Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers’ breakout player will be…

Portland’s breakout player will be Rodney Hood. Sure, Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins seem most primed for a breakout year because of their new roles on the team. But Hood, who averaged 9.6 points in 24.4 minutes per game last season without knowing the Blazers playbook or his teammates, is finally in an atmosphere he feels comfortable in. He can create his own shot, something Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum haven’t had in a teammate, and should enter the season with more confidence and motivation to let it fly.

It all goes wrong if…

The Blazers frontcourt rotation is slim with Jusuf Nurkic sidelined until at least February, and the temporary starter is Hassan Whiteside. Although he has reportedly embraced Portland’s culture and is buddies with the star backcourt, questions will dwell in the back of everyone’s mind about his desire to compete. If the Whiteside experiment doesn’t work out, Portland is left with Skal Labissiere and Pau Gasol at the center spot. An injury to Whiteside creates the same problem, and he has already tweaked his ankle in practice once.

What we’ll be saying about the Trail Blazers at the end of the season…

By the end of the season, the league will begin to appreciate the Blazers as a Spurs-lite in terms of culture. Neil Olshey acquired several players who underperformed on their previous teams – Whiteside, Hood, Mario Hezonja and Kent Bazemore – but with the help of Lillard’s leadership and Terry Stotts’ coaching, will get the most out of each of them. Every year, rankings place Portland on the edge of playoff picture, and every year they comfortably reach the postseason. This year will be no different, even with the team’s first roster flip since LaMarcus Aldridge left in 2015.

Final prediction

I think the Blazers will marginally hit the over besting the 47.5 line. Last year, the Clippers grabbed the eighth seed with 48 wins, and the West only improved this summer. For Portland to make the postseason and ideally get home court advantage, they need to win more than 47 games. Western Conference matchups will be more difficult, but the Blazers compensated last season by dominating the East and should do so again this season. Plus, Lillard is against the idea of load management, so no games will be giveaways.

Final prediction: 49-33

Nate Mann (@nate_mann13)