The 2014-15 season is 20 games old for the Portland Trail Blazers now. As we pass the quarter pole we're asking your opinion on the most surprising development for the Blazers so far this season. Listed below are a number of options. Walk with us through them and vote on your most surprising development in the poll and comment section.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge's MVP-level play.
22 points and 10 rebounds per game with a 22.5 PER isn't that surprising from Aldridge. Though edging towards career-high territory, he's posted similar numbers for entire seasons. Watching Portland's games, however, you can't help notice how often the Blazers rely on Aldridge when they need critical buckets and how often he comes through for them. Nor can you miss how seamless and confident his offense has become. There may be better players in the league right now, but there aren't many. If LaMarcus keeps this up all year it'll be a major achievement and qualify him for MVP consideration.
2. Wesley Matthews explosions.
Acknowledging Damian Lillard as the second-best player and second-highest scorer in Portland won't budge the needle on the surprise-o-meter a bit. We knew that coming into the season. What we didn't expect was Wesley Matthews edging towards Lillard territory. The two are still distinct statistically but Matthews is making his mark. He's no longer that quiet guy defending and waiting for the angle three. Like Lillard, he's taking important shots, turning around his team's fortunes. Matthews is registering career highs in scoring, per-minute scoring, true shooting percentage, and PER. The noise coming from shooting guard is both loud and a new-ish development.
3. Chris Kaman playing Superman off the bench.
It's one thing to see Kaman's numbers in alignment with his production last year...a lost-Lakers season nobody noticed from him. It's another altogether to see him buoying the impoverished Blazers bench to out-sized effect. 10 points and 7 rebounds in 19 minutes doesn't seem like much, but that's more than Mo Williams scored in 25 minutes per game last year and enough to equal any two non-Mo bench players from 2013-14. More to the point, last year Blazer fans held their collective breaths every time the inevitable Robin Lopez substitution came. So far this year it's all, "Hi, Chris! Have fun out there!" That's a dramatic change.
4. The emergence of Allen Crabbe
Before the season started the vote for "Young Bench Guard Most Likely to Emerge" was split pretty evenly between Will Barton and CJ McCollum with 0.0001% of the leftover ballots going to Allen Crabbe. When Nicolas Batum went down with a November injury, Crabbe got the starting call over his peers and veteran forwards alike. After Blazers fans checked their media guides to see if M. Night Shyamalan had been named head coach, they settled in to watch Crabbe play relatively decent basketball. His 42% shooting percentage and 37% clip from beyond the arc are acceptable...darn good when you consider his cumulative playing time. He cans threes and finishes on the break with authority. His defense is ahead of McCollum and Barton both. Few non-University of California folks would have predicted this development before the season started.
5. The utter disappearance of Thomas Robinson
Portland is replete with untried frontcourt players. None stir the emotion and flaming hope that Thomas Robinson does. His game remains unpolished but his athleticism is off the charts, his draft position continues to tantalize, and he occasionally makes plays worthy of a 5th and 6th rewind. Despite those attributes, Robinson has tallied a total of 64 minutes all season. What more needs to be said?
6. Portland's defensive improvement.
Early season stats require liberal doses of salt before they can be swallowed. Defensive statistics are more problematic than any other flavor. Once you peek between the fingers of those caveats, you'll see that the Blazers are posting the 6th best defensive efficiency in the league this year, 6th best shooting percentage allowed, 3rd best three-point percentage allowed, and 6th best point-per-game total allowed. For a team that got knocked for their defense in 2013-14, particularly during the early part of the season, those are big-time numbers.
7. The Record
The Trail Blazers started incredibly (and improbably) hot last year, posting a 17-3 record at the 20-game mark. Before the season we speculated that they'd have a hard time doing that again. We were right. They didn't do it. They only made it to 16-4. That's worthy of the smallest sad trombone ever. It's party time in Portland...again.
Technically something duplicated in consecutive seasons shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but that record is gaudy enough to hang on your Christmas tree. And that's when it happens once. Doing it twice might merit a lighted display worthy of a Peacock Lane lawn.
If we haven't hit your hot-button surprise yet, go ahead and share it in the comment section. You might find fellow readers agreeing with you!
Feel free to debate and discuss all of the above as you come to your conclusions. The one thing that we all can agree on? To the extent the Blazers are giving us surprises, they're sure happy ones.
Since it's the season of giving, don't forget to help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see Portland's March 30th game against the Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge