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Little, Labissiere and Trent Jr. are Bright Spots in a Tough Week

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This week in Mom’s Favorite: A trio of young players stood out even as the Trail Blazers struggled on the court.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, Team Mom highlights her favorites plays, players, and other things that made the Trail Blazers fun to watch. Who is Mom’s Favorite this week? What were your favorite things that happened this week? Let us know in the comments below.

Week 3: November 17-23. Houston Rockets (L), New Orleans Pelicans (L), Milwaukee Bucks (L), Cleveland (L)

Mom’s Favorite

Here is the best thing that happened this week:

Nassir Little continues to make the most of the minutes he plays. For a team that has been struggling to rebound, his efforts on the boards are a welcome addition. While he only had one rebound against Milwaukee, he had seven, 11 and six in the other games this week including at least one offensive rebound in each game.

Little has an uncanny ability to get highlight plays when the team needs them. With stone-faced Damian Lillard leading the team, steady-Eddie CJ McCollum and calm-cool-and-collected Skal Labissiere keeping things under control, Little’s explosive energy is welcome on the court. Here are his highlights against the Pelicans.

Honorable Mention

Skal Labissiere I keep using princely terms to describe Skal Labissiere: noble, valiant, courageous. No matter what is happening around him, he is consistent. He communicates well on defense—if it was a stat, I’m sure he would lead the team in pointing. He pays attention to where his feet are while he is in the key. He boxes out reliably (5.5 per 36 minutes) and continues to set the most effective screens (8 screen assists 18.8 screen assists points per 36 min) of anyone on the team.

This week Labissiere shot 68.75% from the field. He had a season-high 22 points and 12 rebounds against Milwaukee. Despite putting up consistently better box-score numbers than Anthony Tolliver, he continues to come off the bench while Hassan Whiteside is out.

I suspect there are two reasons for that: Tolliver has 25 pounds on Labissiere, plus coming off the bench means that he plays alongside Anfernee Simons. Labissiere has played 276 minutes this season, 197 of them alongside Simons. If the Blazers are looking towards the future, playing those two side-by-side makes sense so that they can develop chemistry. Here he is setting a screen for Simons who pops it out to Gary Trent Jr. I’ll take more of this please.

Gary Trent Jr. played in each game this week. He held up well against one of the best starting lineups in the league, scoring 13 against the Bucks (5-7) and stayed out of foul trouble. This hustle play by Trent Jr. lead to a satisfying Tolliver dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Carmelo Anthony can grab a pass even if it is not perfect. I have been struck by Anthony’s professionalism for the short time he’s been on the team, which for me manifests itself in his ability to catch passes even if they are not perfect. If he was less willing to fit into the team, you would think he’d complain more if the passes aren’t perfect, but he’s reached high, low, to the left and to the right to corral passes that were not on the mark.

While his usage rate is higher than I expected (26.1%), with Damian Lillard out for two of the three games he’s played, I suppose that isn’t surprising. To make him feel involved and get used to the flow offense, a veteran would need touches. As expected, his usage rate went down when Lillard returned to the lineup.

My expectations for Anthony are that he capitalizes on catch-and-shoot opportunities but also that he isn’t a ball-stopper. Of course with 16 years in the league he is still going to fall back on old habits that might not always serve him well, like posting up in moments he should be passing out. But so far the Melo experiment is working for me.

Did I say ball movement? The Blazers are averaging 235.7 passes per game this season and 18.7 assists. This week they moved the ball more, averaging 246.5 passes per game and 24 assists. Now, increased ball movement and more assists is nice but that didn’t lead to any wins this week. The next step is to figure out how to make sharing the ball pay off.

Keep your heads up, Blazer fans—it looks like it is going to be a long winter. Was there anything you liked about this week? What plays or player make you excited for the future? Let us know in the comments below.

Xoxo Team Mom | @tcbbiggs