The Portland Trail Blazers may not have met our standards through its first 66 games of the 2019-20 season, but each individual player put together at least one—if not more—breakthrough performance. This series will go back and examine each player’s best performance of the year, factoring in his stat line but more importantly his contribution to the team’s success.
We start with the three Blazers no longer on the roster: Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere.
Bazemore’s best game came against the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 21. The Blazers won 113-106 as both Carmelo Anthony and Karl-Anthony Towns sat out with injury. In 33 minutes, Bazemore recorded 19 points, two rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks. He shot 7/12 from the field, 2/4 from beyond the arc and 3/3 from the free throw line to finish a team-high +13.
Outside of a 3/5 shooting night against the San Antonio Spurs in November, his 58.3% conversion rate versus Minnesota was his best as a member of the Trail Blazers. As a result, Bazemore collected a season-high 19 points in the contest.
He knocked down a few pull-up midrange jumpers that, on the season, fell at an astonishingly low rate. He also scored in transition, one of his better traits while with Portland, including an and-one on a fast break to extend the team’s small lead with just a few minutes remaining in the game.
On the other end, the guard collected his highest combination of steals and blocks (five) while with Portland. He forced two turnovers between the 5:30 and 3:45 mark in the fourth quarter that led to six points, a three by CJ McCollum and a three by Bazemore himself.
As usual, Bazemore hustled harder than anyone else for loose balls and rebounds. Although such plays occasionally can lead to unnecessary fouls or unforced turnovers, you can’t complain about his energy and effort levels. This game was no different.
Tolliver’s climax in his 33 games with Portland occurred against the Charlotte Hornets on January 13, one of his last games in the red and black. In 21 minutes, Tolliver tallied 16 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and no turnovers. He shot 7/8 from the field, 2/3 from three and missed his only free throw attempt.
All 16 of the veteran’s points came in the fourth quarter; he scored 16 of the team’s 24 in the quarter. It marked his second time reaching double-digit scoring as a Blazer—he recorded 12 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 28. Tolliver also tied his season-high for rebounds with 11; the other 11-rebound game came one game earlier in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
At halftime, the Blazers led by 16 points, but a characteristically tough third quarter allowed the Hornets to only trail by two heading into the final 12 minutes. As Charlotte’s defense focused on stopping McCollum and Damian Lillard, Tolliver kept finding himself open at the top of the arc or directly beneath the basket. His teammates located him each time, leading to wide open opportunities for the forward to knock down.
Tolliver connected on a three-pointer out of a pick and pop with McCollum with 2:11 left in the game to put Portland ahead by three. A layup from Lillard two possessions later iced it.
His performance encouraged Terry Stotts to not sub in Hassan Whiteside down the stretch. Stotts generally sticks to his prescribed rotations, illustrating how much Tolliver impacted the game on the offensive end. His unexpected production energized the bench and subsequently his teammates on the floor with him as they fended off several desperate pushes by the Hornets.
Skal Labissiere only played 33 games before injuring his knee and not long later getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks. None of his performances matched his role in the Game 82 heroics from the 2018-19 season, but Portland’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 21 came close.
In the Blazers loss, Labissiere recorded 22 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal and five blocks in 28 minutes. He shot 10/16 from the field and made two of his four three-point attempts. The stat line marked a season high in points, rebounds and blocks.
Although Portland lost 137-129, he contributed to keeping the game tight despite Lillard and Whiteside sitting out due to injury. Labissiere knocked down two threes in the early goings as each Lopez brother failed to respect his range from the top of the arc.
In the second quarter, Labissiere threw down a monster dunk over Brook Lopez and on the other end blocked Ersan Ilyasova at the rim. His effort and strength on both sides of the ball energized the Blazers and prevented the halftime deficit from escalating beyond reach.
The young big man knocked down three consecutive jumpers to lift Portland’s stagnant offense in the fourth quarter and force a Milwaukee timeout. In response, a barrage of three-pointers by the Bucks role players pushed the lead to out of grasp with a few minutes remaining. For a roster sans Lillard and Whiteside, competing with the best team in the league isn’t too bad. McCollum stepped up in Lillard’s absence, and Labissiere stepped up in Whiteside’s to keep the game closer than anticipated.