2023-24 NBA Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Published October 24, 2023, 11:00 AMPolo Bustamante

With Damian Lillard gone, a new era begins in Portland.

The NBA Season is back! Just like your favorite superhero story, the NBA brings fun, entertainment, and a lot of uncanny subplots to unpack. That’s why NBA.com Philippines decided to preview the new season comic-book style. We pick out fantastic characters that will take the stage and new amazing arcs to watch out for. Bang! Pow! Boom! Let’s go!

What’s their superpower?

Coming into last season, the key to beating the Portland Trail Blazers was to lock up Damian Lillard. Now, that’s easier said than done. But teams that did manage to limit Lillard took away a huge chunk of Portland’s production.

Now that Lillard is in Milwaukee, the Blazers become one of the most mysterious and unpredictable teams coming into the new season. 

Sure Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant are still on the team. Both of those holdovers averaged 20 points last season. Without Lillard dominating possessions though, who knows what kind of untapped potential these two relatively young players can show? Then of course there’s their young core of Shaedon Sharpe, Scoot Henderson, and newly acquired Deandre Ayton. These three will be allowed to fully stretch their wings on a lottery team with low expectations. 

Their coach Chauncey Billups also came from the 2004 Detroit Pistons, a team that was known for having no dominant star. That means Billups won’t be afraid to spread the wealth across his entire roster so that everyone gets to eat.

What’s their kryptonite?

There is of course a drawback to losing the franchise cornerstone. Usually, when that happens a franchise crumbles and they’re meant to be rebuilt. That may not seem like a bad thing in the long run, but purely for next season, expect a lot of losing in Portland.

They were already one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season. That trend will most likely continue, especially on a team with so many young, undeveloped players. Offensively, they’re going to have to find a new identity. For so long, the Blazers relied on Lillard’s brilliance. Without their superstar to lean on, they will look lost and will struggle to create their offense until they finally figure out their new roles on the team.

Losing sucks, but for a team that’s starting from the ground up like the Blazers, every L is a W.

Who is their biggest hero?

The obvious answer here is either Simons or Grant. But by the end of next season, or maybe next month, the most popular player on the team might be Henderson. He’s just an electric player with a confidence bigger than his frame. 

Remember how young Russell Westbrook forced you to watch everything that he did? On a team with a superstar like Kevin Durant, Westbrook managed to stand out and very quickly become a beloved member of the team.

That’s Henderson. He’s explosive, exciting, and endearing. The best part is he doesn’t have anyone like Durant to take away from all the amazing things he’ll be doing next season.

Who is their biggest villain?

The Blazers hesitated to pull the trigger on several trade offers because they were looking for a young player to be tacked on to the deal. The player that finally pushed the trade to completion was Ayton.

The former number one pick is one of the best young big men in the league. On a team with Durant, Devin Booker, and Chris Paul, Ayton managed to carve out a role as the interior anchor and average 18 points and 10 rebounds. Unfortunately, he wasn’t happy with his dwindling role in Phoenix. To make matters worse, he didn’t hide it.

Ayton now has a fresh start in Portland. He has a chance to prove to everyone that he belongs in the same conversation as Luka Doncic and Trae Young, the two best players from his draft class. He can’t waste this opportunity by pouting and complaining when things don’t go his way. 

How does their story play out?

The goal is simple. Be one of the worst teams in the NBA to improve their chances of getting a better pick in 2024. That way, they can not only keep the lottery-protected pick, which they traded away back in 2021. 

Beyond just keeping the pick, the Blazers need a new franchise cornerstone. The draft is the best way to get a player of that caliber. So right now, there’s still no trendy hashtag or clear cut number one pick in 2024. That doesn’t matter, Portland will be tanking for someone they hope can be the next Damian Lillard.