Coming into the 2017-18 NBA Season, the Portland Trail Blazers faced several question. Would they continue their late-season success from last year? Would their rookie draft picks make a difference? What role players would step up into critical roles around their “Big 3” of Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, and CJ McCollum?
25 games into the new campaign, none of those questions have been answered in a way that can be construed as positive by Blazers fans. Despite a significantly improved defense, Portland’s offense has crumbled. Nurkic has gone from “imminent star” to “full of potential” to “using up an awful lot of possessions”. Portland’s role players have ranged from inconsistent to abysmal.
And fans have the right to be worried, because things aren’t going to get any easier for this squad.
While the Blazers currently sit at 13-12, they’ve faced the 4th easiest schedule in the NBA through 25 games. 37 percent of their home dates are in the books. They’re 7-8 at the Moda Center.
Portland has dropped from 11th in offensive efficiency last season to 20th so far this year. Ball movement has stagnated, the playbook has seemed to tighten up, and opponents have succeeded by clamping down on Lillard and McCollum.
None of Portland’s young players—with the exception of Shabazz Napier and a limited Pat Connaughton—has stepped up in any real capacity. Nurkic has put up the raw numbers, but his efficiency has fallen off a cliff. Evan Turner and Moe Harkless have disappeared, Meyers Leonard has shown flashes but been inconsistent. Noah Vonleh and Al-Farouq Aminu have missed time.
Terry Stotts has constantly tweaked his rotations, earning a fair amount of criticism for doing so as the team has lost momentum. The real fear is not a few losses, but that there’s no magical combination that will sustain momentum with the current roster. Stotts can only work with what he’s been given, and at this point the rotation is incomplete. They lack productive wings. Aminu has played well so far, but what happens if he falls back to his historical averages?
Due to the questionable contracts handed out to Turner, Harkless, and Leonard, the chances of a roster-revamping trade without including Lillard or McCollum are slim. When you’re getting a combined 19 points per game from Turner, Harkless, and Leonard at a cost of more than $37 million this season, teams aren’t exactly going to beat a path to your front door.
Stagnating, with no real clear path to improvement and a schedule that goes uphill the rest of the way, the Blazers need someone to pop and start exceeding expectations. Harkless might show the promise of his final 14 games during Portland’s playoff push two years ago, Leonard could rediscover the 50/40/90 form he showed before injuries caught up with him. Turner might become the Swiss Army Knife beloved from his Boston years.
Without someone breaking out in a major way, the Blazers will be too good to tank, not good enough to make any real noise, with the kicker of having overpaid so many of their supporting players that they can’t easily hit the reset button without trading one of their stars.
No one is expecting the Blazers to compete for a championship. At this point they might not be expected to make waves in the Western Conference. This remains a make-or-break season for Portland nonetheless. If they continue to underachieve, Paul Allen is going to have to ask some hard questions about the construct, cost, and ceiling of this roster. Those questions might include how to fix it, or who to blame....harsh verbs during a season when the Blazers were supposed to take the next step, but there we are. If they don’t turn it around soon, Portland’s step will likely be backwards. From the standpoint of confidence and dollars spent, they can’t afford that.
How disappointed are you in the current turn of events? How confident are you that the Blazers will turn it around, and what would a successful turn-around look like at this point? Continue the discussion below.
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