Fantasy basketball relevance and how a team performs can work hand in hand, but it isn’t quite that simple. The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off their worst season in 17 years. Due to some underperformance, but mostly a litany of injuries that saw the starting 5 all out at one point, made them a popular waiver wire team down the stretch.
Damian Lillard, when healthy is always a first two rounds fantasy talent, with Simons, Grant, and likely Nurkic all likely deserving of pick consideration. But that’s when it begins to get tricky. What may be the Blazers’ strength in relative depth at the shooting guard and small forward position also leaves fantasy managers wondering who will actually play the bulk of the minutes? Beyond that, both positions contain players that haven’t yet proven to be fantasy quantities or are very green in their development.
Vegas currently only has Portland’s over/under wins set at 39.5, and believe what you want about their potential as a team, they have plenty of young talent trending up and worthy of keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Portland Trail Blazers Fantasy Preview
Projected Depth Chart
|PG||Damian Lillard||Gary Payton II|
|SG||Anfernee Simons||Gary Payton II/ Shaedon Sharpe|
|SF||Josh Hart||Nassir Little|
|PF||Jerami Grant||Trendon Watford|
|C||Jusuf Nurkic||Drew Eubanks|
Point Guard (PG)
Despite an injury-riddled season in 2021/22, Damian Lillard remains a top-15 fantasy prospect, now with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. His three-point numbers across the board were down last year, mostly because he was playing through an oblique injury that eventually sidelined him for the season after just 29 games. As always, contingent on good health, expect his three-point percentage to jump back into the high 30s, with over 4 a game.
Dame is undoubtedly going to score in the mid-20s a game, with 7 or so assists, but those thinking his numbers will jump drastically with the departure of CJ McCollum, clearly didn’t watch Anfernee Simons burst on the scene last year. The 23-year-old will likely also have PG eligibility, but I’ll touch on his potential in the SG section.
The backup point guard spot will fall to Gary Payton the II, who is a great pick-up for the oft-inept defensive blazers back-court. From a fantasy perspective, Payton could bring the opportunity of 2+ steals a game if he plays over 20 minutes a night. The former Warrior averaged 1.4 per game last year in just over 17 minutes a night. It would also be a logical progression to see him shoot more threes as he shot nearly 36% last year but only attempted 1.7 a night.
Shooting Guard (SG)
The trade of CJ McCollum mid-season was seen by many in basketball circles as purely a cap-dump situation. But those who follow the Trail Blazers more closely knew Anfernee Simons was waiting in the wings. In a breakout campaign Simons averaged 17 ppg, 4 assists, 3 three-pointers made, and shot over 40% from deep. His season was also shortened to just 57 games, but with the SG spot likely secured the smooth-shooting slam dunk champion should only progress and has the potential to be a steal in the mid-late rounds.
There is no clear-cut choice to back-up Simons, and there will likely be scenarios where Gary Payton II or Josh Hart is on the court in this spot. Payton plays bigger than his 6’3 frame and could be a great defensive counterpart with Dame on the floor. Conversely to the lack of guard depth, the log jam at small forward could shift Hart to guard to allow other forwards to get floor time.
It seems unlikely that anyone other than Simons, Payton, or Hart will start the season with any value as a fantasy basketball quantity. That could of course change as the season progresses.
Small Forward (SF)
In just 13 games with the Trail Blazers last year Josh Hart averaged a career-best 19.9 points per game and had shooting splits of 50%/37%/77%. Mind you, this was with a depleted roster that needed the 5th year man out of Villanova to score. Regardless, if preseason games are any indication, the starting role is his. Hart is a plus defender, likely to average over a steal a game, and if he can continue to score in double digits and be one of the best undersized rebounders in the league he could warrant a late-round pick.
Where this begins to get tricky is predicting who will log the most minutes behind Hart. Nassir Little has the most upside as instant energy off the bench, and substantial rebounding numbers as a waiver wire option. Behind him sit still young journeyman Justise Winslow and second-year man Trendon Watford. Neither have near enough fantasy value to draft, but Watford at 6’9 could give the blazers the size they’re sorely lacking in the front court, He is also a versatile scorer who averaged 16 points a game in his final ten contests.
Power Forward (PF)
The Trail Blazers’ biggest off-season move was acquiring Jerami Grant from the Pistons for pennies on the dollar. The son of Harvey Grant was actually born in Portland while his father plied his trade for the Blazers in the 90s.
Grant gives the blazers a frontcourt scoring punch they have sorely lacked since the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge. the 6’8 stretch four should see many open looks with Lillard and Simons garnering much of the perimeter defensive attention. Look to see Grant’s three-pointers-made the jump back up above two a game on a more offensively adept team, while his 1 block and steal per always make him draft-worthy. Grant should likely go in the mid-rounds but with guards like portland, a bounce-back year in percentages could be on the horizon, as defenses will focus elsewhere.
Jusuf Nurkic is the only player taller than 6’9 on the Blazers roster. So it’s safe to say against some of the larger teams in the league Nurk will have his work cut out for him.
Over his six seasons with the Blazers, Nurkic has averaged 14.8 points and 10 rebounds per game, and his career lows in both while in Portland are 11 points and 9 boards. That is to say, while being a somewhat frustrating fantasy basketball entity, Nurkic has been more consistent than most realize. His biggest issue is staying on the court, where the 7’0 Bosnian has only played 101 games over his last 3 campaigns.
While fantasy managers should take health concerns into account; if you can find a center that averages 15 and 10 with nearly a block and a steal per game in the fifth or sixth round it may very well be worth it.
Drew Eubanks, a Portland-area native will back-up Nurkic and potentially get some time at the 4. His value could come if Nurkic misses time as the blazers are dangerously thin at Center. He is also a high-rate rebounder and could serve as a streaming option to end a fantasy week.
I saved his name for this portion because his role in the rotation is certainly anything but solidified. At 6’6 and wildly athletic Sharpe could give the blazers the size they’re sorely lacking in the back-court. Sharpe is a high flyer, with even higher potential. His three-point shooting needs some work, but his wingspan at lateral quickness should lead to a strong defensive stat output down the line. As the 7th pick in the draft, many analysts believe his upside to be just behind the likes of Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren. I wouldn’t advise wasting a pick, obviously, but absolutely keep this kid on your watch list.
Watford turned some heads last year with his offensive performances down the stretch, in what were mostly meaningless games. That being said, at 6’9 he could give the blazers size and versatility at either forward spot. He is a ferocious rebounder who knows how to score at the rim, if either Hart or Grant misses any time Watford could see his role greatly increase.
It was amazing to see Hart come into his own offensively last year in his limited time in Portland. Unfortunately, that was without any of the current starting five available. While I don’t feel strongly about him as a bust, It seems he often drifts to the periphery with more ball-dominant players are alongside him.
For more great analysis check out all of our 2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Team Previews!