After much roster-tinkering, proclamations to do better and a career year from Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers are in the same spot they were this time last year: likely headed to the NBA Draft Lottery.
So what happened?
Eric Griffith of Willamette Week provided some answers in a recent piece that dissected what went wrong in Portland this season.
The first pillar of his thesis is that no Blazers players took a significant leap in development or production.
The Blazers need more players to exceed expectations. They haven’t. Nassir Little’s shooting and athleticism have made for exciting highlights, but lackluster defense has left him on the fringe of the rotation. Josh Hart inexplicably became 3-point-phobic after a strong start to the season; he was traded at the deadline to avoid a terse free agent negotiation. Justise Winslow and Nurkic had their seasons derailed by injuries. Gary Payton II barely played before an acrimonious trade. The jury is still out on newcomers Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish.
The lack of breakout role players has left the Blazers with a shallow bench and Cronin with few appealing trade options. That’s not the recipe to fix a roster inside of two years.
Jerami Grant, of course, was a great addition in the off-season and provided Portland a boost. But as Griffith points out, none of the players on the fringes popped in a major way. That’s often a must for teams trying to exceed expectations.
Griffith goes on to provide two more reasons for Portland’s lack of success (and some nuggets of hope). I won’t spoil them.
You can read Griffith’s full piece here.