The NBA preseason is one week old and although the Blazers have only played two games, there are already several interesting developments to discuss.
Crabbe and Plumlee have added effective counter-moves
Allen Crabbe and Mason Plumlee both ended last season with career high offensive numbers, but the fact that neither player had any effective counter-move was a potential hindrance toward their further development. It's clear that both players were aware of the need to expand their game, as Crabbe and Plumlee have both debuted skills they did not possess last season.
Crabbe has looked quite comfortable putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim which is miles beyond last year's "pump fake, take one dribble, and pass it on the perimeter." With Crabbe gaining a reputation as a knock down shooter from the mid-range and beyond, teams aren't going to give him as much space to get his jumper off this year
Plumlee mentioned working on a mid-range jumper in the offseason, and through two games, has shown a willingness to put it up from 15 feet if left alone. By my unofficial count, he's 1-4 from that range through the first week. Twenty five percent doesn't sound great, but the real benefit of having that shot is that it will make the defense think just for a second before sagging off to defend against the pass when Plumlee has the ball in the high post. Plumlee is an incredibly gifted passer, likely the best passing big man we've seen in Portland since Arvydas Sabonis, but his inability to be an offense threat from this range allowed his man to play a sort of zone while he looked for cutters
Turner is who we thought he was
Evan Turner has taken on the role of 6th man (though rotations haven't officially been set yet), and added a nice wrinkle to Portland's offense. Turner has shown a clear ability to snake into the mid-range area and knock down 18 footers with relative ease. He has also displayed solid defensive and rebounding skills and thrown a couple nice lobs to Plumlee.
Despite emerging as a "jack-of-all-trades" type player, but Turner does have clear weak spots in his game. He can't consistently knock down the open 3, which really hurts in Terry Stotts' offense where open 3-pointers are there for the taking. Turner is an effective playmaker, but he has also shown a tendency to over-dribble while waiting for the offense to develop. It will be interesting to see how the team balances out this attribute without losing the effectiveness of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum handling the ball. Which raises the next point...
Lillard's energy is back
Another long season took a toll on Damian Lillard last year, and by the playoffs it was apparent that fatigue was hampering his effectiveness on the court. But Lillard's energy is back, and he looks lightning quick getting to the rim. Again and again over the preseason Lillard has been able to beat his man off the dribble with no hesitation. Look for more cutting action from Lillard off the ball as well. With Stotts giving the aforementioned Turner more playmaking duties, Lillard has played several small stretches without the ball in his hands. Again, it remains to be seen whether the effectiveness of Dame off the ball will be worth losing the effectiveness of him running the offense, but this is a great way to give defenses a new look at Lillard. I personally guarantee at least three monster Lillard dunks this season after a backdoor baseline cut.
The perimeter defense is improving, but still needs work
Lillard and McCollum are notorious for struggling against the screen and roll, but they have shown signs of improvement during the preseason. McCollum seems to give up on far fewer screens, and Lillard has made a noted effort to go over the pick, instead of under it. This is very difficult to do well, and he still has work to do on angling his body properly to more efficiently stay with his man, but the effort seems to be there.
Shabazz Napier might earn a limited role in the rotation
Do the Blazers have any other second round picks available to trade to the Orlando Magic? Because if they do, they should make a deal. A year after trading a second rounder for Maurice Harkless, Portland sent another one out in exchange for largely ineffective point guard Shabazz Napier. The move made sense; Napier hadn't done much of anything well in his career before the trade, he may have turned a corner with the Blazers. So far in preseason, Napier has looked quite solid, averaging more than 15 points per game and shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, all while doing an adequate job initiating the offense.
These are preseason games, so it's important not to overhype strong performances, but he has looked entirely deserving of spot minutes this season. Of course, playing point guard behind Lillard and McCollum (and possibly Turner) means that the rotation minutes available for Napier may be very limited. But if any of the Blazer guards suffer an injury, it is good to know that an effective replacement is ready and waiting. If you believe that the Blazers will be looking at potential consolidation trades in the future, continued preseason play of this level from Napier will raise his stock from "salary filler" to "decent trade filler for a team to take a chance on."
Noah Vonleh might not be dead yet
Noah Vonleh, where were you last year? After missing the first game while recovering from minor offseason surgery, Vonleh had a nice game against Phoenix. Vonleh's impressive performance was capped by an explosive fourth quarter where he singlehandedly sealed the game for the Blazers. During that run, Vonleh showed a solid baseline turnaround, a hook shot in the lane, and the mid-range jump shot that was talked about but never really seen last season.
Vonleh finished the game with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was his presence that stood out more than anything. He made himself known on the court, which is the exact opposite of his season last year. To be fair, he was matched up with Marquese Chriss, who is not an elite defender by any stretch of the imagination, but headed into a season that very well be make-or-break for Vonleh, it was a promising sign
Readers - what promising preseason trends have you noticed? Let us know in the comments below!