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Oklahoma City Thunder Summer Series: Ranking the West’s offseason moves

SB Nation logoSB Nation 8/12/2017 joshua broom
© Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

#14 Portland remained still as conference opponents made bold improvements

As the NBA offseason slows, an offseason where the Oklahoma City Thunder excelled, it is time for NBA circles to assess and appraise summer 17’.

While a rebuilt Thunder preps for stiff Western Conference play beginning this October, the following series will explore how effectively Western GM’s navigated the draft, trades, and free-agency.

Over the coming weeks, WTLC will rank the Western Conference’s offseason pecking order, starting with #15 and finishing with arguably the league’s top low-season navigator.

#14 Portland Trailblazers

Following gripping quarterfinal action vs. 73-win Golden State, during summer 16' Portland ownership spent big in hopes of playoff advancement.

Instead, however, last season the cap-maxed Blazers regressed slightly before nose-diving in a first-round rematch against the championship-bent Warriors.

Hence, this offseason, Portland cut salary by dealing Allen Crabbe and waiving injury-prone Festus Ezeli.

Though, still in the luxury tax, even with budding star Jusuf Nurkic’s return, the above losses —coupled with no signings and a solid-but-unspectacular draft— place these Blazers a bit further behind improved conference foes.

Key Loss: Allen Crabbe

As part of a perimeter-focused Blazers offense, Crabbe stretched opponents with his 44% (#2 NBA) three-point accuracy and 10.7 PPG in reserve minutes.

While a one-dimensional minus defender, nonetheless Crabbe opened space for star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Further, the former second-round pick’s range helped pivot Yusuf Nurkic flourish post-trade and pre-injury.

Yet, facing cap burden, owner Paul Allen’s choice to jettison Crabbe’s remaining three-year, $56.3 M salary is viewed as a positive, although it should stint Portland’s bench production this season.

Now, the onus to fill Crabbe’s offensive void falls on sub-par floor-spacer Evan Turner.

Key Addition: F/C Zach Collins and future cap room

With little competition, rookie Zach Collins becomes Portland’s key addition by default.

Drafted 10th overall, and acquired from Sacramento, Collins flashed encouraging upside in limited collegiate minutes. While this season the 7’0 rookie will play behind traditional-big Nurkic, Portland fans should herald Collins’ addition.

Skilled, rangy, and a modern NBA frontcourt fit, the Gonzaga reserve averaged 23.2 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 4.1 BPG, and 65/47/74 shooting per 40 MPG.

In addition to honed two-way instincts, Collins can also switch the pick defensively, while offering rim protection.

Before suffering an injured quad, Collins blocked two shots per game during three summer league contests. Along with the $60 M saved by team ownership this summer, Collins represents a sound asset for Portland.

X-Factor: Jusuf Nurkic

Stagnant, the 23-31 Trail Blazers dealt veteran center Mason Plumlee (and a first-round draft pick) as a mid-February shakeup for 22-year-old Nurkic.

Afterwards, Portland went 14-6 with “Big Nurk” in tow.

In a new environment, Nurkic shined while averaging 15.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG and netting 50% FGM.

Prior to the 7’0 280-lb bruiser’s season-ending right leg fracture, the Blazers reeled eight wins in nine contests. Nurkic played a massive role in this success, scoring a career-best 33 points vs. his former team just two games before the ill-timed injury.

As both counting and advanced numbers show, Nurkic proved a true game-changer with Portland.

During his 20-game stint, the third-year-pro boosted the Blazers’ lagging defense, while improving the team +11.1 PP100P while on the floor.

Although, facing stronger competition this season, Nurkic’ continued success, and renewed health, is vital for Portland’s chances of a fifth-consecutive post-season appearance.

Portland Trail Blazers 17-18’ Projected Opening Night Starting Linueup:

  • PG: Damian Lillard
  • SG:C.J. McCollum
  • SF: Mo Harkless
  • PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
  • C: Jusuf Nurkic

Conclusion:

Unlike other Western franchises, the Blazers didn’t add immediate impact via the draft or free-agency. Though, not a calamitous summer, Portland’s on-court stock may be lowered a bit next season minus Crabbe.

While the competition soared, that is enough to place the Blazers at #14 on this list.

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