Welcome to the first edition of Blazers: Roses and Rain! Each week we’ll take a look at what is going well for the Blazers (Roses) and what is going poorly or needs improvement (Rain).
Rose #1: Flashes of Brilliance on Defense
The Blazers have played four games. In two of those games, the Blazers have displayed stretches of suffocating defense. Against Phoenix, Portland held the Suns to just 47 points in the first half. During the 2nd half against Memphis, Portland had a stretch of 19 minutes where they only allowed 27 points. Overall their defensive rating is 15th in the league. Per 100 possessions, the Blazers are allowing 11.2 points less than last year’s historically bad 29th rated defense. Seeing them show these flashes of a good defense this early in the season is definitely a good sign as they still work to correct a lot of mistakes on that end. This should bode well for the team as the season progresses.
Rain #1: Inconsistent Play
It’s no surprise that when learning a new system there will be ups and downs. However, the peaks and valleys of their play and effort can’t change drastically from game to game like it has so far. Throughout the preseason and especially in the game against the Clippers, the Blazers were extremely sloppy taking care of the ball. The resulting turnovers have mostly been due to unforced errors, which have to be limited as much as possible. On defense, the inconsistencies have mostly come from poor rotations and recovery to shooters when the opposing team makes a couple passes and gets Portland out of position. Minimizing those blown coverages will go a long way towards making the defense more dependable every game.
Rose #2: The Breakout of Anfernee Simons
Last season, we saw Simons become a lethal 3-point shooter. Simons seems to have added some extra elements to his game that we haven’t really seen. He looks bigger and stronger, while still quick and athletic. The way he attacks on drives just looks more fluid. An open 3-point shot is basically automatic for him at this point. Eventually teams are going to have to overplay him on the perimeter. This will lead to him getting to the midrange and the basket much more frequently. His passing looks a lot crisper as well and although it hasn’t led to a ton of assists, it appears he has the vision to become a playmaker. Simons is in the last year of his rookie contract and with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell all under contract long term, it will be interesting to see how the Blazers handle his impending free agency. Getting more minutes might be the only thing standing in the way of Simons becoming a bonafide starting caliber player in this league.
Rain #2: Norman Powell’s Injury
Thankfully, Powell’s knee injury isn’t a super serious one, but could be one that nags him throughout the season. Powell was diagnosed with left patellar tendinopathy. This type of injury can come and go when exercising and has bothered him since last season. It could just go away after not playing for a few days, but could also flare up again at any time. Monitoring his knee and keeping him healthy will be a key to the season moving forward. In the month of November, the Blazers have 16 games in 30 days. It wouldn’t be a shock if Powell sits the 2nd night of back-to-back games for load management during that stretch.
Rose #3: CJ McCollum’s Hot Start
Before a foot injury caused McCollum to miss 25 games last season, he was off to a blazing hot start and was looking like a possible All-Star. Once again, McCollum has come out of the gates playing well. With so many really good guards in the Western Conference it may be difficult for McCollum to be an All-Star, but if he continues having these types of performances it might be difficult to ignore him. McCollum’s improved defense must be a consideration as well. Where the Blazers rank in the standings when it’s time for the voting process will be a factor as well. As the season goes on, look for McCollum to look to pass more and his quality of shots to improve. Doing those will lead to more efficiency for both McCollum and also the team as a whole.
Rain #3: Damian Lillard’s Shooting Slump
Lillard was 2-24 from beyond the three point line in the first three games. Last game against the Grizzlies, Lillard hit 4-11 from beyond the 3-point line. That’s certainly an encouraging sign that Lillard will be fine, but overall that’s still just 17.1% on threes. He claims there is no injury bothering him. His burst on drives and lift on his jumpers seem to indicate that he’s okay physically. Even though this has been a big story thus far, Lillard isn’t a player anyone should be worried about when it comes to shooting. If this stretch happened in the middle of the season, hardly anyone would notice. Lillard doesn’t foul bait in the ways some other players are struggling with a new rule that has led to free throw attempts across the league being very low. The shots he has missed haven’t been because of the new rule, he’s just missing shots he normally hits. Lillard will be fine.