As we get ready to flip the calendar over to 2017, let’s take a look at the Trail Blazers and evaluate how things are going.
(Yes, I’m fully aware of how that sounds, considering the team is currently mired in a 1-9 slump, missing its leader and best player in Damian Lillard to injury, and hasn’t exactly played to the lofty expectations that were declared before the season.)
This isn’t so much the good, the bad, and the ugly as much as it’s saying, “Hmmm, this is interesting,” while staying away from team defense, and whether or not Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum should (or could) be traded.
Do We Need to Adjust Expectations for Allen Crabbe?
At the risk of dropping a hot take, it’s probably safe to say Allen Crabbe is having a tough year. In reality, he’s not exceeding any expectations, but he’s not exactly bottoming out either. That in itself, however, is the conundrum; after receiving his big pay day this past offseason, expectations for Crabbe were lifted.
This current iteration of the NBA is littered with different archetypes of players. Crabbe is looked at and assumed to be in the mold of the “3 & D,” meaning he knocks down threes and plays plus defense. On one front he’s getting that done, shooting over 41 percent from distance on the season. Currently there are 9 total players in the league who come off the bench shooting more than 3.5 threes per game and at a clip at or better than 40 percent. That’s pretty decent company.
Things aren’t nearly as rosy for Crabbe on the “D” side of things, though.
If you were to look at the defensive box plus/minus scores, and take those a step further to “points saved,” Crabbe rates as one of the worst in the league, per NBAMath.com. You’ll undoubtedly notice that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are right at the top as well, showing this stat can be dependent and skewed towards the team’s defensive performance. The thing is, Crabbe has never been a defender in the mold of Wes Matthews or Nic Batum. Last year Crabbe was in the 49th percentile guarding the pick and roll, 41st percentile in isolation, and the 14th percentile off screens.
While he did get a major uptick in compensation this offseason, perhaps it’s better to appreciate what Crabbe can do right now. He has demonstrated that he’s a knockdown shooter from essentially everywhere on the floor. He’s struggled with some hesitancy of late, but this is still only his fourth season. He’s already played more minutes this year than his first two years in the league combined, and Crabbe has shown in stretches that he can be more than a competent defender.
Still, defense is arguably the toughest thing to not only learn in the NBA, but also to execute on a nightly basis. It may be time to let him go through some growing pains in his newfound role, and instead of expecting an immediate jump that mimics his salary, one that has a more steady growth curve is probably more realistic.
Will We See More From Evan Turner?
Last week Dane Carbaugh put together a video discussing Turner’s growth, or lack thereof, within the Blazers’ offense. Now, while I agree with most of Dane’s assessment, it does discount the atrocious start that Turner got off to. If you assess Turner’s play over the last month— averages of 10 points, four assists, and four rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field—he’s relatively solid for a sixth or seventh man. How much room does Turner have to grow though? That stat line is essentially what he gave the Boston Celtics last year.
But we’re not looking solely at raw production here with Turner, as much as fit and function. Terry Stotts has always gotten the most out of his players by putting them in the best positions to succeed. With that, something tells me Stotts will begin moving Turner around to optimize his abilities and complement his teammates. Statistical production will probably hover around that 10/5/5 line for the remainder of the season, but the efficiency and effectiveness should incrementally rise.
As the season progresses, Turner will feel more and more like a part of this team as opposed to trying to fit into the team. The start was certainly rough, like sandpaper-on-your-skin, nails-on-a-chalkboard, pulp-mill-smelling-rough, but in the end Turner is still the only other guy besides Lillard and McCollum who can be trusted with triggering and setting the offense for the Blazers. So for the team’s sake, I’m betting we’ll see more and more from him as the season progresses.
Has Mason Plumlee Turned the Corner Defensively?
Mason Plumlee has certainly absorbed the brunt of fans’ criticism for long stretches, particularly as it pertains to the Blazer’s defense. However, recently Plumlee has shown that he can hold his own in the paint against NBA bigs on a near-nightly basis (I say “near-nightly” because DeMarcus Cousins just dropped a fifty-burger and it was mostly on Plumlee). However, there were stretches last season where Mason looked outmatched by nearly everyone in the league who was physically bigger than him, whether by height, length, and/or weight.
There was a road trip last season where Steven Adams, Jahlil Okafor, and Nikola Vucevic absolutely dominated both ends of the floor inside. Plumlee was at a loss for answers, and it looked like that would just be something the Blazers would have to deal with. This season, however, he’s shown that he can dish it out as well as he can take it. In the loss to the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas got off to a 4-for-5 start from the field, but finished 5-for-13. After getting knocked off the block a few times, Plumlee started bumping back and forced Valanciunas into awkward and off-balance shots for three quarters; that’s just something we didn’t see from the young man last year.
Early on this season, Plumlee was struggling to rebound consistently. Maybe the scheme was different, maybe the ball just wasn’t bouncing his way, but the bottom line was he was getting beat nightly. In the first month of the season his rebound rate was slightly above 14 percent. Since then, he’s at nearly 17 percent while upping his defensive rebound rate by more than 5 percent. Whatever was going on there seems to be rectified, at least for the time being.
Plumlee has also shown, albeit in a limited role, how effective he can be in trapping opposing guards in the pick-and-roll. Using Plumlee’s natural athleticism to help and recover, forcing opposing offenses off balance is something we’ve all hoped to see. However, it’s not just Plumlee involved here, as all five players have to be on the same page and communicating fast. Plumlee may not be a towering presence in the paint, but his size can be suffocating on the perimeter when boxing in a 6-foot tall guard. Denying passing lanes and forcing the offense to reset, Plumlee is able to recover and essentially turn into the weak-side shot blocker, which again plays to his natural strengths.
If Plumlee can maintain or even increase his rebound rate while playing the kind of attacking, trapping, blitzing defense that we saw from him against Toronto, Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey may be fielding more calls than anticipated at the trade deadline.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!