How have the Portland Trailblazers fared so far this season and are they what they set out to be at the start of this season: a Playoff team.
The Portland Trailblazers have been a team of highs and lows with the lows being much more drastic than the highs. This has been the case for years now and it seems as though Damian Lillard and company will be following suit in 2021-22 as well. The problems with this squad don’t run deep thankfully, as they are surface-level issues that can be resolved over time.
The one thing to be thankful for when it comes to the Blazers (I know Thanksgiving was about a week ago, but this is a fortnightly update after all) is that they do not seem to have any chemistry issues in terms of teammates getting along. At least, they do not jump out of the screen when watching them play.
The ‘vibes’ and general ambiance surrounding the team looks to be positive: losses aren’t muddled with poor body language and wins are certainly filled with smiles across the board (except maybe this most recent Detroit Pistons victory without Dame).
When it comes to chemistry issues in terms of pure basketball play, the Portland Trailblazers aren’t exactly the Golden State Warriors on either end of the floor. There have been a few bright spots for the Blazers over these past 7-8 games but like any Blazer update, let’s start by sulking.
DEFENSIVE LAPSES?! WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT?
Yes, the Portland Trailblazers aren’t great on defense. This has been the case for nearly every single iteration of the Blazers with Damian Lillard on it. After all, your starting lineup being headed by 3 guards all under 6’5 isn’t exactly a recipe for a top 10 defense in the league. Damian Lillard, Norman Powell, and CJ McCollum have a DRTG of 115.1 on the season.
Sure, comparing 3-player lineups to overall team defensive ratings doesn’t seem fair but just for a little bit of perspective, 115.1 is a whole 1.4 points worse than the worst rated defense in the league: the Memphis Grizzlies. It isn’t just the guards that are contributing to defensive lapses however, it’s the way that they play defense.
Take the recent Utah Jazz game for example. The Jazz absolute annihilated the Portland Trailblazers simple ‘half’ screen and roll actions. Rudy Gobert came up to Damian Lillard at the top of the arc and instead of setting a proper screen, stood next to him for a second and immediately rolled to the rim.
Jusuf Nurkic, who had already come up to the point of the supposed screen, was already much too late to be a factor in Gobert’s roll to the rim. From here, it was money for the Jazz as it was an easy 4 on 3 situation, usually leading to him dunking the ball (something he did way too many times that night) over the help defender.
As good of a help defender that Robert Covington is, there isn’t much he can do when a 7’1 center is barreling to the rim, full steam ahead.
Obligatory Nassir Little and Larry Nance Jr column.
Just a few more thoughts on Nassir Little and Larry Nance Jr if you missed my previous Portland Trailblazers roundup. The two have become quite the strange duo within NBA and Blazers lore. NBA fans have underrated the two quite a bit while Blazers fans are starting to overrate their impact on either end of the floor.
For those wondering if Larry Nance Jr will become a poor man’s Giannis Antetokounmpo on either end of the floor, the answer is no. At least, with the way he’s been playing. Yes, he’s a solid back-up 5 for Jusuf Nurkic but his inability to stretch the floor along with the fact that his defense hasn’t been what it was when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers should be noted.
The idea of Larry Nance Jr is much more palatable than the player himself. He’s a long, extremely athletic frontcourt player whose defensive instincts on the perimeter aren’t nearly as good as they are inside of the paint. He’s slowly becoming a target for switches when facing off against shift guards and having him on the floor with Jusuf Nurkic simply a death sentence on the defensive end (only on the perimeter)
Nassir Little on the other hand, has quite honestly been fairly consistent throughout this season. He’s still the same spark-plug energy guy off the bench he was advertised to be and is constantly on the lookout for steals while throwing himself out on the floor in an attempt to be a disruptor on that end of the floor.
Having him out on the floor for offensive purposes isn’t something that the Blazers are looking to do any time soon though, he has made a significant number of strides as a force when moving downhill, almost always generating points through tough layups or getting himself to the line for two.
Nassir Little rises to block the shot NBA regular season game (11.24.21)
— NBA BASKETBALL (@DejoseMark) November 25, 2021
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) November 25, 2021
One thing to touch on is the truly bizarre nature of the way the Portland Trailblazers have been playing at home versus the way they play on the road. They currently hold the second best record at home but hold the second worst record on the road, second only to the Houston Rockets, a team that is headed straight for the lottery for a second year in a row.
Of course, it makes sense that a team plays better at home than away from it due to the overwhelming support they receive from their home crowd. However, for there to be such a drastic difference in records is quite puzzling.
Damian Lillard is not back on track.
Damian Lillard won Player of the Week once and somehow went back to early season form once again. He definitively had the worst game of his entire 2021-22 NBA campaign against the Utah Jazz where he put up merely 11 points on 4-12 shooting from the field. Again, the Blazers guard simply missed shots that he has been making for the past 4 years now.
His defense during this game was especially atrocious and I know I’m harping on defense a bit too much this time around but the fact of the matter is that the Portland Trailblazers are horrendous on D and it starts with the fact that the guys out on the perimeter are putting too much pressure on Jusuf Nurkic, causing him to overcompensate.
Speaking of Jusuf Nurkic, real quick; Nurk has been great. He started the season off slow but has picked it up as of recent, averaging 16.7 points on 64.4% shooting from the field. He’s also shown a great level of vigor with the way he’s played, not backing down from the Rudy Gobert match-up. His defense has also been stellar, posting up a DRTG of 105.8.
The Damian Lillard/ Jusuf Nurkic connection has been decent to start off the season. The is something that will last as long as opposing defenses fear Dame will spot up from 30 feet away from the basket and make it.
It’s clear that Lillard isn’t a 100% as he’s become also been finishing at the rim less effectively when compared to previous seasons, making it more apparent that his abdominal strain is something to be worried about. At least the one thing going for him is that he still attracts a boatload of attention from opposing defenses, leading to cleaner looks for his teammates.
Anfernee Simons has been a breath of fresh air.
Neil Olshey once said that the most talented player he ever drafted was Anfernee Simons. Well, the way he’s been playing, that may ring true. Ok no, that is a lie. A 20 game slump from Damian Lillard isn’t enough for that statement to ever ring true but nevertheless, Simons has been quite the spark on the offensive end of the floor.
The Portland Trailblazers desperately need a player like Anfernee Simons to be on point with Dame slacking on that end of the floor and he’s most certainly stepped. Still a relatively streaky shooter, he’s draining 38.8% of his 3s on 5.5 attempts a game. It’s hard to look away from the screen when Simons is shooting it due to the fact that he has one of the best-looking mechanics in the league.
He hasn’t quite gotten the confidence to drive into the paint with a sense of purpose of yet but has developed a sweet looking floater (shoutout Nassir Little) to help cope with his lack of aggressiveness towards the rim.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 30, 2021
Finals thoughts on the Portland Trailblazers so far into the season.
Our offense is great. Our defense is terrible. Same story it’s been for the past how many ever years. It feels as though opposing offenses take merely the first 6 minutes of a game to completely figure out the Blazers’ defensive schemes and how to beat it.
Chauncey Billups seems to have not gotten his guys to commit on that end of the floor as of yet, the way we were led to believe he would during the offseason. It is after all, his first ever season as a head coach. Terry Stotts may have not been an innovator on either end of the floor but he sure knew how to use Damian Lillard.
It will most definitely take time for the 2004 Finals MVP to fully take over the reins for this ball-club. For now, let’s look towards the bevy of home games the Blazers have to play during December.