The Portland Trail Blazers have wrapped up their preseason schedule with a 1-3 record, but the results are not as important as the performance and development of the team. The Blazers have a new head coach in Chauncey Billups, who has implemented some changes in the offensive and defensive schemes. The team also has some new additions, such as Deandre Ayton, Jerami Grant, and Scoot Henderson, who are expected to play significant roles this season. Here are three pivotal takeaways from the Blazers’ preseason games.
Ayton and Grant fit well with the Blazers’ core
The Blazers made a big splash in the offseason by acquiring Ayton and Grant, two versatile and talented players who can impact the game on both ends of the floor. Ayton, who was traded from the Phoenix Suns, is a dominant center who can score inside and outside, rebound, defend, and run the floor. Grant, who was signed as a free agent from the Detroit Pistons, is a versatile forward who can play multiple positions, shoot the three, attack the rim, and guard multiple players.
The preseason games showed that Ayton and Grant fit well with the Blazers’ core of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Robert Covington. Ayton averaged 16.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game on 66.7% shooting from the field. He also showed some chemistry with Lillard and McCollum in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. Grant averaged 15.8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from the three-point line. He also showed his versatility by playing both forward positions and guarding different types of players.
The Blazers have a lot of firepower and potential with their new additions, who can complement their star guards and provide more balance and depth to the team.
Henderson is a promising rookie with a lot to learn
The Blazers drafted Henderson with the 14th pick in the 2023 NBA draft, hoping that he can be their point guard of the future. Henderson is a 6-foot-4 athletic guard who can score, pass, and defend at a high level. He skipped college and played in the NBA G League Ignite program, where he averaged 15.3 points, 7.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
Henderson showed some flashes of his potential in the preseason games, but he also showed that he has a lot to learn at the NBA level. He averaged 9 points, 4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game on 37.5% shooting from the field and 25% from the three-point line. He also had some turnovers and fouls that reflected his inexperience and lack of discipline.
Henderson has a lot of talent and upside, but he also needs to work on his decision-making, shooting, and defense. He will likely play behind Lillard and McCollum this season, but he will also have opportunities to learn from them and grow as a player.
The Blazers have improved their defense under Billups
One of the main reasons why the Blazers hired Billups as their new head coach was to improve their defense, which was one of their biggest weaknesses last season. The Blazers ranked 29th in defensive rating last season, allowing 115.3 points per 100 possessions.
Billups has emphasized defense since day one of his tenure, implementing a more aggressive and versatile scheme that involves more switching, trapping, rotating, and communicating. The preseason games showed that the Blazers have improved their defense under Billups, holding their opponents to 105 points per game on 43% shooting from the field and 33% from the three-point line.
The Blazers have also shown more effort and intensity on defense, led by their new additions Ayton and Grant, who are both excellent defenders. The Blazers have also benefited from the return of Jusuf Nurkic, who missed most of last season with a wrist injury. Nurkic is a solid rim protector and rebounder who can anchor the Blazers’ defense.
The Blazers still have room for improvement on defense, especially in terms of consistency and execution. They also need to avoid fouling too much, as they averaged 24 fouls per game in the preseason. However, they have shown some positive signs that they can be a better defensive team this season under Billups.