The Portland Trail-Blazers are almost completely gassed this season. They continue to stumble in the Western Conference, currently sitting at tenth place with a 23-33 record. However, there’s still plenty of games left to play — as it could be a very-tight race for that final playoff spot.
As it’s been documented, Portland doesn’t have enough reliable players on the defensive end. They’ve carelessly struggled to defend teams, as I’ve already wrote about it much earlier in the season.
It’s a serious issue.
- 26th in Steals Per Game (6.9)
- 3rd in Opponent Three-Point Percentage (38%)
- 6th in Opponent Defensive Rebounds (34.7)
- 25th in Least Opponent Turnovers (13.0)
Although they’ve made some considerable improvements along the way, the Blazers have gone 8-8 in the new year of 2017. Reminder that they finished the month of December with an uncanny 14-21 record. But as we’ve seen it before, it’s very difficult for teams to make up for such a slow start like the Blazers have done.
Not only has Portland fallen under the expectations of remaining as a top-seven team in the West, but let alone the eighth has been debatable as well. And if there’s anyone to point the blame towards, it’s the team’s best player.
It’s hard for some to understand, because both Lillard and McCollum are obviously one of the more exciting backcourt tandems to watch in the NBA. Can one necessarily construct the argument that they’re “unplayable” or at least complement each other’s games? Not exactly. But as far as winning goes, their deficiencies have not only held Portland back from becoming a top-tier team in the NBA, but as well as one to even build around.
Current Net Ratings For Starting Backcourts
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson = 21.2 Net Rating
John Wall and Bradley Beal = 10.0 Net Rating
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan = 7.0 Net Rating
Russell Westbrook and Victor Oladipo = 4.4 Net Rating
McCollum and Lillard = 1.0 Net Rating
Lillard and McCollum have one of the worst qualified Defensive Ratings on Portland’s roster, at 110 per game. While it’s no shock that neither are proven as “capable” defenders, they really suffer on fighting through screens — even though they can destroy your defense while using them on the other end. The talent is there, but the inability to win games is keeping them out of the (best backcourt) conversation.
You can’t blame the Blazers’ star backcourt entire for their struggles, but it’s been a major part. As much as one can praise how potent they are on the offensive end, neither guards are terrific playmakers. Both Lillard and C.J’s assist-totals are down from the 2015-16 season.
As soon as he’s stepped onto an NBA court, Damian Lillard has developed into not just a top-ten point guard, but as well as one of the most deadliest fourth-quarter options in recent memory. As he’s had to adjust to more of a leadership-role, after losing great teammates such as Lamarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Nick Batum, the pressure’s been on his shoulders to keep the Blazers relevant. The Blazers agreed to extend Lillard to a five-year, $120 million deal.
But unlike Lillard, McCollum has had a more improbable journey in the NBA — while Portland selected him with the tenth-overall pick in the first round of the 2013 Draft. He of course didn’t burst onto the scene immediately, as Matthews was still around at the time. But McCollum’s entire world changed as soon as he received a larger role from head coach Terry Stotts — and in no time, he ended up winning the 2016 Most Improved Player Award. But the success kept coming for C.J, as he was then rewarded with a four-year, $106 million extension last summer.
With as much success as they’ve already had together, it’s very hard to vizualize whether Lillard and McCollum’s talents can ever become more cohesive, and that should definitely worry an organization. What makes it difficult is that both players are getting closer to their peaks, at 27 and 26 years of age. You have to remember that Portland isn’t a big-market organization, as they’ve missed out on plenty of offseason acquisitions to propel their team.
If your best players aren’t as complimentary as you’d like them to be, changes must take effect.
There were rumors back in early January that the Philadelphia 76ers had interest in McCollum, as a top priority of theirs is to move either Jahlil Okafor (who the Blazers also had interest for) or Nerlens Noel. Okafor obviously wouldn’t improve their current defensive issues, but Noel would.
As for Lillard, he may be the more unlikely of the two to be dealt — especially before this upcoming deadline. The Blazers have taken calls on the All-Star guard, and have gotten great interest from the Denver Nuggets.
Heres a notion.
From a talent perspective — as well as being able to sustainably win at this level, the Portland Trail-Blazers should ignite their exploration of options for Damian and C.J. However, I don’t believe that this is necessarily “the season” for Neil Oshkosh (Blazers GM) to pull the trigger — as his franchise still sits just two-games behind Denver for the eighth-seed. It’s promising to see them already getting involved, as they traded Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic last week.
There’s so much uncertainly for this team looking ahead, especially if they fail to miss the postseason, as well as strike-out in the summer, which they’re on-track of doing so.