A long, trying season for the Portland Trail Blazers got a little longer last week, when small forward Evan Turner broke the third metacarpal in his right hand. The injury does not require surgery, but it is set to keep him out of game action for the next month. Turner’s absence means one less facilitator on the court for the Trail Blazers, who are now down yet another gifted passer since trading away center Mason Plumlee. Suffice it to say, the offense may be in for a rough go in the immediate future.
Point guard Damian Lillard, who carries the bulk of the offense initiation burden, not only sees his need to distribute rise, but defensive pressure rise as well.
“Having (Turner) out there allows us to kind of creep behind the defense and not be on the ball and have all eyes on us,” Lillard told Blazer’s Edge, referring to himself and backcourt partner CJ McCollum. “We got to have guys come in ready to step up and fill that void.”
This specifically means guys like Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, and second-year guard Pat Connaughton, who may be called upon in larger roles for the time being. Harkless has already returned to the starting position that was his before Turner took over, while Connaughton is seeing meaningful minutes for the first time this season.
Crabbe has not yet seen a significant change in his station, but has faith in himself and his teammates. Just after Turner went down, Crabbe was looking up.
“Everybody brings a unique skillset to this team and it’s just very unfortunate when you see teammates go out with an injury,” Crabbe sighed, “but it opens the door for more opportunities for the other guys who have to step up in his position or who fills his minutes. We just got to keep it moving on and get as many wins as we can.”
That was before Trail Blazers lost three-straight, in part due to Turner’s absence and eventually Plumlee’s, but the sentiment was no outlier. Forward Al-Farouq Aminu echoed Crabbe’s positivity, finding a lining of gold to Crabbe’s silver.
“You can’t weep at an injury or anything like that. We just got to continue to pull together as a unit and I think that’s going to make us better at the end of the day. I think that’s what injuries literally do; they force you to play undermanned and, therefore, it makes other people more talented, makes other people more confident, and then when you bring the whole of that together, you become better as a team.”
“It’s not something that you wish for,” Aminu added, “trying to get better as a team like that, but I feel like after it does happen you just start looking for the positives and I think that’s one of them.”
Present losing streak notwithstanding, that could very well be. In time. Right now, the team is at a loss. Despite valiant effort, no combination at small forward has been especially beneficial to offensive flow.
The defensive end has not been much better. Turner, a swingman of sorts, had been able to guard three or four positions, making life easier for the guards who need him most. McCollum laments Turner’s absence because he is so versatile, and also simply because he is fun to be around.
“Obviously, (Turner is) a ball handler; a guy who can make plays, run the offense, distribute. Defensively, he’s done a solid job of guarding different matchups. (We miss) the creative freedom that he has. His free will and spirit. He’s a funny guy, he makes jokes, and keeps the locker room loose.”
Now, there is no magic wand to wave that can turn the next man up into the man that was, and it shouldn’t be that way anyway. Players that fill Turner’s minutes are not some crazy-glued piecemeal stand-in; as Crabbe stated, they each have a unique skillset. It is up to Head Coach Terry Stotts to utilize them in ways that give the team its best chance to succeed. He knows this and he knew this going in.
“They’re not going to do what Evan does.” Stotts said. “Evan is Evan. I think it’s important that AC and Moe and Pat and whoever else, takes those minutes and do what they do well.”
The Trail Blazers have the entire All-Star break to exhale and regroup after the commotion of the last week, before playing their next game on Thursday, February 23. That day happens to be the NBA trade deadline, so we do not yet know if the current rotation will have time to settle into a functional groove as constructed. One thing is certain; the team misses Turner.