If this is not the start of the season that you envisioned for the Trail Blazers, you are not alone. Seven games into the season, they sit at 3-4. tied for 10th place in the western conference with the Thunder. Well, technically they have the tie breaker so, OKC is actually 11. So, things aren’t necessarily as bad as they look, and they don’t look good.
Raise your hand if you thought the Blazers would have a better record thus far. Three of their four losses came against playoff likely teams, that sit currently with winning records. Two of those games could have just as easily have been wins. Perhaps, the Warriors game could have been a win too, had the Blazers come prepared and not underestimated their foe. So, if you are an optimist, the Blazers could very well be sitting at 5-2 or 6-1 even if things went differently.
The thing is they aren’t. Part of that reason is injuries. Zach Collins is out at least 4 months after opting for surgery on his dislocated shoulder. Pau Gasol’s foot is taking forever to heal. It is starting to feel like Portland will never see him play as a Blazer. He is more an ornament for the bench than anything. Maybe the Blazers just signed him so Jusuf Nurkic would have someone to talk to behind the bench.
Another piece is the Blazers chemistry. It is taking time for the this new Blazers team to gel. Incorporating a bevy of new players into the rotation is not always and easy and seamless task. There is has been a lot of debate regarding the talent of this years squad compared to last years. Are the 2019-20 Blazers better? Comparing the rosters, one would think so. But, the stats tell a different story.
The Blazers are 22nd (109.2) in the league in defense. To put it bluntly, their defense is atrocious. The look more than lost out there. On ball coverage is lacking. Assignments are blown with frequence. They can’t seem to decide how to manage pick and roll coverage. There is no communication. Transition is terrible.
The holes inside can be explained by the Blazers lack of size in the front court due to injury. The 76ers destroyed them in the paint, 84-40. Their perimeter defense is equally terrible. They are allowing an average of 11 three pointers a game. They allowed the Warriors G league-esque team to shoot 58% from deep in the first half of the game Monday. Denver hit 18 threes against Portland. The Kings hit 15. Dallas 13 threes. The beat goes on.
The Blazers right now miss the length of Aminu and Harkless, both on the perimeter and inside. Meyers anybody? Dare I say, they miss Turner, an apt ball handler who can run the offense off the bench. Simons is more a 2 guard, a quick shot from the arc, who plays better off the ball. He looks out of place bringing the ball up the court and trying to set the offense. Is an offense an offense if their is no fluidity?
I’ll give Whiteside his due. He is averaging a double double with 14 points and 12 rebounds per game. Still, he often looks out of place. He gets flustered by the pick and roll. Gets disinterested in the second half of games. Enes Kanter appears to have been the better fit. The harder work horse. Hassan can turn that around though.
Like I said though, it is still early in the season. So, whatever you do, don’t panic, not yet. I know it feels like the Blazers already aren’t going to make the playoffs, and are going to be a lottery team. Tolliver starting is a headache. CJ’s isolation play makes one want to stroke out. Though he is passing a little more. ( he is averaging about 4 assists per game). If I weren’t already balding, Simon’s defense would take care of that. But, hey Damian Lillard is having his best shooting year yet so far. He is shooting 49.3% from the field and 40% from three. So, there is that.
The Blazers still need more time to mesh. They have the potential to be a top #10 team in the league on both ends of the floor. Heck, we haven’t seen the whole picture yet. The whole team has yet to to play together. Pau will maybe return soon, then Nurkic in late winter, then Collins towards the playoffs. Hopefully, the Blazers can figure things out till then. Bide their time, and make a late season run.
If anything, Mondays embarrassing loss to the Warriors was the latest team building exercise. The Blazers learned a good lesson in humility I’m sure. It can only be good for them right? Let’s hope so, they play the Clippers tonight in LA, so things will only get tougher in this early season stretch.