We all know the story of the 2015 playoffs for the Portland Trail Blazers: the wounded and weary Blazers were thoroughly outclassed and outplayed by the Memphis Grizzlies, and ultimately lost in a gentleman’s sweep. The silver lining in the veritable storm of thunder clouds was the emergence of CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard, but on the other end of the spectrum were two truly ignominious performances by Steve Blake and Arron Afflao. In game 2 Blake recorded no statistics despite playing 9 minutes and in game 5 Afflalo finished with 2 missed shots, a turnover, and no other statistics in 14 minutes.These two performances certainly stand out as the two worst individual efforts by a Blazer all season, but were they among the worst games by a Blazer ever?
Defining "worst game" is subjective and some would argue performances like James Harden’s 13 turnovers last night or this 1-16 shooting effort from Damian Lillard should be frontrunners. However, those games, while truly awful, cannot be considered candidates for "worst ever" as that would overlook the positive contributions of Harden and Lillard, respectively. For example, by continuing to shoot and play within the team’s offense both players drew defensive pressure so that other players could make positive contributions. Harden and Lillard also contributed other positive stats to the box score; 12 assists for Lillard and 5 assists for Harden. In theory, Lillard and Harden could have played as well as a player on the opposing team.
What stands out about Afflalo’s performance when contrasted against a typical "terrible" game is that he made literally no positive statistical contribution (i.e. 0 made shots, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals) while also accumulating negative statistics (i.e. fouls, missed shots, turnovers) while playing significant non-garbage time minutes. Games in which players contribute only negatively to the box score cannot be offset by stellar individual defense as it is nearly impossible for an opposing player to be equally as ineffective. Games like this are the basketball equivalent of an MLB pitcher facing 9 batters and getting 0 outs before being pulled.
So where does Afflalo’s game rank in all time worst Blazer performances? To answer that question I used Basketball Reference's player game finder feature to search for all games by a Blazer in which a player played 8+ minutes and finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks and 0 steals. This assumes that anyone who played at least 8 minutes, or 1/6th of the game, was on the court long enough to significantly affect his team.
There were 52 performances that met those criteria since the 1985-86 season (as far back as complete box scores go on b-ball reference). Then I totaled all the negative stats accumulated by each player to get a raw and unweighted Negative Performance Value (NPV). The leading Blazer was Kevin Duckworth with an NPV of 9 (3 field goal misses + 2 turnovers + 4 fouls = 9) for this playoff loss against San Antonio in 1993. Next were Jerome Kersey, Rick Brunson, and McCollum in a three-way tie with 8. Of the four, only Duckworth’s was in a playoff game. By this metric, Afflalo’s game against Memphis only scored a 3 and was tied for 21st worst since 1985, so Duckworth’s performance is a better candidate for worst game since 1985.
Of course, this raw measure neglects to control for minutes played and Afflalo did play more minutes (14) Kersey, Brunson, and McCollum. To control for this I divided the NPV by minutes played to get a Negative Performance Metric (NPM). The record for highest NPM (highest = more negative stats per minute) were the previously mentioned games from McCollum (NPM = .727), Duckworth (NPM = .692), and Kersey (NPM = .667), as well as an Alvin Williams (NPM= .625) game from 1998. Again, Duckworth’s was the only playoff game so his play against the Spurs is a good candidate for worst performance by a Blazer. By this standard, Afflalo’s game was only the 40th worst for the Blazers since 1985 so these numbers suggest that while Afflalo’s game was bad, it was not even the worst playoff game by a Blazer in the last 30 years.
Steve Blake’s game 2 against Memphis, on the other hand, falls into the unofficial box score category of "trillion," a term invented by current Denver Nuggets announcer Scott Hastings in the 1980s, and popularized by Philadelphia 76ers scorekeeper Harvey Pollack. The term originates from reading the box score of a player who accumulated no statistics in an entire game and thus had a single number followed by 12 zeros. It represents a truly irrelevant performance.
Generally trillions are "achieved" by end of bench players who play for one or two minutes of garbage time (see: Jud Buechler and the 1990s Chicago Bulls) but Blake was playing key minutes in the Memphis game and did literally nothing of significance from a box score perspective. These performances are especially damaging because the time on the court could have been filled by another player and the lack of any statistical presence represents a complete lack of involvement that is certainly overshadowed by an opposing player. Blake was "Mr. Irrelevant" on that night, but was he the most irrelevant Blazer of the last 30 years?
Using Basketball Reference I was able to find six cases of players recording trillions and playing in 8 or more minutes. The "leader" was an unthrilling performance from Will Barton in which he totaled 11 minutes and did nothing followed by Vincent Askew, who collected a trillion in 10 minutes of play. Given that Blake’s performance was a playoff game, Barton’s performance was in a non-playoff season, and Askew’s was in the middle of the season, Blake’s game takes the cake for most irrelevant Blazers game of the last 30 years.
A note on advanced statistics: I elected not to calculate advanced statistics for these games because they become nearly meaningless. For example, since none of these players contributed offensively they all have offensive ratings of 0. Similarly, their PERs would all be impossibly low. Also, in none of the 52 cases did a player shoot a free throw or miss more than four field goals, so weighting the scores by calculating the relative value of a missed shot as opposed to a turnover would have had little effect on the outcome.