Time for another edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag! If you have questions related to the Portland Trail Blazers send them to email@example.com and we'll try to answer them.
We're far enough through the season now to say the Blazers are a good team, don't you think? How do you feel about the progress so far? Way more than you hoped right? Have your predictions for the future changed after the first two months of the season?
I'm not the type to live and die by predictions. Everybody has some idea how the team will do but watching the action transpire is far more important than trying to foresee it.
With a .405 winning percentage as we speak, the Blazers are on target for 33-34 wins. My stunningly bold prediction last summer was that the team's win total would start with a 3. I wouldn't be surprised to see them exceed 33 by a couple games. Approaching .500 would surprise me. How "good" that makes them is up to the beholder.
Let's start with the true good stuff. As we discussed in the last Mailbag installment, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been out of this world. After years of even shot distribution across the rotation, seeing a pair of players dominate scoring takes some adjustment. Both guards are making good, though, and it's everything Blazers fans could have hoped. Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, and Ed Davis have contributed well. Noah Vonleh has earned a rotation spot and continues to improve. The Blazers play with heart, a defined style, and don't play garbage games like so many other young teams. For a roster this inexperienced, they've done remarkably well.
None of that makes them a good team by NBA standards, however.
When I was a young lad honing my basketball skills on the mean blacktop of the Western Baptist Seminary on Mt. Tabor, one of the neighbors, a high school guy, used to stop by to play one-on-one. I developed a precocious offensive game and he would always compliment me for how well I scored on him despite our age difference. He'd say, "I'm even defending you pretty hard!" Eager to test myself, I asked him one day to defend me as hard as he could. He obliged. It turned out that under full defensive pressure, my game wasn't as good as I thought. I asked him to go back to defending me pretty hard instead. It was more fun that way
That's pretty much where the Trail Blazers are right now. They're precocious, faring well...for Portland. In absolute terms? They're not that good.
I suspect most people understand this. It's easy to conflate the two types of good, though. You think, "They've played remarkably for such a young team especially considering all the road games in December. And look, they're in 10th place in the West, only two spots out of the playoffs." After that building a bridge between good and bad is as easy as removing the qualifiers from the statement, leaving only, "They've played remarkably."
If all Varsity players everywhere had only defended me "pretty hard" I could have dominated high school leagues as a 5th grader.
And, by the way, if adding 4-5 years of experience onto "precocious" automatically granted equivalent excellence at the next level I would have been an All-World scorer. It didn't end up that way, nor is it guaranteed to for the Blazers. Most up-and-coming teams end up back where they started without having made a splash as significant as their early play promised.
To answer your questions in order, then: No, the Blazers aren't a good team...at least not yet. I'm happy with their play so far. They're about in the range I expected. My predictions and hopes haven't changed since summer. That process will take multiple seasons of growth, not multiple months. Also remember that however you qualify a matter--and let's face it, people will always find reasons to make the home team's performance look better than it is--what you're qualifying (40% win rate) is closer to reality than the qualifiers used to sell it.
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