How the Portland Trailblazers have fared to start their 2021-22 NBA campaign and how they should move forward with the season.
The Portland Trailblazers have been as consistent as they come in the NBA. Save for the 2019 NBA Playoffs, Damian Lillard and company have been eliminated in the first round of the postseason thrice in the last four years. Feels as though the most interesting aspect of rooting for the Blazers is to see if they get into the Playoffs or not.
Of course, PDX inhabitants and Blazer fans in general have come to learn that Damian Lillard, like James Harden with the Rockets, is a walking Playoff berth. With Dame at the helm, it’s quite nearly impossible for them to miss out on the postseason.
When talking about ‘Dame DOLLA’, it’s hard not to mention his lackluster play to start off his 10th season. This breakdown of the Portland Trailblazers and how they’ve fared seven games into the season won’t just deal with Damian Lillard, don’t worry.
We’ll touch on topics ranging from Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little to the lack of a defensive presence on the perimeter. However, as tradition dictates, let’s start with the man who fuels the engine that makes the Blazers chug along.
Why is Damian Lillard in a slump at the moment and when will he return to the Dame we all know and admire?
Trae Young said guys like Damian Lillard and James Harden are struggling ever since the NBA implemented their strict foul-calling rules. In all fairness, Lillard is currently attempting 3.9 free throws a game while attempting a similar amount of shots from within the arc to his previous three seasons.
However, there is absolutely no chance that I’m going to blame the refs for Dame averaging nearly half as many points as he did last season. To put it plain and simple, Dame is missing shots he can most certainly make.
Whether it’s his 3 off a kill dribble, floaters four feet away from the basket, and drives to the rim from the left side of the floor (right hand finish too), the Portland Trailblazers guard is just not making shots. It is unknown as to why this is the case. There are no reported injuries and he hasn’t talked about any struggles in his personal life for quite some time now.
It’s safe to assume that Damian Lillard will eventually get back on track but for now, a reason as to why he’s struggling could potentially be attributed to adjusting to Chauncey Billups’ system after having Terry Stotts for 9 straight years or the fact that.
Portland Trailblazers and their perimeter defense.
It’s no secret that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren’t net positives on defense. Though the former can get a few cheeky steals here and there, their on-ball defense is simply not good enough. Having two guards under 6’3 isn’t exactly a recipe for having an elite perimeter defense.
The main problem here is that Jusuf Nurkic isn’t athletic enough to deal with a guard dribbling into the paint while also keeping an athletic center in the dunker’s spot at bay. This was seen perfectly when Nurkic matched up against Richaun Holmes.
Guys like Fox and Mitchell burst past Dame and CJ, causing Nurkic to move closer to the perimeter, leading to an easy dish to Holmes in the paint. The obvious solution here would be hide either one of Dame or CJ in the corners and have guys like Norman Powell, Robert Convington, or Nassir Little guards to best offensive talent on the opposing team.
Speaking of Nassir Little let’s build upon how he can help out the Blazers on this front.
Nassir Little: Spark plug on defense?
The Portland Trailblazers feature a couple players on their team who can hold their own on the defensive end of the floor on the perimeter. They aren’t defensive savants by any means but can most certainly help in trying contain bigger scoring wings like LeBron James, Paul George, and Kevin Durant.
This has always been a problem for the Blazers as even their win against the Clippers came with PG dropping a light 42 points on Chauncey Billups’ squad.
Quite frankly, Robert Covington’s defense is overrated when it comes to on-ball activity. RoCo is incredible in passing lanes and as a help defender as he’s got extremely quick hands, leading to fast-break opportunities and defensive stops at very least.
Nassir Little on the other hand, has been quite the promising player for the Portland Trailblazers this season. He’s proven he’s got enough stability within him to slide laterally to keep up with shifty players and he’s also looked similar to Davion Mitchell with his ability to stop on a dime as the opposing player does a step-back type move.
His high energy has almost always led to him throwing down a couple dunks a game out in the open floor while also acting as a vertical spacer in the half-court. Billups should move definitely run 3-man actions that lead to lobs to Little.
Can Anfernee Simons compensate for Damian Lillard for the time being?
Neil Olshey made waves when he said that Anfernee Simons is the most talented prospect he’s ever drafted when he was the one who drafted Damian Lillard to the Portland Trailblazers. The eye-test can prove that this simply is not true but is Simons finally morphing into the plug-and-play scoring guard Olshey envisioned him to be?
Anfernee Simons is off to the best start to his NBA career this season and the difference maker has been his 3-point shooting. He’s been a streaky shooter throughout his career but his first 7 games for the Blazers have featured him shooting lights out for the most part.
Sure, he did shoot 1-7 and 1-6 in two separate games watching those games again led to me noticing that his shot quality in those games was plain awful. In games where he decides to stick to pull-up threes and catch-and-shoot threes, he’s shot over 40% from beyond the arc each time.
He’s always been a gifted passer, as he continues to throw at least a couple cross court darts each game. His aggressiveness getting to the basket does need a bit more work but it certainly is better than what we’ve seen over the past few seasons. It’s clear he’s gotten more confident with initiating contact despite not having put on a considerable amount of muscle this past offseason.
With Damian Lillard shooting as poorly as he has been to start the season off, it’s refreshing to see Anfernee have games where he goes off for five 3s a game on excellent percentages.
Also read: “From my perspective as a player and my peers’ perspective, Kevin Durant is the best player in the NBA”: JJ Redick heaps praises of the Nets superstar for making a solid comeback post his Achilles injury in 2019
Final takeaways from the Portland Trailblazers’ first 7 games of the season.
Damian Lillard finding his groove is the number one thing the Portland Trailblazers need to be on the lookout for. Without their closer, the Blazers have been one of the worst clutch teams in the league; a significant difference from last season.
The four-guard lineup from their game against the Philadelphia 76ers that featured Dame, CJ, Norm, and Simons with Nurk at the five looked promising. Spacing the floor and letting Lillard go to work to find his own shot in the clutch will be key to winning close games as the season progresses.
Having Nassir Little on the floor with Dame will open up the open floor game while also giving him options in the half-court as well.
Someone we will touch upon in the future is Larry Nance Jr; a guy who has not been underwhelming nor has been overwhelming. Has he been whelming? It’s clear he isn’t all too comfortable with Chauncey’s system as of yet but having his defensive prowess unlocked will be a god-send for the Portland Trailblazers.
All in all, the Blazers need defense and Dame.