out on his grandma's 80th birthday!

New big man Pau Gasol spent some time in Spain with athletes preparing for the Paralympic Team.

And lastly, Anfernee Simons held his youth basketball camp this weekend in Florida

View this post on Instagram

Day 1 of camp ✅✅

A post shared by Anfernee Simons (@antsimons) on

Jusuf Nurkic & Pau Gasol looking to 'stay strong and come back even stronger' after rehab

Jusuf Nurkic & Pau Gasol looking to 'stay strong and come back even stronger' after rehab

Two extremely well known international basketball players are now united on the Portland Trail Blazers.

At Pau Gasol’s introductory press conference on Monday afternoon, which included Gasol, Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, Olshey noted that the Trail Blazers ‘Health and Performance’ coaches have already or will be spending time with both Gasol and Jusuf Nurkic overseas.  

On Monday’s conference call, Olshey gave an update on the Bosnian Beast.

“Nurk’s doing well. Jess Ellis, our head of H & P, was in Bosnia working with him, as a matter of fact, then he stopped off and spent a couple of days with Pau in Madrid,” Olshey said.

“Logan Sullivan, who also works with us in H & P will be heading over [to Bosnia] in two weeks, to spend a couple of weeks with Nurk again. He’ll stop over and see Pau as well,” Olshey added.

It was on March 26th of this year that the Trail Blazers center sustained compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula with just over two minutes remaining in the second overtime of Portland’s win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Nurkic underwent “successful surgery” the following day to repair the lower left leg injury.

The last official word from the team on Nurk’s status was as follows:

There is no timetable for his return to basketball activity. His status will be updated as appropriate.

That statement came from a Trail Blazers press release the night of Nurkic’s injury.

There is still no official timeline at this point, but the 24-year-old’s progression is apparent to the Blazers organization.

“He’s progressing,” Olshey said. “He’s doing well. His timeline is still the same. I mean, we’re not gonna put a return date on it cause we’re still too far out, but I will say that he is absolutely on or ahead of schedule at this point.”

Earlier this summer Trail Blazers performance coach Ben Kenyon shared a video to his Instagram page so fans could get a glimpe at Nurkic’s recovery. The video, which was posted in early June, showed Nurk doing some light agility ladder work and him using a rowing machine.

The assumption now is that Gasol will be the backup center for the Trail Blazers, while Hassan Whiteside gets the starting nod at the five until Nurkic is healthy enough to play.

This tweet from Gasol on March 25th, the night that all of Rip City held its breath after learning of Nurkic’s injury, may just sum up how perfect it is that the two are uniting as teammates.

Gasol at 39 years old is coming off foot surgery and is hoping to come back stronger this season, but he had also wished the same for Nurkic.

Now Rip City will look to witness these two big men ‘stay strong and come back even stronger.’ 

Trail Blazers Social Media Roundup: Don't steal Meyers Leonard's AirPods and don't call Damian Lillard a Trump supporter

Trail Blazers Social Media Roundup: Don't steal Meyers Leonard's AirPods and don't call Damian Lillard a Trump supporter

In case you were out and about on this nice Northwest weekend, here's what you might have missed on social media this weekend in the world of the Portland Trail Blazers. 

Damian Lillard responded to a tweet claiming he was a Trump supporter. Needless to say, the thread that followed was filled with entertaining GIFs:

Former Trail Blazer Meyers Leonard apparently had his AirPods stolen...and then found them for sale online! The special branded "Hammer" logo gave them away:

The Godfather Dwight Jaynes is currently traveling Europe and made a stop in Croatia, only to find Damian Lillard jerseys for sale...but Nurkic ones, as expected, all sold out!

The Rip City 3 on 3 Event continues at the Rose Quarter today with final brackets, the 3 point contest and the Slam Dunk Challenge. Head Coach Terry Stotts made an appearance this morning:

Finally, Trail Blazers first round draft pick Nassir Little signed a deal with Nike in recent days and announced the partnership on his Instagram page:

Lillard excited about future in Portland: “The ultimate goal is to win it all, win a championship”

Lillard excited about future in Portland: “The ultimate goal is to win it all, win a championship”

Now that we have all had time to stop and smell the roses in the Rose City this summer, Damian Lillard has had time to digest the Trail Blazers’ offseason moves. 

For Portland, Rodney Hood returns, Al-Farouq Aminu is gone, and there’s a new forward headed to Rip City, Mario Hezonja. And, that all happened in the first day of NBA free agency 2019.

Yes, the Blazers had a lot of roster turnover. Along with the new additions of Hezonja, Kent Bazemore, and Hassan Whiteside, Portland will also be looking to their young guys to step up and make an impact this season.

Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons are two such guys that Lillard feels could help the team make a huge leap this upcoming season.

“I’m excited about Zach. Zach and Ant, I think these guys have a huge summer in front of them,” Lillard told the media at his annual kids basketball camp on Tuesday. “I think if they can have big summers and come back they can really have impact on our team. They can really be what can make us take that next step especially with what’ve added… I’m excited about it.”

[RELATED]: 2019 NBA Free Agency: A recap of everything Trail Blazers from Day 1

Overall, the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard believes this offseason has been a success.

Lillard discussed how he feels “pretty good” about what went down in free agency, and that keeping the core of himself, CJ McCollum and eventually a healthy Jusuf Nurkic along with bringing back Hood are some key ingredients to the Blazers success this season.

After celebrating his 29th birthday this week, Lillard has his eyes on the prize.

“The ultimate goal is to win it all, to win a championship, as a team, as an individual you want to be MVP… I haven’t been either one of those, a champion or an MVP, so there’s a lot that I still got to play for, a lot that keeps me going,” Lillard said.

[RELATED] -- From Damian's Camp: Lillard, now older and wiser, is 'working smarter, not harder' this off-season

The ultimate goal is obviously no easy feat.

There have been several fans and national media members all across the NBA landscape saying that the West is now wide open with the Warriors going down with injuries.

But, Lillard has a different outlook on the future of the Western Conference. He made his point known about the West, saying, “everybody sees it as wide open, but it’s definitely not.”

“The West is still super competitive,” Lillard said. “Everybody has fire power. At first it was like, everybody was calling the Clippers a tough team and they play hard and now they got Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. And now, Anthony Davis plays for the Lakers and New Orleans has all this young talent that’s going to be able to compete. I don’t think people are giving them enough credit.”

“And then, Utah picked up all these guys, so it might look more balanced. But it probably got tougher to win in the West because every team is good now. Sacramento is a year older. Phoenix is a year older. All these teams, they coming.”

Lillard, McCollum, and the rest of the Trail Blazers are coming as well. With the Trail Blazers Vegas wins total set at 44.5, Portland will look to beat their wins total for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.

Mario Hezonja has plenty to prove after signing with the Trail Blazers

Mario Hezonja has plenty to prove after signing with the Trail Blazers

Mario Hezonja had a lot of reasons for choosing to sign with the Portland Trail Blazers. But most of all, he’s here to prove he can play in the NBA and wants to carry on the legacy of one of his country’s greatest sports heroes.

Hezonja, from Croatia by way of the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks, met the media Wednesday morning at the team’s practice facility.

Taken as the fifth pick in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft, Hezonja’s career so far has been a disappointment. He’s played in 277 games through his four-year career, but started only 65 of them, averaging 7.3 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from three-point range.

“I haven’t put up anything yet,” he said. “But it’s fine, because I will. It’s kind of sad to say I couldn’t do what I (wanted to) do in Orlando and New York … For Orlando I couldn’t be myself because it was one season this and one season that. We were a young group not ready to win yet and then we had a lot of veterans. It was messy a little bit. But it is what it is – it’s the NBA.

“I just go out there to kill. It’s pretty simple. In this situation it will be manifested even more. It’s a Western Conference finals team. I think I’ve gotten better every year.”

He cited his relationship with Neil Olshey as a reason for coming to Portland, a team that chased him in free agency last year before he signed with the Knicks.

“I’ve known Neil since a long time ago,” he said. “He’s connected to my agent’s family. I was talking to them last year. Very familiar to the situation, very familiar with Dame and CJ and the coach.”

And he also has a very close relationship with Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, who lived in the building next to his in Zagreb.

“We lived door-to-door back home,” Hezonja said. “My building is right next to his. I can yell at him every day. He is probably closer to my father than I am because when I left he still played in Zagreb. My brother – there’s nothing more to say. He’s super, super close to me. He always told me about this city, about this team and we’re super close.”

Hezonja is going to wear No. 44 this season, a tribute to Croatian great and former Trail Blazer and Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic, who wore that number in Portland. Drazen's brother, Aleksandar, coached Herzonja on their country’s national team.

“Obviously the greatest European player of all time,” Hezonja said. “It’s out of respect to him. The journey continues in his name right now. I’m glad I’m the leader of the journey right now. Carrying my entire country with it.”

Hezonja grew up playing point guard and still has a lot of those skills, even though coaches have shuffled him between the forward spots in the NBA.

“It’s weird even for me,” he said. “I was drafted at 6-6, 195 and now I’m 6-9, 240.”

But he still has passing skills that were modeled after Petrovic.

Petrovic came to the Trail Blazers in 1989 as a highly acclaimed star in Europe. And although he played 77 games for Portland that season, he did not start a single game and played only 12 and a half minutes a game. That wasn’t enough for Petrovic, who asked for a trade the following season and was shipped to New Jersey, where he became a star.

There was more to the story, of course. Portland was in the hunt for a championship, had Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler firmly installed as the starting guards and Danny Young as their backup. Petrovic, in his first season adjusting to the NBA, had some turnover trouble, too, and wasn’t going to get big minutes. The Blazers were well aware of Petrovic’s potential but couldn’t invest the playing time in him at that moment.

But in Croatia, the Blazers and Coach Rick Adelman were vilified for not giving Petrovic a chance. And that feeling lasted a long time. Is Hezonja aware of that?

“Yes, that’s the story back home,” said Hezonja, who wants to change that narrative. “I chose his number so I can have success.”

Stay cool, Blazer fans, and get ready for a very interesting season

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USA Today

Stay cool, Blazer fans, and get ready for a very interesting season

Stay cool, Trail Blazer fans.

You aren’t going to be hearing a lot of people picking your team to do well in the upcoming season. The “experts” will be downplaying the changes made this summer and talking negatively about a group that went to the conference finals last season and will return only two starters from that team.

They will question the Hassan Whiteside addition and wonder how a team could move away from both its starting forwards. They’ll wonder who the backup point guard will be and forget how far your team went without its starting center last year. Most of them will even forget how well the playoffs went.

All of that will happen. But you should be used to it by now. You hear it every year.

Just stay cool and don’t start crying about it. Don’t get mad. You realize it doesn't matter, right?

Those people don’t know a whole lot about your team.

They don’t know that Anfernee Simons has a great chance to become an outstanding NBA player and that Zach Collins is very likely going to be a very good two-way player – a force at both ends of the floor. They don’t know how good Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood and Mario Herzonja are going to shoot from the three-point line in the Portland system.

And most of all, they don’t understand the Trail Blazer culture and how Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum run a tight locker room and create a family atmosphere. Oh, the coaching staff has a role in that too, and players normally play better here than they do anywhere else. Development and improvement are expected, not wished for, in Portland. We see it every season.

I think the doubters will see a different Hassan Whiteside, too. He will be playing for his next contract, will be getting his touches and his playing time. Damian Lillard will make him look better on offense than he’s ever looked and I’d almost guaranteed that. Just wait. It’s what happens here. Whiteside is going to have more fun playing basketball here than he's had anywhere else.

Jusuf Nurkic came to Portland with a lot of the same raps Whiteside brings and that turned around fast.

The Blazers will play hard and they will play better than last season’s team. Whiteside will bring a defensive improvement and with Collins on the floor at the same time, Portland will play better defense than it has in years. Terry Stotts will find outside shooting among that corps of small forwards. Simons and Gary Trent Jr. will find ways to make the bench potent and this team will win.

And the starting guards, well, you know what they can do. And now, with better shooting up front, they should be more free to do their thing.

At least that's the way it's all being mapped out.

There are still questions about the bench, even with the welcome addition of Anthony Tolliver. The bench is probably going to have to play a lot of small ball because, overall, this isn't a big team. Shotmakers will be necessary.

And a lot is riding on the youngsters. Simons, Trent and Collins need to produce. They will probably be heavily counted-on rotation players.

This has a chance to be a very, very good team. A chance. And certainly there’s no need to worry about predictions, forecasts or preseason criticism.

Just wait. Just stay cool. It should be a extremely interesting season. It's a grand experiment with the team's culture and development and nobody knows what the ceiling is.

Most of all, it should be a lot of fun.

The grit and fit is what Kent Bazemore brings to Trail Blazers

The grit and fit is what Kent Bazemore brings to Trail Blazers

Bringing in high character players and those charismatic locker room guys who easily fit in Blazers head coach Terry Stotts’ system, has been the main mission of how the Trail Blazers current roster is constructed and how it’s been constructed over the past few seasons. And it's been working.

Kent Bazemore is one such guy who fits the Blazers mold.

Moreover, Bazemore understands how he’ll fit in with Portland. 

“The culture here is great. I’m here to continue moving the franchise in the right direction, that’s winning a championship. I watched them all last postseason, it’s like the first time you see your wife, it just fits your eye. I’m excited to be here and looking forward to getting after it,” Bazemore said at his introductory news conference on Wednesday.

In 2016, the Blazers were looking at Bazemore in free agency before he re-signed with his current team at the time, the Atlanta Hawks.

Three years later Portland got their man who can come in as a supportive role player both on and off the court.

“We’re really excited to have Kent here. His style of play is going to fit in perfectly,” Neil Olshey said on Wednesday.

Bazemore, the soon-to-be 30-year-old, is excited to play in front of the Trail Blazers fan base. He reminisced on how the Moda Center crowd was always rocking when he came in as an opponent.

“It’s just such a good environment. I think they understand the game of basketball,” Bazemore said of Trail Blazers fans.

And by the sounds of it, Rip City is going to be a big fan of Bazemore.

Even though Bazemore is ready to contribute on the offensive end, it’s his gritty defense that has gotten him where he is today.

He brought up PJ Tucker and Andre Iguodala and how – “they just stand in the background and do the dirty work,” and that’s what Bazemore is here in Portland to do. 

“Not a lot of people like to do it, so if you do it well, you stand out,” Bazemore said with a smile. “It takes effort and I like making it easier on my teammates. If I can make it tough on other teams' best players, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Bazemore has had a long relationship with Damian Lillard since the two came into the league at the same time in 2012.

“[Dame’s] a mid-major guy, so is CJ [McCollum], and I am as well. I think we all have that kind of, that chip, he plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder and that’s something I would love to play for, go to battle with every night. He and CJ really are the best backcourt in all of basketball.”

“I think it’s a solid position for me to come in and do what I do best,” Bazemore added.

Coach Stotts believes Bazemore’s versatility will be key to the team’s success.

“I think the athleticism that he brings to the roster is important… Guys like Kent have a way of impacting games on their own, whether it’s defensively, or rebounding, or getting out in the lane or a timely three. I think he just fills a lot of those things that we are looking for at the offensive end.

“He’s going to find his way on the court and his going to be affective when he is there,” Stotts said with confidence.

Bazemore concurs with his new coach.

“I look at myself as a plug and play [guy]. I really don’t see myself missing a beat here. The style fits great. I just want to make the guys jobs easier, running the ball, slashing, getting back to what I was doing, running the lane. There’s not too many people that can keep up with that for a real long time,” Bazemore said.

The Trail Blazers culture and team chemistry, especially the supportive second unit, is something that Bazemore says can make you jealous of when you're on the outside looking in.

“It definitely makes you jealous. You’ve got the guys running off the bench, greeting their guys and you can see them locked in the entire game, cheering them on. That does a lot. My career first started on the bench with the Golden State Warriors, waving a towel the entire game. You see how it benefits your teammates,” Bazemore said.

Bazemore nodded his head in agreement with Olshey as the Blazers GM spoke on the stability and continuity of the roster.

“I’m a huge proponent of continuity. My first year in Atlanta we won 60 games, but then guys kind of trickled out after that you kind see the affects… It’s important to keep your guys around that have been around. You look at a team like Toronto, obviously, they made a big move bringing in Kawhi [Leonard], but a lot of those guys had already been there. Kyle Lowry was a staple. He was a leader and that team reflected that. So... Dame and CJ, you keep those guys here…  Nurkic, he just came here, but he has fit in so perfectly. I think all those guys blend together and that alone will attract the right people to come,” Bazemore said.  

It wasn’t just that Bazemore went undrafted in 2012, it was also persevering through his rookie season when he played just 4.4 minute per game in 61 games played.

“I was ranked 499 out of 500 [players] my rookie season by ESPN. There was a joke that was there: dead guys in front of me," Bazemore joked. “So you know, when you start in places like that and you work your way up, it’s almost like you’ve cracked some type of code."

Defense, steal of a deal, and good friends: Twitter love for Nassir Little

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USA Today Images

Defense, steal of a deal, and good friends: Twitter love for Nassir Little

The NBA and social media seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly.

A good majority of sports fans out there feel that NBA teams and the league have the best twitter accounts.

You can’t discount NBA fans on twitter either.

Now that the dust has settled a little bit let’s take a quick spin around social media to find out what Trail Blazers fans are saying about the newest addition to the roster, UNC's freshman forward Nassir Little.

Fans around Rip City are pumped about Little’s elite physical attributes and that he isn’t afraid to do the dirty work on the defensive end.

Media members and NBA fans feel that the Trail Blazers got a STEAL OF A DEAL with Little at No. 25.

And then of course, Little’s new teammates are welcoming him to PDX!

Lucky for Little, he already knows Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons from their high school days. Sounds like Ant and Little are already good friends and have played in several pick-up games over the years.

 

Quick links on the newest Trail Blazer: 

Blazer pick Nassir Little thinks he can "shock a lot of people in the NBA"

Highlight: Nassir Little brings his big game to PDX 

A preview of what a Simons-Little pairing would look like

What should we expect from the Blazers' young bigs without Jusuf Nurkic?

What should we expect from the Blazers' young bigs without Jusuf Nurkic?

Next season won't start out with much clarity for the Portland Trail Blazers. We don't know when Jusuf Nurkic will return to the court, as his broken leg carries a wide array of potential recovery times. It’s been posited that Nurkic might not return until the All-Star break in 2020. 

That means the Blazers will have to make do with the big man rotation they have on hand. We don't know whether Enes Kanter will return to Rip City, although his strong play throughout his time in Oregon suggests he will be too expensive.

That leaves the Blazers with both Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard under contract and presumably opening the season in Multnomah county, barring any trades.

Last season was the best value over replacement player year in Leonard's career, and he saw little upticks that increased his effectiveness. Leonard had a monster year from 3-point range, shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. He got to the free-throw line more, and had his best-ever assist percentage. Leonard's increased production came with a decreased usage rate, meaning he got better despite touching the ball less. If you’ve paid attention to his career, you know that’s a leap for the big man from Illinois.

Leonard is in the 99th percentile in terms of 3-point shooting for big men, but it's not all come from behind the arc. Leonard also shot 76 percent at the rim this season according to Cleaning the Glass, putting him in the 92nd percentile. His eFG% was through the roof, and his assist percentage was excellent for his position.

The complaint Blazers fans may have at this point is Leonard's defense. But Leonard doesn’t defend the rim all that often based on where he’s at on the floor. In fact, for bench players over 6-foot-10 who logged at least 55 games, Leonard defended the rim the third-least according to NBA.com. He was only behind Jonas Jerebko and Davis Bertans, which is an example of how and where he’s used on the basketball court. It’s just not that important for Leonard to be a shot-blocking rim stopper despite the conventional attachment to that role given his size.

Most importantly, Leonard was a shooter at the forward position when Portland needed it. Leonard’s 3-point acumen was a cup of water in a desert, particularly in the playoffs. Terry Stotts’ rotation shortened, and wing minutes concentrated between Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, and Al-Farouq Aminu. All three had poor shooting postseasons, and Leonard's ability to stretch the floor helped the Blazers.

So where does that slot him next season? 

Leonard has remained with Portland because Neil Olshey has made a specific gamble on value in terms of shooting. The Blazers can’t easily add a two-way wing player who can shoot the basketball. Make no bones about it — they are definitely looking — but Portland has been searching for that player for several years. In the meantime, it seems the front office has decided the most available option is to continue to round Leonard into shape. It makes sense: he's already on the roster, and his contract isn’t in question.

Collins has supercharged his already accelerated schedule. He played heavy minutes in his first year, then intermittently over the course of last season. He saw more action after Nurkic's injury in March, and was particularly useful as Kanter’s shoulder bothered him during the playoffs.

Although a thumb injury bothered him and started to affect his shooting in the postseason, Collins was one of the best defenders for his size and role. The second-year big man had an excellent block percentage, and performed well as a bench player over 6-foot-10 in defending the rim. He had the sixth-best defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet this season. That was critical as Collins was one of the NBA’s most-used bench bigs in defending the painted area this season.

As was expected for a player of his age and at his position, Collins struggled with both turnovers and fouling at various points over the year. His foul rate was poor, and he ranked in the 18th percentile in turnover percentage for players at his position. 

In opposition to Leonard, the biggest problem for Collins was his offense. His monthly splits fluctuated, in one month shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and another 20%. He didn't make a single 3-pointer in 82 minutes played in the month of February. Collins’ confidence seemed to leave him from week-to-week, and his 3-point attempt rate was indicative of that. He shot 39% of his attempts as threes last season, but that dipped to 30 percent this year. 

When Collins was given steady playing time in the playoffs, he looked like a more confident shooter. He hit about the same rate of long buckets (probably because of his thumb) but his gravity shifted opposing defenses and allowed the Blazers more chances to roam.

Both Collins and Leonard represent different challenges for Stotts' rotation next season. Leonard is a more rounded out player, but is less impactful depending on the defensive matchup. Still, we don't know who will return to the Blazers next season and whether the team will be able to fix their fatal flaw in wing 3-point shooting. As long as that remains, Leonard has a place on this team.

Collins is on a normal arc for an NBA big man. He has struggled... looked lost… and dominated in ways that have surprised fans in Rip City. 

Earlier in the year, I did a video on Collins’ sudden drop in defensive usefulness. My conclusion, oddly, was that there was a shift in the benefit NBA referees were giving him on defense. As players become more established in this league, they often get called for fewer fouls if they are known as defensive stoppers. That seems like the path that Collins is heading down, so I expect to see him be even more effective next year.

The Blazers will have a hard time filling the role of Jusuf Nurkic. He's an excellent defender, and his position as a passer in the high post was a real treat to watch last season. It opened up Portland's offense, which has grown slightly stale. Both Leonard and Collins can add more shooting to this Blazers roster, but they won't be able to make up for everything Nurkic provides. 

It's easy to get lost in the fact that Portland still needs help on the wing. But the Blazers big men are coming along, and this season’s effort should mean some guarantee of production in 2019-20.