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No-Name Players Keep Showing Up Against The Blazers

Salt gets added to losses when lesser-known opponents shine.

Houston Rockets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are experiencing another “meh” start to their NBA season, sitting 10-10 because they’re just not a competent team away from the Moda Center.

While some home performances have been inspiring and hope-inducing, the Blazers have also had some pretty ugly road outings, which have crashed fandom back to Earth.

But what makes these losses hit a little harder is the standout performances from lesser known opponent players — those who’ve been able to either break out of slumps or significantly outdo they’re regular level of production.

Maybe it’s because this team’s offensive and defensive ratings are 2nd and 14th respectively at home and 17th and 29th on the road. Don’t ask me why there’s a such a disparity, I don’t know and, more concerning, neither does the team.

But they need to figure it out, fast.

Below are the 10 biggest individual surprise performances from a players who have risen to the occasion against the Blazers this season.

10. Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings — Road, November 24

Perhaps more an honorable mention than a real candidate, but Bagley’s late fourth-quarter dagger against the Blazers last Wednesday night was crushing.

Before opening night, also against the Blazers, the former Number 2 pick was told he was out of the rotation. He has since played only six games. Now-sacked Head Coach Luke Walton chose Richaun Holmes, Tristan Thompson, Alex Len, and Harrison Barnes ahead of Bagley in the frontcourt.

Bagley’s fortunes took a sharp turn on Wednesday night, playing a major role during the Kings’ second-half resurgence, hitting 10 points, including two of three from three and eight boards in 19 minutes. Probably didn’t hurt that Holmes was a late scratching before the game.

9. Jeff Green, Denver Nuggets — Home, November 23

Jeff Green is the very definition of a journeyman NBA player. The man has played for 10 different teams during the past seven years and 11 over his 14-year career. He’s been particularly needed for the Nuggets in recent weeks to help replace production of Michael Porter, Jr. and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.

While the Blazers beat the undermanned Denver team on Tuesday, Green recorded 24 points, shooting 75 percent from three with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in 35 minutes.

This season, the 35-year-old has averaged 9.2 points, 25 percent (or 0.6 of 2.4) from three, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.4 blocks in 23 minutes.

8. Georges Niang, Philadelphia 76ers — Road, November 1

The Blazers visited Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back, facing a 76ers team without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and, of course, Ben Simmons — a relatively winnable contest.

Unfortunately, for Portland, it wasn’t winnable enough, losing by 10 points to Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Tyrese Maxey, Andre Drummond and Georges Niang.

Niang signed with Philadelphia last offseason following stints with the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers. He is a decent three-point shooting wing, who this season has supplied 11.7 points on 39 percent three point shooting, 2.5 boards, 2.8 assists in 19 minutes off the bench.

Not against Portland though. Instead he reeled off 21 points, on 3-9 shooting from three, with 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 31 minutes. Niang was allowed to do as he pleased and played a major role in the 76ers’ underdog win.

7. Dylan Windler, Cleveland Cavaliers — Road, November 3

Who? We might hear you ask. Windler was taken by the Cavaliers with the 26th pick in 2019, playing a total of 45 games over the past two seasons. This year he’s averaged 3.1 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists in 11.9 minutes. Pretty inconsequential, wouldn’t you say?

Enter the Trail Blazers on November 3 and Windler transforms into a threat, hitting 100 percent from three off the bench, tallying 13 points and 3 assists in 21 minutes.

While Windler wasn’t the Blazers biggest concern that night, it was truly irritating to watch him shoot the lights out in a game Portland should have taken.

6. Nicolas Batum, Los Angeles Clippers — Road, November 9

The man the Blazers tried to lure back to Portland this offseason instead went off against Portland in their second loss to the Clippers this season.

Not only was the Frenchman on fire, hitting 22 points, on 6-8 shooting from long range and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes, he also played decent-enough defense on Damian Lillard, helping Los Angeles to an eight-point win.

Batum has been a great do-it-all addition to the Clippers since arriving in Los Angeles 12 months ago, but not this much, with his 2020-21 season averages tallying 9.8 points on 43 percent three point shooting as well as 5.5 boards in 27 minutes.

5. TJ McConnell, Indiana Pacers — Home, November 5

McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup for Malcolm Brogdon as the Blazers returned a road trip eager to eke out a much-needed win. But it wasn’t easy as they’d hoped with a career reserve point guard causing headaches.

Coach Rick Carlisle’s decision to upgrade McConnell proved smart, with the 6’1 facilitator scoring 19 points, 75 percent from three, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block in 33 minutes.

More than decent numbers from a player who — spending most of his season coming off the bench — has put up averages of 9.0 points, 31 percent from three-point range as well as 3.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.0 steal in 25.3 minutes.

4. Kelly Oubre Jr., Charlotte Hornets — Road, October 31

The other name mentioned in Portland’s offseason advances, Oubre Jr. pretty much doubled his season averages against the Blazers in Charlotte. Portland, keen to kick off a quick east-coast road trip on a positive note, squandered opportunities and allowed the new Hornet to take control.

From season averages of 13.7 points on 36 percent three point shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.8 steals, Oubre Jr. hit 26 points on 55 percent three point shooting, 7rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals off the bench against the Blazers.

Nice little signal to the Portland front office, shouting “I made the right decision’ as the Hornets ended up convincing winners by 12 points.

3. Luke Kennard, Los Angeles Clippers — Road, October 25

In what can be described as the night we choose to forget, Luke Kennard helped bury the Blazers at the Center, formerly known as Staples.

It was truly the Kennard show in the first half of a performance that resulted in 23 points, hitting a ridiculous 86 percent (or six of seven) from three in 24 minutes off the bench.

Yes, Kennard has been asked to take some of the minutes that would have been owned by the injured Kawhi Leonard but he hasn’t reached the 20-point mark again this season. He’s so far averaged 9.9 points, 41 percent (or 2.5 of 5.7) from three, 2.8 boards and 2 assists in 18 minutes.

Must have been his night, I guess. Are we starting to sense a theme here?

2. Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets — Road, November 14

Rookie Nah-Shon “Bones” Hyland looked like Steph Curry for stretches against the Blazers during the game, hitting threes at will and generally giving Portland headaches on the offensive end.

Taken by the Nuggets with the 26th pick just four months ago, 21-year-old Hyland could have been forgiven for not being one of his team’s main offensive threats.

Hyland wasn’t looking for any excuses though, scoring 18 points, on 50 percent (of four of eight) from three in 23 minutes off the bench.

While still impressive, Hyland has delivered considerably lower averages of 7.2 points on 31 percent (or 1.4 of 4.5) from three, 1.6 assists and 0.7 steals in 15.4 minutes this season.

1. Frank Kaminsky III, Phoenix Suns — Road, November 10

The clear standout “no-name” performance was Frank Kaminsky of the Phoenix Suns. You may recall he re-signed with the Suns this offseason as the team’s third-string center.

Against Portland, it was Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky night. He dominated Jusuf Nurkic and Cody Zeller in Deandre Ayton’s injury absence. Once on the court, Kaminsky got to work, recording a career-high 31 points on 40 percent three point shooting, and 12 of 18 from the field to go with seven boards, three assists and one block in 32 minutes.

His next best score this season has been 17 against the lowly New Orleans Pelicans. His season averages sit at 10.6 points, 35 percent (or 0.6 of 1.7) from three, 4 of 7.3 from the field, 3.3 boards, 1.6 assists, 0.4 blocks in 20.1 minutes.

This is a hard-to-grasp performance and might have to go into the unsolvable category, must have been his night.

Conclusion

Reviewing the list, one thing sticks out: there’s no one particular type of player taking advantage of the Blazers. Hyland and McConnell at point guard, Kennard, Oubre Jr, Windler, Batum and Niang at the wings and Kaminsky, Green and Bagley at the big man positions, the Blazers’ defense is clearly vulnerable.

The Blazers need to address this lopsided deficiency or they’re not going to go far in a competitive Western Conference.