The Portland Trailblazers are 40 games into the 22-23' season, coming off a 3 game losing streak, and struggling to kick off the new year. So, it seems like a good time to take a look at what the Blazers are doing in comparison to one of their peers, a Pelicans team that has been near the top for most of the season.
So, what causes one team to struggle, while another succeeds...
Can it be Injuries?
Dame, Nurk, Ant and Grant have missed a combined 25 games this season.
Zion, Ingram, Jonas (0) and CJ have missed a combined 41 games this season.
Minutes causing fatigue?
There are six guys on POR averaging 20 or more minutes a game, and ten if you drop down to 15 minutes.
There are nine guys on NO averaging 20 or more minutes a game, and eleven if you drop down to 15 minutes.
Is it the hustle?
The Blazers are 15th in total rebounds, 25th in steals and 24th in blocks while fouling less (16th in the league).
The Pelicans are 6th in total rebounds, 2nd in steals and 20th in blocks while fouling more (14th in the league).
Note: Only 13 fouls separate the two teams. This is really eye opening when you consider that in just one category (STL), the Pelicans have almost 100 more steals than POR. How is NO able to be far more aggressive in many hustle categories, and negligibly, foul more as a team?
Is it the turnovers?
The teams are only separated by 1 turnover, with POR having 615 to NO's 614. This ranks them between 26th and 23 in the league.
Is it the movement?
POR is 24th in pace, while NO ranks 12th. The Pelicans have 100 more assists than POR, ranking them 10th and 20th, respectively.
Is it how they score?
NO puts up 358 more points on 2's than POR. POR puts up 117 more points on 3's than NO. That is 241 more points that NO puts on the scoreboard any given night. Not to mention that since 2's often lead to more fouls, the Pel's gain an additional 66 points over the Blazers at the stripe. This, making for a grand total of 307 points. 307/40 = 7.675 PPG difference in scoring between the two teams. Talk about a HUGE difference.
Well, to call the Blazers a soft and lazy team kind of stings. But, looking at the numbers, it would seem that the Blazers, in comparison to the Pelicans, are just that. There has been talk of injuries to the Blazers that have limited the impact and cohesion on this iteration of players. Well, the Pelican's have had multiple players injured this year, In fact, more injuries have happened to key members of the team than the Blazers. So, that can't be used as an excuse. To me, that ties in with mentality, and the grind of the game that some teams show and others not so much. A softness if you will. It also seems that the NO coaching staff knows how to better utilize team depth, and not over-extend players. This can be seen in the minutes distribution above.
A big tell in the polarity facing these teams, is in how they get after it (the grind). The Blazers cause less havoc (hustle stats) to teams than the Pelicans, and while the Pelicans are creating far more opportunities because of this, they are doing it at nearly the same cost (fouls) as the Blazers. If I have that right, then the Pelicans pencil out as a more diligent and a higher IQ team than the Blazers. In a sense the Blazers might take their lunch pail to work, but have misplaced their hardhat at home. Whereas, the Pelicans take their lunch pail to work, and grab their hardhats from the locker on their way in to the jobsite.
Looking back, I should have combined movement and turnovers statistics, as they work together. So, let's do it here. The Blazers are a slower paced team, having 100 fewer assists, yet having one turnover more than the Pelicans on the season. What the numbers tell us, is that the Blazers take their time to distribute less, and to turn the ball over more. How do you like them apples? Let's also break down how the Blazers score the ball in comparison to their peer.
How would the Blazers record look if they were to put nearly 8 extra points a game on the scoreboard? Well, it would look a lot like the Pelicans record. But, that is the difference between these two teams. Nearly 8 points. The Pelicans do their damage banging on the inside, and drawing fouls. While the Blazers meander around the 3pt line, hoping Dame or Ant can drop 10 dimes that game to keep them in it.
So, to wrap it up, the Blazers are showing themselves to be a soft, lazy, and one could toss in low IQ team in 2022-23. There are teams out there that have had similar struggles to the Blazers, and still manage to find success. We need look no further than the Pelicans. The Blazers are simply a team that lacks the drive to put up a fight, and the smarts to win it.