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. We also covered their ball-handling and distribution. Now we get to one of their biggest points: rebounding.
The Blazers beat this drum hard during preseason. They wanted to be hyper-aggressive on the offensive glass, creating extra opportunities for a scoring attack that was bound to be mercurial, given their roster.
At times, they have succeeded. Anybody who’s watched them can remember sequences of two, sometimes three or four, attempts during a single trip down the floor. They always seem to be fighting for the offensive rebound. No complaints there.
The overall results have been mediocre. Portland grabs 11.6 offensive rebounds per game, 10th in the league. That’s far superior to their 24th-place finish last year. But that’s as far as it goes. Their offensive rebounding percentage—the percentage of available offensive rebounds that they actually retain—is 24.4%, a comparatively mediocre 18th-place standing. The aggregate number looks high because, shooting a dismal 43.2% from the field, the Blazers miss more shots than most teams. That completely ordinary offensive rebounding percentage yields a deceptively-nice-looking overall result that way. The team would be better off if they made more of their shots in the first place.
Defensive rebounding isn’t a particular strength for Portland either. They rank 21st in defensive rebounding percentage. Only very high or very low rankings matter in this category. The Blazers have neither, but they’re closer to the bottom end than top.
Blazers center Deandre Ayton is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game, which puts him 6th in the entire league, nestled between super centers Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis. But Portland ranks 28th overall in defensive rebounds, indicating a couple things:
- They’re allowing opponents to make lots of shots, taking away the opportunity to grab rebounds in the first place.
- Ayton is grabbing a huge share of the rebounds that are available (approximately 12 of 31 per game), meaning the whole rest of the team kind of sucks at it.
Once again, we find that the good things the Blazers are generating in a micro-sense (impressive offensive rebounding in aggregate, fielding a huge rebounder in Ayton) don’t translate to overall success in the macro-picture.
That’s been the story of the season so far. The Blazers aren’t failing. They’re just not succeeding dramatically enough, nor are they able to connect their isolated successes into a cohesive whole.
This is not entirely surprising given the age and tenure of Portland’s roster members, but it’s a special kind of headache for coaching staff and fans to deal with. Being unable to do the things you want is one problem. Doing them somewhat well but still not getting the desired result is another entirely.
That thread hasn’t run through every stat category we’ve covered, but it’s common to enough of them to say that the Blazers are probably going to have a hard time producing sustained winning streaks this year. In the big picture, their achievements will be basic building blocks for wins later, not keys to victory now.