Over the coming weeks, we at FanSided will do a team-by-team breakdown of each NBA franchise’s fantasy prospects for the 2017-18 season. Let’s continue today with the Portland Trail Blazers.
One year after going on a reckless spending spree, the Portland Trail Blazers had no choice but to stand relatively pat this offseason. That makes life easier on fantasy basketball owners, who have a reasonable idea of what to expect from Portland’s top players heading into the 2017-18 campaign.
Uncertainty does exist in the Blazers’ frontcourt, as Jusuf Nurkic was a fantasy revelation upon his arrival in Portland prior to the trade deadline. Was that a small-sample-size fluke or a preview of things to come as he enters a contract year? Would the Blazers have traded up to No. 10 during the 2017 NBA draft to select Zach Collins if they felt comfortable about Nurkic’s future with the franchise? How will fellow first-round pick Caleb Swanigan factor into the frontcourt mix? All of that is an open question heading into training camp.
The backcourt is far easier to process, as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum should once again finish just shy of All-Star berths while pouring in north of 20 points per game. Portland’s decision to salary-dump Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets may open additional minutes for the likes of Evan Turner and Moe Harkless on the wing, too, giving them increased fantasy appeal. With the team touting precious little backcourt depth, that’s where fantasy owners can make their money this year.
Which Trail Blazers players should fantasy owners target with early-, mid- and late-round picks, and who should be left on the waiver wire? Let’s take a look.
Damian Lillard, PG: Lillard is the NBA’s version of Rodney Dangerfield—no matter what he does, he can’t get no respect. Last season, the Weber State product poured in a career-high 27.0 points on 44.4 percent shooting, 5.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 triples in 35.9 minutes to finish as the 17th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues, but he couldn’t find his way into the All-Star Game. While an All-Star berth again appears unlikely this season due to the enormous amount of competition out West, Lillard will remain a fantasy superstar due to his well-rounded output. Grab him without hesitation in the middle of the second round.
CJ McCollum, PG/SG: McCollum’s breakout campaign occurred back in 2015-16, but he proved last season that it was no one-year fluke. With career-best averages of 23.0 points on 48.0 percent shooting, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.3 triples and a league-high 91.2 percent mark from the charity stripe, the Lehigh alum finished as the 26th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. McCollum ranked 54th league-wide following Nurkic’s arrival in Portland, which may raise minor concern about his outlook in 2017-18, but with a full training camp and preseason to integrate the big man, those worries should prove unfounded. Invest confidently in McCollum with a third-round pick.
Jusuf Nurkic, C: After a dismal start to the 2016-17 season with the Denver Nuggets, Nurkic emerged as a fantasy force upon joining the Trail Blazers prior to the trade deadline. Over his 20 games in Portland, the Bosnian Beast went off for 15.2 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in just 29.2 minutes, finishing as the 44th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues during that span. Nurkic suffered a right leg fracture late in the season, which limited him during the playoffs, but Blazers general manager Neil Olshey said he’s expected to be fully healthy heading into training camp, according to beat reporter Casey Holdahl. The big man is going off the board in the mid-fifth round of early ESPN.com drafts, but his high turnover rate (3.1 per game in Portland), injury history and troublingly low floor make him more of a sixth-round target than a rock-solid top-50 pick.
Moe Harkless, SF: In the first season of his four-year, $40 million contract, Harkless hardly set the world on fire, as he averaged just 10.0 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks and 0.9 triples in 28.9 minutes. Though those numbers don’t pop off the screen, his flirtation with the 1-1-1 club and his propensity to protect the ball — he averaged just 1.1 giveaways last year — helped him finish as the 113th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. Even though he has less competition for minutes at the 3 with Crabbe now in Brooklyn, Harkless is going undrafted in typical ESPN.com drafts. Grab him with one of your final few picks and laugh your way to the bank.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF: After putting up career-best numbers in 2015-16, Aminu came back to earth this past year, as he never quite bounced back after an early-season calf injury that sidelined him for nearly a month. In his 61 appearances, the 26-year-old chipped in 8.7 points on a career-worst 39.3 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 triples, 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks in 29.1 minutes to finish as the 125th-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues. The Blazers appear to recognize he’s best suited to play the 4 full time, but with Swanigan, Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis lurking, he’ll have competition for playing time if he falters early in the year. Like Harkless, he’s going undrafted in early ESPN.com leagues, which makes him a low-risk, medium-reward late-round target.
Shabazz Napier, SG
Pat Connaughton, SG
Evan Turner, SG/SF
Jake Layman, PF
Noah Vonleh, PF
Caleb Swanigan, PF
Ed Davis, PF/C
Meyers Leonard, C
Zach Collins, C
Sleeper: Moe Harkless
Bust: Jusuf Nurkic
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