Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic lead the charge for the Portland Trail Blazers on a nightly basis, and will continue to do so as the Blazers face the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. If you’re among the Portland faithful, you might tab Al-Farouq Aminu and his new-found three-point shooting as a hidden key to Portland’s success this year. Writing for NBCSports, Dane Carbaugh argues that the pivot points for Portland actually come farther down the rotation in the form of fifth starter Maurice Harkless and reserve center Ed Davis.
Harkless, who signed a 4-year $40 million deal with the Blazers in 2016, added a much-needed 3-point shooting option that the Blazers were sorely lacking. While the reputation of the team and Stotts’ Flow offense is as a scoring one, the fact is Portland still only finished 11th in 3-point percentage and 19th in shots taken behind the arc. Al-Farouq Aminu, having an up year beyond-the-line after a disastrous 2016-17 campaign, was simply not enough to draw defenders away from Lillard and McCollum. Evan Turner, a non-factor from 3-point range, didn’t help either.
So when Harkless changed his attitude, it changed the offensive makeup of the team. In February and March, Harkless shot 48% and 56% from deep, respectively.
Davis helped cover up for some of the rotational mistakes of the youngster Collins, who showed defensive prowess and skill as a screener, adding range on offense where Davis could not. It was not atypical to see a play in which Collins grabbed an offensive rebound and keenly dished to Napier for a quick 3-pointer before the defense could reset, all while Davis engaged and neutralized an opponent’s best glass cleaner.
Carbaugh talks at length about the Blazers’ 13-game winning streak, illustrating his point with video and links to other stories.
Do you agree that Harkless and Davis make an out-sized difference for the Blazers? How much will they affect the series with the Pelicans? Weigh in below.