Like the weather in [insert region here], the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2018-19 season can be described with the phrase, “If you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it’ll change.” 30-point blowouts to the Utah Jazz give way to thrilling Damian Lillard game-winners against the Golden State Warriors. Just when you think you have the team pinned down, they turn on you.
This is all too typical of Portland in recent years, but it’s not without its charm and mystery. What remains true and sure underneath the mercurial performances?
This weekend we’re going to look at five things the Blazers do well and five more that need work...relative constants in an inconstant season. We start today with the five that are working.
1. Offensive Rebounding
Offensive rebounding continues to be a strength for the Blazers. They rank 9th in the NBA with a 25.3% offensive rebounding percentage, 8th in offensive rebounds per game. Those extra chances matter for a team in the middle of the league in pace and Effective Field Goal percentage.
2. Offense After Halftime
When it comes to second-half points, the Blazers are doing fine. They’re 7th in the league in scoring after halftime with a 55.6 point average. Their defense is betraying them during those same stretches: they rank only 21st in second-half margin, coming in at -0.6, but offensively, at least, they know how to finish.
3. Opponent Foul Shots
The Blazers give up 22.1 free throws per game, good for 12th in the NBA. They allow .244 free throws per field goal attempt, ranking 11th. Those are slim pegs from which to hang a hat until you consider that they ranked 19th in free throws allowed last year and 28th two seasons ago. With the influx of new players, plus lesser-known big men taking more defensive responsibility, plus Jusuf Nurkic, the potential for a foul-plagued season is real. So far, that hasn’t happened.
4, Jusuf Nurkic
Jusuf Nurkic appears to have stabilized in his role. His per-minute scoring remains level from last year, but his rebounds and assists are up while turnovers are down. Both free throw attempts and free throw percentage have skyrocketed. His overall field goal percentage has dropped from .505 to .486, but that’s solely because of increased three-point attempts; his percentage on two-pointers is dead level at .508. His True Shooting Percentage is way up (thanks, free throws!) He’s doing all this using slightly fewer possessions than he did last year. Compared to past performance, there’s little to dislike about Nurkic’s effort this year.
5. Damian Lillard
I’m not sure what there is to say about Damian Lillard that hasn’t been said before, but just in case you were in doubt about his greatness... Last year Lillard earned First-Team All-NBA honors. Compared to that superlative year, Lillard’s stats read as follows:
- Scoring per minute—UP
- Field Goal percentage—UP
- Three-Point percentage—WAY UP
- Rebounding per minute—UP
- Assists per minute are down
- True Shooting Percentage remains basically level.
Not only was the best season of Lillard’s career repeatable, he’s improved upon it slightly so far. Everything the Blazers could have wanted out of Lillard, they’re getting. And more.
Tomorrow: Five Things that Aren’t Working So Well