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Concern-O-Meter: Trudging Through the Blazers’ Opening Stretch

A look at the most worrying trends that have emerged from the Trail Blazers’ opening run of the 2020-21 regular season.

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Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Trail Blazers have slogged through a forgettable preseason and two regular season matchups to amass a worrying 1-1 record. It is still early in the 2020-21 campaign, but a handful of concerning trends have already emerged. With that in mind, Blazer’s Edge contributors Lindsay Hostetler and Steve Dewald have put together their list of concerns in attempt to sort through what items just need time and what trends are potentially problematic.

Bench Woes

Lindsay: The second unit is of particular concern to me. While it’s nice to have Enes Kanter back to clean the offensive glass, there is a lack of execution from everyone else. The second unit seems to stray the farthest from Coach Stotts’ established playbook of reads and wrinkles, and with Carmelo Anthony coming off of the bench, there is a tendency for too many isos. Melo needs to realize we need him to be a playmaker and a leader from off the bench, not just post up play after play. Without ball movement, the offense stagnates. One bright spot is that Anfernee Simons looked more comfortable on the floor in the second half.

Concern-O-Meter: What is Melo doing?! Is that another post-up?! Where’s the squirt bottle? Bad Melo!

Steve: Both Melo and Kanter have posted at least one negative double-digit +/- outing in the first two games. In the first outing, Kanter looked even more out of place than Jusuf Nurkic in Portland’s new aggressive approach. Like Lindsay mentioned, Kanter is at his best when he is close to the rim and can secure rebounds. His outing against the Jazz represented the exact oppositve of that winning formula.

Unlike Kanter, I’m not sure if Melo has an efficient slot to eventually fit inside of on the second unit. His shot selection has been abhorrent through two games and it appears that he might have lost yet another step on the defensive end. He posted a -16 +/- against the Rockets and connected on just two of his nine field goals for five points. It is early, but banking on considerable improvement from a 36-year-old forward feels like a stretch.

Concern-O-Meter: Raymond Felton at a pastry-filled buffet. A cheat day is fine from time to time, but this trip through the line looks like it could have a lingering impact.

Did I leave my seat warmer on?

Steve: Entering his ninth season as head coach — a run that has included postseason appearances in all but one of those campaigns — Terry Stotts could already be feeling the pressure this season. The decision to bring in former Bulls coach Jim Boylen in for a preseason crash course in defense looks like a complete bust thus far, which could force the Blazers to re-adopt their bend-but-don’t-break scheme. A combination of newly-acquired players and heightened preseason expectations make this year’s early lull feel slightly more desperate.

Outside of those team-wide concerns, Stotts decided to keep Gary Trent Jr. on the bench for the second half of Saturday’s victory over the Rockets. He explained that he decided to shorten his rotation down the stretch. That isn’t an unreasonable explanation until you look at who played over Trent as the under-staffed Rockets pushed the Blazers into overtime.

Concern-O-Meter: Post-curry heartburn. The indigestion might hurt now, but it will pass—it always does.

Lindsay: While Stotts acknowledged after the game that he chose Simons over Gary Trent Jr. due to a matter of there being a shorter preseason to evaluate the rotation, I hope this doesn’t remain the new normal, and as Steve noted, the fact that he didn’t play in overtime is concerning. Frankly, I’d rather see both young guys out there balling out on the court at the same time. I think they have the potential to create what Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have.

The defense finally seemed to come together, as Robert Covington and Derek Jones Jr. showed out. Now, if they can teach their ways to the rest of the team, we’ll be set. I understand they have length that others don’t, but their grit really came through and everything seemed to start to click in the 3rd quarter. I don’t know that I would peg that to any particular change in Stotts’ defensive system at this point in time. Five games isn’t enough time to get a good grasp of defensive changes, but there were definitely flashes against Houston where the team seemed to understand that defense leads to offense. If Stotts wants to consult with Gary Payton next time, that seems like a better choice to me.

Concern-O-Meter: The dust may take a while to settle, but we’ll get there. Let’s just hope the house stays up while rebuilding the defense.

Big Fella Boot Camp

Lindsay: Jusuf Nurkic just seems to do better when there is an audience or if he gets hit in the face. The problem is that so far, he has had no audience, nor has he been hit in the face nearly as often as is required to get his dander up. Add in his late return to the team, and it is clear he is struggling. However, he did have moments where he looked like the Bosnian Beast we know and love, rather than the Bosnian Grimace that makes us all wonder why he didn’t just dunk it. Hopefully, as the season takes shape, Nurk will too.

Concern-O-Meter: Get this guy more coffee. No, really, he probably just needs more coffee.

Steve: I mentioned the need for patience with Nurkic in my preseason preview of the big men on Portland’s roster. For the most part, I’m sticking to that line of thinking. I’m hopeful that returning to a more conservative scheme combines with Zach Collins’ eventual debut to boost Nurkic’s rim-protecting figures. Through two games, the Bosnian Beast has produced just a single block.

Concern-O-Meter: Fenced off construction site. Nothing to see here.