The Trail Blazers have shaken off their woeful performance in the 2018 NBA Playoffs by amassing a 10-4 record to start the year. As we rapidly approach the quarter-mark of the season, we asked members of the Blazer’s Edge staff to share their thoughts on Portland’s hot start.
From lingering questions, to caution optimism, we have a bit of everything in our first Blazer’s Edge Round Table of the regular season.
Steve Dewald: The level of play from Zach Collins and Evan Turner has been encouraging through Portland’s first slate of games, but I’m not completely sold on the overall depth of this team. Nik Stauskas is a feel good story, but I still think the Blazers are going to miss having a playoff-experienced bench contributor when the deep water of the postseason arrives.
Hopefully I am proven wrong, but I remain cautiously optimistic about Portland’s improved bench. That being said, I am grateful that the Blazers’ rotation has been solid — especially with Carmelo Anthony hitting the market.
Adrian Bernecich: After that lackluster performance against the Lakers, there is absolutely no way I’m getting my hopes up. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the lively performances, particularly the bench cohesion.
Injuries and fluctuations in performances from non-Lillard players pose potential problems for the Blazers in the remaining 68 games. Despite a hot start, this team is not yet a machine that can be relied upon every night.
In fact, I probably won’t be convinced of this team’s true potential until the new year, and it is too early to predict how this team will play when spring rolls around.
Doubts aside, I will say that Zach Collins and Jake Layman have been extremely pleasant surprises.
Ryne Buchanan: I’m taking everything that happens during the regular season with a grain of salt. While the improved depth has been huge in the early going, this team, no matter what happens during the first 82 games, will be based solely on what they do (or don’t do) in the postseason.
It’s fine to be excited, the team is looking great! However, we won’t truly learn anything new until playoff time, when the stakes are much higher.
Isaiah De Los Santos: Basketball is a game of runs, and the season echoes that, too. It’s nice to see them start so hot after several slow starts in past seasons, but I fully anticipate the disappointing five-game losing streak that seemingly every team goes through as well at some point this season. The hot start isn’t likely to continue, but Damian Lillard’s MVP-caliber play certainly will.
Danny Marang: A lot of the questions I had coming into this season appear to have some answers. Will the second unit be able to keep the pressure off Dame & CJ? Outside of Jusuf Nurkic, how will the rest of the team rebound? Will the ‘others’ show they can carry more burden on both ends?
14 games into the season, and it looks like the bench is for real. The Blazers are a top rebounding team in the league, and guys not named Damian and CJ have consistently stepped up to carry Portland to victory. I don’t know if I’ve fully bought in yet, but I’m certainly more optimistic than I thought I would be at any point this season.
Brian Freeman: I was still pretty low on this team coming into the season, mainly because of the uninspiring offseason from the front office. Since then, I have developed a new rule of thumb that I call: “Never count a Damian Lillard team out”.
I feel pretty good about it right now. That said, I am still not sold that this team is in the second-tier of elite NBA teams. We know Dame is going to bring it day-in and day-out, and CJ McCollum is usually going to be strong number two scorer, but consistency is a roll of the dice from the rest of the crew. There is not a clear-cut third or fourth option on this team, and that will be a huge factor as the season progresses. Other players step up game-to-game, but if I had to bet money on four guys to have great games — it would be a crapshoot. Anyone can step up and be a game changer, it’s what I love about this team. But not knowing what is going to happen outside of Dame and maybe CJ — makes it hard to be confident. In my opinion, they are still a player away.
Tara Bowen-Biggs: I’m optimistic. That’s more than ‘cautiously optimistic’, but not quite ‘all in’. The things that make me hopeful are that individual players have resolved some of the things I thought were most concerning. These are a few examples: Jusuf Nurkic’s weird tossed-up shots, Evan Turner’s awkward fit, Meyers Leonard’s chronic hesitation that kept him (and his bruising 7-foot frame) off the floor.
Portland can now roll out a lineup anchored by a traditional big or go with a small-ball option. The Blazers’ reliable, at times superb, offense of 2016-17 has returned.
What keeps me from being ‘all in’: I don’t think the Blazers have a player who can’t be stopped. As much as I love what Lillard can do, I don’t think he’s a player who can’t be stopped. He can still be overwhelmed by size and strength. Is it possible a 28 year old can grow six more inches?