The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 season didn’t fulfill the promise of the roster moves the franchise made last summer. A 33-win season and another trip to the NBA Draft Lottery wasn’t on Portland’s agenda when the year began, but that’s exactly where they ended up.
Despite the rough finish to the year, optimism reigns in some corners still. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Through the season you kept mentioning injuries to the lineup. Did we ever really see them as they were meant to be? I ask this because it gets to my real question. Call me crazy but I don’t think we’re that bad off. What are the chances the Blazers just keep their lottery pick and run it back? I don’t mean if they get Wemby either. Just add a normal other lottery guy to the group and they can do better if everyone is back healthy.
I agree, mostly, with your assertion that the Blazers never got an extended run with their intended lineups in 2022-23. Only two players topped 70 games: Shaedon Sharpe and Drew Eubanks. Jerami Grant (63), Anfernee Simons (62), and Trendon Watford (62) are the only players in the 60’s, and even they missed a quarter of the season. Justice Winslow played only 29 games, Jusuf Nurkic 52.
But even under the presumption of near-perfect health, keeping the roster intact still doesn’t mean bringing it back as envisioned last summer. Josh Hart is gone. So is Gary Payton II. Those key veterans formed the middle vertebrae of Portland’s spine. The young players they got in return are wobbly. Adding another rookie, even a good one, won’t solve that instability issue.
Also, let’s reiterate something we said in the year-end podcast. You don’t really understand how badly this team performed until you examine the league rankings.
The Blazers finished the season 20th in pace. Under normal circumstances, you’d expect that to shade the aggregate numbers (and thus rankings) on offense a little lower, the corresponding rankings for defense a little higher. Percentages and efficiency aren’t affected.
Take a look at these numbers.
Points Per Game—19th
Points in the Paint—21st
Fast Break Points—14th
Field Goal Percentage—17th
Free Throw Attempts Per Game—9th
Free Throw Percentage—8th
Assists Per Possession—22nd
Offensive Rebounding Percentage—24th
Turnovers Per Possession—21st
Almost nothing stands out here. Portland was Top 10 in free throws drawn and free throw percentage, but they finished on the low end of mediocre in everything else, and this despite a career year from Damian Lillard and a pair of 20-point scorers alongside him.
Now take a look at defense.
Points Per Game Allowed—23rd
Points in the Paint Allowed—25th
Fast Break Points Allowed—25th
Field Goal Percentage Allowed—28th
Three-Point Percentage Allowed—29th
Free Throw Attempts Per Game Allowed—20th
Opponent Assists Per Possession—30th
Defensive Rebounding Percentage—25th
Opponent Turnovers Per Possession—19th
Almost every one of those numbers are Bottom-10, a couple just escaping by technicalities. In four of those categories, Portland had a Bottom 3 ranking.
If this wasn’t the worst defense in the NBA, the margin is a hair’s breadth.
Could the Blazers improve? Probably. Could the Blazers leap from a mediocre offense and horrible defense to a Top 5 offense and good defense without any systemic or personnel changes? That seems less likely.
That’s why returning the current roster would need to be considered a failure state for Portland’s summer plans. They’re going to be paying big salaries for a veteran team this off-season. They either need to get some pay-off in return or they’re going to have to change plans. More of the same just won’t do.
Thanks for your question! You all can send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer them as the summer rolls by!