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Grading the Trail Blazers’ Points of Emphasis: Ball Handling

Portland doesn’t take care of the ball or convert well. That’s trouble.

Portland Trail Blazers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a somewhat-expected, but still semi-disappointing, 3-8 start to their 2023-24 NBA season. Everyone knew Portland was entering a rebuilding phase after they traded Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks over the summer. Watching the fallout is still painful.

Today we’re going to look beyond the reality that the Blazers are losing, exploring some of the reasons why and how. We’re going to use their own blueprint as the canvas.

Before the season started, the Blazers underlined several points of emphasis, aspects of the game on which they’d hang their season. Let’s see how they’re doing so far in the areas they identify as critical.

Earlier today we published a piece on Portland’s overall defense and one on their point-of-attack aggression. Now we’re going to look at one of the key aspects to offensive success, care and distribution of the ball.


Fielding young guards like Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, the Blazers hope to produce fireworks offensively. The metaphor goes both ways, though. It can produce a spectacular show or blow up in your hand.

Theoretically, veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Matisse Thybulle were supposed to steady the team, smoothing out the variance. Both Henderson and Brogdon have been injured, though, leaving near-randomness in their absence. The effect is even more pronounced than Young Guard Syndrome was expected to be.

Nowhere does this show up clearer than Portland’s turnover stats. The Blazers rank 25th in turnovers committed per game with 16.0, but keep in mind they’re playing at a slower pace than two-thirds of the league. You can bump that ranking down a couple of notches as far as effect on the game.

The turnover per possession number isn’t any better. The Blazers rank 26th, with margins close enough that they could fall between 23rd and 28th at any given moment.

No matter how you interpret it, Portland is either at near Bottom 5 status in the league in turnovers committed. Those miscues are taking away shot attempts the team desperately needs to improve their anemic offensive production.


Portland’s assist numbers are even worse than their turnover production. They average 21.9 assists per game, dead last in the league. Even bumping up for pace doesn’t help much. Their assist per possession rate ranks 30th in the league as well. Even when passes aren’t getting stolen, they’re not connecting for scores.

No surprise, then, that Portland’s assist-to-turnover ratio is abysmal: 1.37, a full tenth of a point lower than the 29th place Orlando Magic, who are young and awful themselves in this category.

The upshot: the Blazers often get forced into one-on-one offense, which not only contravenes Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ intentions, it allows defenses to key in, creating even more missed shots and turnovers.