The Portland Trail Blazers have hit the quarter mark of their 2021-22 NBA Season with a 10-10 record. Given expectations of improvement, that’s not terribly encouraging. But not all is dark and gloomy. Several Blazers players have shown bright spots over the first 20 games.
As is our tradition during Thanksgiving weekend, we want to honor those performances with our quarter-season awards. We’re going to run down five categories, offer players who might be considered prominent in each, and invite you to comment on your favorites and the reasoning behind your choice.
This award is always a hard one: Most Disappointing Player. It’s an admission that not everything goes right, also a shot at redemption as the season progresses. Given Portland’s start so far, both are needed.
One name that will come to fans instantly in this category is CJ McCollum. McCollum has taken over the driver’s seat in several games with mixed results. He vacillates between brilliant and ineffective on offense. The Blazers simply can’t absorb the latter right now.
McCollum’s 40.0% three-point shooting is as great as ever, but his 42.8% clip from the field is significantly lower than last year and his scoring is down nearly 4 points per 36 minutes. His defense has been great in 3-4 games, but the Blazers have played 20.
Every team in the league would appreciate a 20-point scorer at shooting guard, but Portland needs that and more right now. CJ just isn’t giving it to them every night.
Frontcourt starter Robert Covington joins McCollum on the disappointing candidacy list. He remains a steady three-point shooter at 38.0%. His defense is still good. The Blazers need great, maybe game- or franchise-changing, not just good. Covington has quietly disappeared, a 3-D player fading into the background of Portland’s new system and expectations. It’s not his fault, precisely. The team is in a time of transition, he only just caught on to their last evolution, and now his contract is expiring. There’s just not enough connection to bring traction. That’s just hard to take when the Blazers lack so much defensively.
As public as McCollum’s and Covington’s woes are, they pale in comparison to those of Damian Lillard. A 30.3% success rate from the three-point arc—his hallmark stat, down from 39.1% a season ago—has practically set off a nationwide inquest to discover what’s wrong with Dame’s game this year. Lillard is scoring 22.0 points, down from 28.8 a season ago. He’s shooting sub-40% from the field. Except for assists, which are up 0.4, his per-minute numbers are down across the board.
Coming into the season, the world was speculating whether Lillard would be happy remaining in Portland. Nobody in the universe was asking whether he’d actually play well here. And yet here we are, facing the incomprehensible. The franchise superstar has, to this point, also turned out to be the most disappointing player on the floor.
Lillard has earned trust and leeway via his near-decade of stellar play in the Rose City. Whether it’s the new ball, reffing, injury, fatigue, coaching system, or all of the above plus a Thanksgiving turkey hangover, his personal talent looms larger than his current circumstances. Odds are by the end of the year Lillard will look as great as ever, or close enough that nobody will notice. So far he’s been a shell of himself and probably wouldn’t qualify for an All-Star nomination were the polling to happen today.
That’s quite a drop, and the main reason Lillard has been the most disappointing player on the roster for the first quarter of the season. Here’s your obligatory asterisk: “Disappointing” for Dame equals 22.0 points, 8.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds every night. Those would be all-franchise averages for just about anybody else who’s ever put on a Portland uniform.
Agree? Disagree? Comment below, and stay tuned for the final award coming soon!