Members of the Portland Trail Blazers organization were upfront about their championship expectations before the season began, but as of the first week of March, the Blazers sit 3.5 games out of the eighth playoff spot. Here are 10 numbers that map out Portland’s underwhelming season.
That’s the number of games lost to injury as of February 25 (fourth most in the league). Last year, the Blazers benefitted from staying healthy throughout the regular season. Portland only lost 62 games to injury, which ranked best in the league.
The Blazers entered 2019-20 shorthanded because of Jusuf Nurkic’s expected long recovery time. The team didn’t account for several more frontcourt injuries, including a dislocated shoulder for Zach Collins in just the third contest of the season and a mystery leg ailment for Skal Labissiere that lasted until his trade.
Bad turned to worse when Rodney Hood, one of the team’s few bright spots early on, tore his Achilles in December. Achilles tears take months to recover from, and the player rarely returns to his previous form once healthy.
Damian Lillard, who had been carrying the team on his back since January, suffered a groin strain just minutes before the All-Star break began. He missed six straight games and delayed Portland’s run at the eighth seed.
That’s the number of different starting lineups Terry Stotts has deployed through 63 games. The nagging minor injuries impacting every player on the roster, as well as the dwelling major injuries to Nurkic, Collins and now Lillard, force a new group of five to take the floor seemingly every opening tip.
A lack of chemistry already posed an issue when the Blazers added seven new guys to its roster over the summer. Not giving them a chance to carve out a role or adjust to teammates’ playing styles exacerbates that unfamiliarity.
In an interview with Jason Quick of The Athletic, Mario Hezonja said, “I found [Stotts], and I said, ‘Terry, I don’t know what the **** my role is.’”
That’s Hood’s conversion rate on catch-and-shoot three-pointers before his injury. It ranked first in the league among players trying more than two per game BY A 5% MARGIN. Lillard and CJ McCollum have never been blessed with such a reliable shooter to kick out to in their career.
Kent Bazemore, whom the Blazers traded for to space the floor, assumed Hood’s role as the starting small forward. He knocked down just 36.6% of his catch-and-shoot triples. With Lillard and McCollum consistently creating open opportunities, that percentage needed to be higher.
That’s how many points Lillard averaged over a 19-game span in January and February. He made 49.9% of his field goals and 46.5% of his 11.2 three-point attempts in 37.7 minutes per night. That level of efficiency on such high volume is rare for a single game, let alone 19 straight.
Portland went 11-8 during Lillard’s tear, not necessarily a strong record but significantly better than its 28-35 record on the season. A powerful four-game win streak in the middle, beating the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, provided hope to a fanbase in desperate need of it.
It was the best run of Lillard’s career. The collective eyes of the NBA were on his every shot, especially the ones launched from 35 feet away.
That’s Gary Trent Jr.’s minute increase from his first 30 games to his last 20.
In the first 30 games – plus 13 which he didn’t play – the sophomore averaged 4.2 points in 13.4 minutes. In the last 19, he’s recording 12.9 points on 47.1% shooting in 29.8 minutes per. Several backcourt injuries provided him with an opportunity, and he’s taken advantage by hitting shots at all three levels and playing aggressive defense.
Even with a healthy roster next season (minus Hood), Trent Jr. has secured himself at least 15 minutes of floor time as the team’s sixth man. If he keeps improving, the starting small forward position could be his until Hood comes back.
Whiteside’s league-leading blocks per game average might glamorize the box score, but they don’t necessarily improve the defense. His tunnel-vision on recording highlight swats leaves the opposing big man open at the rim for easy offensive rebounds and finishes.
Of course, the miserable defensive rating isn’t solely Whiteside’s fault. Linking back to aforementioned chemistry problems, the Blazers haven’t rotated appropriately all season and frequently leave shooters wide open on the perimeter. Portland’s guards struggle to fight through screens, and because of the drop coverage, sacrifice too many open shots out of pick and pops as well.
That’s the Blazers’ defensive rebounding percentage, 27th worst in the association. It’s already rare for the team to get a stop, so securing the defensive rebound when that does happen should be the utmost priority.
Whiteside is a pogo-stick rebounder, meaning he relies on out jumping opponents to corral the board. If the ball bounces an unfavorable direction, the lone opponent crashing the offensive glass has a solid chance of beating Whiteside there.
He also gets no help from an undersized roster fielding Carmelo Anthony at the power forward. Overall, the team only records 12.6 box outs per game, second-to-last in the league ahead of the Detroit Pistons.
That’s how many isolation possessions the Blazers record per game. The roster lacks its chemistry from last season and the ball therefore moves around a lot less. Too often with the bench unit, a ball handler will dribble out the entire shot clock and hoist up a contested shot without anyone else touching it.
The front office prioritized adding shooters over the summer to avoid defensive schemes that only defend Lillard and McCollum in the playoffs. But running so many isolations defeats the purpose of dotting the perimeter with capable shooters, especially because defenses still throw the kitchen sink at the backcourt. Outside of Hood, no other Blazers player has commanded significant attention beyond the arc.
That’s how many post ups Anthony attempts per game. That’s fifth in the league, only behind bigger and better post players (Joel Embiid, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson). Anthony’s scoring a measly 0.90 points per possession from the post, which ranks in the 45th percentile league wide.
These early 2000s back-to-the-basket buckets might’ve been Anthony’s bread and butter once upon a time, but they’re not efficient offense anymore. His looks should come primarily from beyond the three-point line — where he’s shooting a respectable 35.9%.
That’s how much money the organization saved by trading Labissiere at the trade deadline. However, the move left Portland $5.9 million above the luxury tax line, meaning Jody Allen is going to shell out a solid chunk of cash this summer, as well as tally the first season toward potential repeater payments in the future.
Labissiere proved to be a solid 10-14 minutes-per-game kind of guy in his time as the backup center. If Portland wants his on-court steadiness and positive locker room presence back for next season, it won’t be as easy now because he’s a restricted free agent.