The holidays are here and so are the awkward conversations that transpire at family gatherings. As fun as impeachment debates are, sports-driven discussions offer common ground between in-laws and siblings. From Trail Blazers fans out of the loop to Rip City faithful about to discuss storylines with non-diehards, Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald has you covered in this year’s guide to holiday conversations.
What’s the Deal with Portland’s Record?
This is a loaded question—mainly due to the Blazers’ preseason mission statement that revolved around a quest for a title. Simply put: injuries and roster construction have hampered Portland’s ability to compete with quality teams. You might want to lean into the injury side of things before wrapping your head in tin foil and going on a full-fledged anti-Olshey rant in front of a group of people that catch a Blazers game twice a year.
Me explaining the Blazers below-500 record to my casual fan relatives who are visiting for the holidays.— Steve Dewald (@SteveDHoops) December 23, 2019
“See, it was actually the events that transpired in the summer of 2016 that got them here—not the injuries.” pic.twitter.com/BpDURB3q3A
Injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood have decimated the Blazers’ frontcourt. Despite those high-profile absences, coach Terry Stotts’ squad has recovered recently when facing a friendlier schedule. The Blazers are 6-4 in their last 10 outings and they enter Monday’s game against the Pelicans on a four-game winning streak.
- The Blazers had to completely re-tool their forward rotation on the fly due to significant in-season injuries to Collins and Hood. Further down the bench, Pau Gasol’s tenure with the team failed to launch due to injury complications.
- Portland’s first 18 games of the season featured a four-game and six-game road trip. On the six-game road trip, the Blazers secured two wins.
- Entering Monday’s game against the Pelicans, the Blazers sit at the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference standings, a single victory behind the Thunder.
When will Nurk Return?
Nurkic hasn’t taken the court since exiting with a gruesome leg injury suffered in a late March matchup against the Nets. The big fella appears to be progressing nicely through his rehabilitation and he has blossomed into a key figure on Portland’s sidelines. During the Blazers’ trip to Denver earlier this month, a video surfaced of Nurkic running stairs. It is a far cry from basketball activities that involve contact, but it is still nice to see Nurkic’s progress.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania confirmed Nurkic’s return target shortly after the video surfaced, establishing a date tied to the NBA All-Star break.
- Due to his presence on the sidelines, Nurkic has remained in the public eye throughout his rehab. At a glance, it is clear that Nurkic has managed his weight well during his absence from the court, a noteworthy item considering his pre-Portland career.
- Outside of Nurkic, Collins could be working towards a late-season return of his own. The former Gonzaga standout suffered a shoulder injury in the Blazers’ third game of the season. Collins’ post-surgery prognosis involved a re-evaluation target set at four months.
- The NBA All-Star Game occurs on Feb. 16.
I Heard Kevin Love is Getting Traded to the Blazers
If you follow the Blazers you are aware of the Kevin Love trade chatter. The veteran forward is on the trade block and it was rumored that Portland tops his list of preferred destinations. Regardless of previous interest, it is unclear if the Blazers are still entertaining the idea of adding Love and his massive contract.
President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has preached patience in regards to this year’s trade market. It is unclear if that sentiment is the actual mission statement or an attempt to appear less desperate in discussions. Love would add a high-profile name to the Blazers’ roster, but his injury history and contract present considerable obstacles.
- Love is under contract through the 2022-23 season. Not including this season, Love is set to earn $91.4 million over that stretch.
- Following news regarding Love’s availability, the Cavaliers received a set of underwhelming trade offers. Cleveland is searching for youth and draft assets, but opposing teams are looking for compensation from the Cavs in order to take on the remaining money on Love’s contract.
- Love has not played in more than 70 regular season games in single campaign since the 2015-16 season.
- The NBA Trade Deadline is Feb. 6.
Whiteside is Amazing
Hassan Whiteside has found his groove with the Blazers in the past few weeks. Finally freed from nagging injuries, Portland’s pivot man is swatting shots at an eye-popping rate. Whiteside enters Monday’s game averaging 2.7 blocks per game, an average that is tied with Anthony Davis for the league lead.
With Whiteside leading the way, the Blazers trail only the Lakers in blocks per game. While that sounds excellent in theory, blocks don’t always translate to wins. Forbes contributor Mike Tokito highlighted the relationship between the two figures:
The Blazers are blocking shots at a record rate. They rank second in the NBA in blocks per game at 6.8, just behind the Lakers, who lead the league at 7.1. Portland’s current average would rank No. 1 over a full season in the franchise’s 50-year history.
Blocks are a celebrated stat in some circles, but some experts consider them an “empty” stat. Indeed, the lone season in which the Blazers led the NBA in team blocks was 2004-05, when they averaged 6.6, but finished with a 27-55 record.
On the other hand, the Blazers’ fifth highest team blocks average came in 1976-77, when they averaged 6.0 on their way to the franchise’s lone championship.
Love him or hate him, Whiteside’s uptick in production has coincided with the Blazers’ return to the postseason picture.
- Lillard has spoken about Whiteside’s focus and effectiveness at a few different points this season. In November, Lillard discussed the difference between impact and stats in regards to Whiteside’s output. Following Saturday’s result, Lillard revisited the topic. He explained that the chasm between a good and bad Whiteside performance plays a crucial role in Portland’s chances in the win column.
- Whiteside is averaging 15.7 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
- Playing in the final year of his contract, Whiteside is set to enter the summer of 2020 as an unrestricted free agent. His salary for the 2019-20 season is approximately $27.1 million.
Melo Looks Good
Carmelo Anthony’s return from NBA exile has been more successful than initially predicted. The 35-year-old hasn’t fully turned back the clock, but he injected the offense with crafty scoring. The Blazers have a winning record with Melo in the starting lineup. A grain of salt does apply to that last point. Melo’s arrival synced up with Portland’s home-friendly schedule.
- Melo is averaging 16 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. From distance, the former Knicks star has produced a 41.7 three-point percentage.
- Melo’s contract is now guaranteed for the remainder of the season. Due to the timing of his signing, the Blazers cannot trade him.