The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 27 | Lionel Hollins
Games Played with Blazers: 315 Regular Season, 28 Postseason
*PTS: 13.9 | AST: 4.4 | STL: 1.9 | 3PT%: 43.5%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: May 1975, selected 6th overall in the 1975 NBA Draft
Departed Club: February 1980, traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for a first-round pick
Place in History: The L-Train, Lionel Hollins, was the oft-underrated third star on the Portland Trail Blazers’ 1977 NBA Championship team. Drafted sixth overall in the 1975 NBA Draft after an All-American run at Dixie State Junior College and Arizona State University, Hollins was expected to be a scorer. An early-career knee injury robbed him of his trademark athleticism and bit into his career numbers. Nothing was going to keep him from working and contributing on the floor, though.
The first thing to know about Hollins is that he could defend. He didn’t play transactional defense as many guards do, the kind that keeps you in the game long enough to facilitate your scoring agenda. Hollins went at it. If he had to be in your face, he was in your face. If he needed to dive on the floor, he’d do it all night. If you thought you were going to dribble by him, you needed to check your preconceptions at the door. Johnny Davis may have been running like lightning while Herm Gilliam danced in the lane and Dave Twardzik bounced off of people like a mosh pit. Hollins was the bouncer, the grown-up in the room, making sure the opponent wasn’t getting away with anything while everyone else had their fun. He was the perimeter complement to Bill Walton’s shot-blocking and Maurice Lucas’ toughness.
Hollins could score too. He wasn’t the most efficient guard on the team. He vied with Gilliam as the least, actually. But...
A. Shooting percentage is relative. Hollins’ 44.4% career percentage from the field would make Allen Iverson fans drool.
B. Why would Hollins care? If it was a good shot, it was appropriate. He didn’t take many bad ones; he was simply less safe, more volume-oriented that Twardzik or Larry Steele. He wasn’t going to shoot 50% like they did, but he could give you 20 at the drop of a hat.
Hollins would be equally at home pulling up from 18 feet or laying it up on the break. He fit Head Coach Jack Ramsay’s style perfectly that way. He was brilliant at anticipating the play on both ends, a heady player who knew the game. He averaged almost 2 steals a game during his time in Portland. He averaged 5.4 assists too. He made the 1978 NBA All-Star team, giving the Blazers three representatives in the same year. He was first-team All-NBA Defense in 1978, second-team in 1979. Need we go on?
Some of the players on our Top 100 list made it because they were great at a couple things with their flaws disguised by teammates, stats, or era. Hollins belongs here because there were no evident flaws in his game. He was the complete backcourt player.
Look at the video below. A couple days ago, we talked about Brian Grant and how efficient his scoring moves were. Watch the way Hollins moves. Start with the speed with which he runs and his ability to alter it at will. Quickness is one thing, but Hollins’ seemingly-effortless grace stands out just as much as Nicolas Batum’s would thirty years later.
After that, look at how sharply Hollins gets into his scoring moves. Look at him connecting outside with the jumper, then threading inside through traffic.
Finally, notice the consistency. In the air, at the rim, from the perimeter...it’s all the same. You wouldn’t know Hollins was doing anything different physically or mentally—or had the game any less on a string—whether he’s shooting deep or tipping in an offensive rebound. He’s a machine.
Hollins would play for four and a half years in Portland before injuries took their toll and his spot was captured by younger players with more upside. His career would revive in the early 1980’s in Philadelphia. He’d also play in San Diego, Detroit, and Houston before retiring in 1985. He became an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns in 1988 and has coached in some capacity nearly every year since. Most famously, he served as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies between 2008-2013, the years in which “Grit & Grind” were born.
For superb defense, for the scoring and complementary play, for brains and assists like a point guard combined with the hops and jumpers of a shooting guard, for determination and never giving up, and as always, for the title, Lionel Hollins earns the 27th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 List.
Share your thoughts and memories of L-Train below, and stay with us as we continue the countdown to number one!