Much of the news surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers over the last two months has been negative. The rash of injuries to multiple starters, depleting a thin roster, the lackluster performance of new arrivals Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja, the shocking losses to even more battered squads, and the moribund defense.
Regardless of those issues, I wanted to focus on what positives I could unearth as the All-Star break approaches.
Disclaimer: this is not waving the white flag.
The Season Is Not Over: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: the Blazers still have a all-world guard in Damian Lillard. Hassan Whiteside is producing video-game numbers. CJ McCollum is a world-class scoring threat. Carmelo Anthony is outplaying low expectations. Jusuf Nurkic is prepping to get back into the lineup.
Despite how ugly things have been, the Blazers just a game and a half out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. To count out the Blazers entirely at this point would be an exercise in forgetting Lillard’s history of late-season brilliance.
Youth Movement: The injuries to key players has thrust young players into the spotlight. Anfernee Simons has shown the crazy athleticism that made the Blazers select him in the first round. Yes, he has to develop the rest of his game. But all young players face similar hurdles. Plain and simple: you can’t teach athleticism. As of now, his issues at lead guard and on defense are correctable.
Nassir Little’s minutes have dropped off recently. Prior to that, he showed amazing instincts and solid on-ball defense for a rookie. Gary Trent Jr. is showing off his serviceable potential as a role player.
Trade Watch: As multiple outlets have pointed out, the is a strong case for the Blazers to move Whiteside and Kent Bazemore prior to the deadline. Regardless of how well Whiteside has played, his fit is awkward once Nurkic returns. Making a move to bolster the depth at forward is an obvious move for Portland’s front office. Timberwolves small forward Robert Covington is one of the biggest prizes rumored to be on the market. Danilo Gallinari is a nice consolation trophy. Absolute worst case, the Blazers need to stockpile trade capital to be used at a later date.
There is a lot of basketball to be played going forward. With Lillard, the Blazers have a history of overcoming adversity down the stretch.