42 games down, 40 games to go. It’s crazy to think that another Portland Trail Blazers’ regular season is already halfway complete. By this point of the season pundits begin to figure out what exactly each team brings to the table as the playoff picture starts to develop. With just over three weeks until All-Star Weekend, media outlets are beginning to release their midseason grades.
Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale graded the Blazers the highest of any outlet, giving them a C+. He noted that multiple unforeseen injuries helped the team maintain a passing grade despite regressing from the Western Conference’s elite.
Jusuf Nurkic has yet to play this season. Zach Collins registered only three appearances before dislocating his left shoulder. Rodney Hood is done for the year after suffering a torn left Achilles. Even Skal Labissiere, a pleasantly surprising contributor on the front line, is out for the long haul with an articular cartilage lesion on his left knee.
Carmelo Anthony is starting, averaging almost 32 minutes per game and being leaned on in crunch time after not playing in the NBA for more than a year. Think about that. He’s shooting 39.4 percent from deep, and Portland’s defense has improved with him on the court, but really, truly think about that.
Sports Illustrated’s Rohan Nadkarni delivered a pointed analysis of the Blazers, giving them a less-than-ideal D-, the lowest ranking of any team on his list. Nadkarni wrote that his rankings were relative to preseason expectations while bringing up Neil Olshey’s offseason moves as a key talking-point.
Was the front office right to jettison guys like Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless? How much blame do Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum deserve for not being able to keep this team closer to .500? These are difficult questions to answer. And like the Warriors, Portland may realize some long-term benefits from this seemingly lost season. The difference is the Blazers don’t have years of championship success in their rearview mirror. This was supposed to be the year we found out what Dame and C.J. could do in a more balanced West. Instead, that will likely have to come next season, and the front office will have to prove it can capitalize on the flexibility it will have in the offseason.
Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports gave the Blazers a D+. His analysis focused on injuries, offseason trades and a lack of contributions from the forward rotation.
The problems really started in the offseason, when the Blazers traded Moe Harkless and lost Al-Farouq Aminu in free agency, leaving the team with limited options on the wing — particularly at power forward. Injuries to Zach Collins and Rodney Hood made matters worse, and while the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony has worked out decently, there’s just a lack of contribution from the forward rotation that can’t be overlooked. That being said, Damian Lillard has been outstanding and CJ McCollum has been steady, while Hassan Whiteside is putting up numbers only Hall of Famers have produced before him. It hasn’t been enough, however, as just when it looks like the Blazers are about to get some momentum, they backslide.
Luckily for Trail Blazers fans, the second half of seasons have been kind in recent history. In the 2016-17 season, the Blazers reached the playoffs with a 41-41 record after sitting 11 games under .500 entering March. The following season, Lillard led Portland on a 13-game winning streak in the second half of the season, helping cement the Blazers as the third seed.
The final half of this season will provide the Blazers with another chance to climb out of a significant hole.