BDL's 2017-18 Season Previews: Portland Trail Blazers, riding the Bosnian Beast

The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent AllStars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.

Jusuf Nurkic should be at the center of any conversation about the Trail Blazers this season. (AP)

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2016-17 finish: 41-41, lost in the first round
Offensive rating: 107.8 (11th)
Defensive rating: 107.8 (21st)

Additions: Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Anthony Morrow
Subtractions: Allen Crabbe, Festus Ezeli, Tim Quarterman

Did the summer help at all?

That remains to be seen. Crabbe was a useful player for the Blazers, ranking as the league’s second-most efficient 3-point shooter last season and rounding out a guard rotation that was dominated by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. His trade to the Brooklyn Nets was nothing more than a cost-cutting move, which doesn’t make the departure of a rotational contributor any easier to swallow.

But Portland was also a net negative with Crabbe on the floor last season and outscored opponents without him, a 6.4 points-per-100-possessions swing that’s difficult to ignore. At his best, Morrow — another defensively challenged sharpshooter — isn’t much of a drop-off from Crabbe, but the 32-year-old also hasn’t been at his best in years and barely shot 30 percent between two NBA stops in 2016-17.

Backcourt depth is lacking, unless camp invitees Archie Goodwin or Isaiah Briscoe figure into the mix, so expect to see dialed-up minutes for Lillard and McCollum and more backup point guard for Evan Turner — a role he serves well. All of which is to say the Blazers may not miss Crabbe all that much.

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The additions of Collins and Swanigan may make more of an impact. Collins seems redundant on a team that also features Meyers Leonard and Jake Layman, but his ceiling as a modern NBA big far exceeds both. Swanigan — a wider body with an equally intriguing offensive skillset — was considered a steal late in the first round, and he provided evidence in an impressive summer league stint. Blazers GM Neil Olshey said both will have to earn their minutes, but he remains hopeful each can contribute.

The biggest bonanza of Portland’s summer may be having Jusuf Nurkic in town for a summer. Every player enters camp in the best shape of his life, at least that’s what they tell us, but the Bosnian Beast really did arrive looking noticeably slimmer and more committed — 34 pounds lighter, by his count.

That’s the mark of a man entering a contract year, and Nurkic has plenty to gain financially. He was a monster after joining the Blazers in February, averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds with 3.2 assists and 3.2 combined blocks and steals while leading Portland to a 14-5 record in 19 starts. His rim-running on one end and rim-protection on the other were exactly what the Blazers were lacking.

Few players made more of an impact on their team’s success in that span, but a fractured leg essentially cost Nurkic the playoffs. If he can replicate what he did in a few short weeks over a full season, playing more minutes with a slimmed-down frame, the Blazers could be a force, and Nurkic will have made himself a boatload of money. And Portland may have to do some more cost-cutting.

Damian Lillard is a certified superhero. (AP)

Best-case scenario: Lillard and McCollum average their 50 points per game. Nurkic cleans up their misses on offense and messes on defense. Al-Farouq Aminu, who missed significant time last season and whose defensive presence also made a real difference, sees an increased role. Turner, Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis round into a net-positive bench rotation. Collins and Swanigan look like future studs. And the Blazers are who they were for the final quarter of last season — a real threat out West.

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If everything falls apart: Lillard and McCollum are sieves on defense. Nurkic is less the game-changer he was for six weeks after the trade and more the guy we saw on the Denver Nuggets, and signing him to an extension becomes a question mark. The Turner, Leonard and Moe Harkless contracts (combined $41 million in 2019-20) are a real burden. The improved Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves bump the Blazers from the playoffs. Collins and Swanigan don’t look like they’ll help matters much in the future. And the Blazers are locked into what becomes a lottery team for years to come.

Best guess at a record: 44-38

Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlanta HawksBoston CelticsBrooklyn NetsCharlotte HornetsChicago BullsCleveland CavaliersDetroit PistonsIndiana PacersMiami HeatMilwaukee BucksNew York KnicksOrlando MagicPhiladelphia 76ersToronto RaptorsWashington Wizards

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Dallas MavericksDenver NuggetsGolden State WarriorsHouston RocketsLos Angeles ClippersLos Angeles LakersMemphis GrizzliesMinnesota TimberwolvesNew Orleans PelicansOklahoma City ThunderPhoenix SunsPortland Trail BlazersSacramento KingsSan Antonio SpursUtah Jazz

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!