Well, the Portland Trail Blazers cannot really fall any lower in the NBA power rankings without a worse team going on a run, so here they sit at spot No. 25 after losing to the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Clippers this week. The team’s defense was never going to carry them higher and its offense has more or less disappeared since the NBA All-Star break.
Want to know what the national media thinks about Portland’s recent woes? Read on for opinions from NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and The Athletic’s Zach Harper.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 25 (previously No. 25)
The Blazers rank as the league’s third most-improved offensive team, having scored 8.1 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. And that’s obviously (and primarily) about Damian Lillard playing only 29 games last season and struggling through injury before he was shut down. Lillard has returned and had the best season of his career, averaging a career-high 32.4 points on a career-best true shooting percentage of 64.4%, which would be the fifth-best* mark in NBA history for a player averaging at least 30 points per game (83 instances).
* One of the five higher marks – Joel Embiid at 65.4% – is also from this season.
Behind Lillard’s brilliance, the Blazers have a top-10 offense for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and their bigger issues are obviously on defense. But consistent contributions from his supporting cast have been hard to come by, and the Blazers have been 12.3 points per 100 possessions worse offensively with Lillard off the floor (106.9) than they have with him on the floor (119.2). Despite Lillard averaging 35.5 points on a true shooting percentage of 63.7% over the 11 post-break games he’s played in, the Blazers rank just 24th offensively since the break, with only three teams having seen a bigger post-break drop in offensive efficiency.
The Blazers have scored just 106.8 points per 100 possessions (only the Hornets have been worse offensively) as they’ve lost six straight games, essentially eliminating themselves from Play-In contention.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 25 (previously No. 23)
Portland has gone just 5-10 in clutch situations since the last time we checked in, and its offense has just been OK. We know their defense typically won’t step up, but the difference between the Blazers being in the postseason and missing it completely is probably just how off they’ve been in a lot of clutch situations. We expect better of a team with Damian Lillard.
Mr. Reliable: Damian Lillard | 38.3 FG | 28.6 3FG | 94.1 FT | 30.6 points per 36 | 7.5 rebounds per 36 | 5.7 assists per 36 | 2.8 turnovers per 36
Even though the shooting percentages haven’t been good for Lillard, and yes I’ve dinged a couple of players in this exercise for similar percentages, I’m still going to give this to Dame for his body of work and the attention he attracts. He is struggling to shoot though, which doesn’t seem like him. He could go 0-of-50 and the opponent would be terrified of him having the ball on the next possession.
Mr. Unreliable: Jerami Grant | 39.5 FG | 29.4 3FG | 82.1 FT | 16.7 points per 36 | 4.0 rebounds per 36 | 2.3 assists per 36 | 1.7 turnovers per 36
Maybe it’s unfair to hit Grant here, especially when he’s the third option most of the time behind Dame and Anfernee Simons. But his quality of shots should be better with that attention to the guards, and his efficiency should be better too. They need him to knock down shots at a higher rate when it swings to him.