The Portland Trail Blazers are going to be a fascinating team next season, for many reasons. Michael Shapiro, of Sports Illustrated, is particularly keen on the Blazers’ young backcourt duo of Anfernee Simons and Nasir Little, poised to become the x-factors for their team next season.

Neil Olshey has done his best to keep the backcourt duo intact long-term, locking both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to huge, multi-year contracts.

He has even tweaked the supporting cast around the two main stars, as he let perimeter defenders like Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu walk away and instead opted for more scoring punch by resigning Rodney Hood, trading for Kent Bazemore, and adding Mario Henzoja to the mix.

Olshey also found a way to add a capable stand-in replacement for Jusuf Nurkic while the Bosnian is recovering from a devastating leg injury. The Blazers GM engaged in a four-team trade that helped him land enigmatic center Hassan Whiteside, who is entering the final year of his contract worth $27 million.

Promising big man Zach Collins will only improve his productions with a more prominent role in his third season with the team, while Skal Labissierre, Anthony Toliver and Pau Gasol are going to be decent bench players.

But what will make or break the Blazers’ campaign this 2019-20 NBA season is the growth of their young backcourt tandem: Anfernee Simons and Nasir Little.

Shapiro is high on both Simons and Little, believing the two guards are the heir apparent to the Blazers’ current backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum.

“Expectations continue to rise for 2018 first-rounder Anfernee Simons, and UNC product Nassir Little could provide legitimate production as a rookie. Portland appears conscious of the roster limitations outside of its backcourt.

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Simons and Little should help form the new era, but expecting quality results in 2019-20 could be a stretch barring a massive leap from Simons,” Shapiro stated in his Sports Illustrated article.

The backcourt of the future

Expectations have always been high for Simons ever since he was taken 24th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The IMG Academy saw limited playing time, throughout the season, behind Lillard and second-tier guard Seth Curry but showed flashes of his potential in the Blazers’ final regular-season game after dropping 37 points, 6 rebounds, and 9 assists against the Sacramento Kings.

On the other hand, Little came out of high school as a blue-chip prospect, ranked as high as No.2 overall by several scouting platforms.

He didn’t live up to expectation in North Carolina as he only averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game. However, he claimed that his offensive struggles in college were largely due to the inability of UNC’s coaching staff to utilize him well on the court. The disappointing freshman season at North Carolina proved to be a blessing disguise for Little as he ended up with the Blazers at No.25 overall in 2019 NBA Draft. There, he will have a shot at getting significant playing time behind McCollum at shooting guard position.

Old guards and young guns

Unlike Lillard and McCollum, who both stand at 6-foot-3, the 6'4" Simons and 6'6" Little are ideal in their respective positions. The younger guards possess amazing physical tools and incredibly high-ceiling on defense – qualities any championship-caliber team would want from their starting backcourt in today’s NBA.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts must find consistent playing time for Simons and Little, this season, because relying too much on Lillard and McCollum has proven to be detrimental for the team, especially in the postseason.

He needs to achieve a perfect balance that would enable his old guards to do their jobs while preparing young guns for big moments.

Because only with internal growth, and not simply blockbuster trade, will the Blazers become a real threat for anybody in the league. The development of Simons and Little in the next two to three years will be critical for Portland as they are closing in on the elusive NBA championship

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