A full third of the way through the 2015-16 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers stand at 11-16. We have seen some predictable struggles and some expected gains, but what have been the biggest surprises for this team thus far? Members of the Blazer’s Edge staff offer their opinions.
Dan Graves (@inKelso)
The biggest surprise for me has to be Mason Plumlee. The guy is a perpetual pogo stick that never seems to tire. And if you watch closely, he never seems to get rattled… or winded. His demeanor is consistent. He is always looking to make an assist.
Is he a rim protector? Not really. Not in the traditional sense. Is he the future prototype of an NBA center? I think he is. Agile, great handles, mobile and constantly looking to either push the ball up court, or get out on the fast break.
Going forward, if he can develop more of an inside presence I think he’s a keeper. Would I have him over, say, a Greg Monroe, or Roy Hibbert? All things considered equal, I’d say yes. Plumlee plays with passion, and the Blazers need that.
Ryan Chase (@Chase_BlazEdge)
Allen Crabbe suddenly going ballistic. Where is the backup forward who averages 3.3 points per game? Who is this overwhelmingly athletic scoring dynamo? When did he arrive? Crabbe has been on an absolute tear in December, and looks to be a force for the rest of the year.
Meyers Leonard falling back to Earth. Good to see CJ McCollum keeping the good feelings going from the playoffs last year, but Leonard has not joined the party. I know various injuries have kept him off the court (and stopped him from getting proper shots off), but outside of a monster 23 point, 7 rebound explosion against Dallas, he has been aggravatingly inconsistent. Even worse, he is shooting 23.1 percent from three for the season. That's Kobe Bryant levels of bad.
Ed Davis being Mr. Good Vibes. He quietly has the second highest PER on the team at 18.7. A solid 7-and-7 player who would be starting if the Blazers weren't trying to get Noah Vonleh some valuable experience. He has been a strong workhorse when on the court, and a solid leader while on the bench.
David MacKay (@DavidMacKayNBA)
Probably the emergence of CJ McCollum. Not that I thought he would be bad or anything, but I remember thinking of him as a player whose success was dependent on the specificity of his use. Like, if forced to defend yourself in a dark alley, you could do so with a stapler if you used it just right, but you would rather have a weapon. McCollum is a weapon. Terry Stotts wields him well, but his proficiency appears to have more to do with talent than convenient fit. He’s just deadly.
Conversely, I have been underwhelmed with Noah Vonleh. For a guy who came with highly touted offensive potential, he rarely factors in on the scoreboard. He averages significantly fewer field goal attempts per game (2.9) than any other rotation player. This is partly due to his role in the starting lineup—where he is the fifth option—compounded with his lack of big minutes, but I still thought he would be more involved. Last night he put up, what, two points in a season-high 26 minutes?
Eric Griffith (@DeeringTornado)
The biggest surprise to me this season has been the passing from Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee. Going into the season we all expected Leonard to space the floor with three-point shooting, and Plumlee to score some points around the rim, but they have added another dimension to Portland’s offense by regularly collecting assists from the perimeter.
Giving Plumlee and Leonard the ball 20-25 feet from the basket opens up the floor for the smaller, quicker players to cut to the basket. The Blazers have capitalized on the open space all year, especially when defenses overplay the three point shot, and it has led to some great assists from the centers. Portland has few players who can create their own shot, so finding innovative ways to get open looks near the basket has been crucial to the team’s success.
Brandon Goldner (@GoldnerPDX)
Mason Plumlee's passing. Averaging 2.6 assists a game for the year doesn't seem like a lot, but not only is it a 3x increase over his first two seasons, he flat-out LOOKS like a big who can pass. He tied a career-high with six dimes the other day, has averaged four per game over the last five contests, and will add a permanent new wrinkle to the Blazers' offense as he continues passing from the high post.
Ryan Rosback (@RyanRules21)
CJ McCollum's consistency. McCollum's scoring prowess has never been in doubt, but whenever you move a guy from the end of the bench to not just the starting lineup, but to a focal point of the team's offensive game plan it would be natural to expect some slippage.
Instead, CJ has been a revelation; he's remarkably maintained his efficiency while upping his usage to one of the highest rates in the association among guards. Not only has he played well, he's done it night-in and night-out, being the only Blazer to score in double-digits in each game he has appeared in so far this season (even including Damian Lillard).
Many (including myself) expected McCollum's first season in a major role to have much more ups and downs - it's a credit to his talent and preparation to have this kind of star-like dependability from the get-go.
My biggest surprise is the number of fourth quarter leads the Blazers have, well, blown. In various, brutal, soul-crushing ways no less.
But in many ways, it's a pleasant surprise. How in the heck is this motley crew of cast-offs finding so many late leads? Going into the season, the Blazers were seen as a pushover, barely one level above the 76ers and Lakers. Instead, they've held their own against various teams across the league. Sure, they couldn't keep up with San Antonio or OKC, but that's the rule more than exception.
It would be really, really nice to see this young Blazers team be capable of closing teams out. And for the most part, they can't. But truly bad teams rarely get themselves into the position to blow games at all. For a team this young, it's simply a pleasant surprise to be so competitive nearly every night.
What has surprised you the most so far?
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