With a new season in full swing, it’s time again for Roses and Rain! This is where I’ll write about three things going well for the Blazers (roses) and three things that aren’t going so well or need improvement (rain).
Rose #1: A 5-1 Start
Coming off a tanking season and an abysmal preseason, there weren’t many reasons to believe the Blazers would play well early in the season. Once games started mattering however, Portland showed they were ready to roll. Through 6 games, they’re hovering around 10th in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating. Being in the top-10 of both of those ratings is usually an indicator of a team that is actually good. Maintaining that level of defense will be the key to continuing the hot start.
Rain #1: A Brutal November is Looming
The schedule for the Blazers in November is extremely difficult. There are 30 days in the month and 16 of those days have the Blazers in action. After a home game on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland will embark on a six game road trip that includes a back-to-back in Phoenix against the Suns, a rematch with the Heat to hopefully avenge their only loss thus far, and other games versus the Hornets, Pelicans, and Mavericks. Then following a three game homestand, it’s back on the road for more tough games against the Bucks, Cavaliers, Knicks, and Nets. 11 of their 16 games in November are on the road. A .500 record in the month would set the team up well moving forward. If the Blazers manage to do better than that, it could mean they’re in line for a magical season.
Rose #2: Shaedon Sharpe
Even the most optimistic Shaedon Sharpe believers had no idea what to expect from him this season. After not playing last season at Kentucky, the 7th pick of the 2022 NBA Draft was a huge mystery. The buzz when Sharpe steps on the court is palpable. His athleticism has already electrified the Moda Center crowd multiple times. The dazzling dunks and flashes of star qualities are amazing, but more importantly Sharpe is actually having an impact on games. He’s averaging 9.3 points per game while shooting an impressive 50.0% from the field and 42.9% on three point shots. The 19-year-old has even earned enough faith from the coaching staff to start for an injured Damian Lillard last game. If Sharpe is this good six games into his NBA career, the ceiling is off the charts.
Rain #2: Damian Lillard’s Calf Strain
After a subpar 1st game, Damian Lillard was showing the basketball world that he is officially back, complete with his signature tapping of the wrist following a late three-point shot to take the lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the third game of the season. Thanks to a new offense that features Lillard playing more off the ball than he has in the past, his scoring is seeing a bump in efficiency. Unfortunately, against the Heat last week he suffered a grade 1 calf strain. Although the injury shouldn’t keep him out very long, it’s a bummer to have him missing games with the team off to such a good start. Like last season when Lillard was out, this does provide an opportunity for others to step up in his absence.
Rose #3: The Coach’s Mindset
Given that the Blazers were purposely trying to lose games last season, head coach Chauncey Billups wasn’t given much of a chance to show if his coaching style could translate to the players on the court. Since the trade deadline in February, general manager Joe Cronin has brought in several players that are better suited to play the style Billups wants his team to play. So far, the grittiness has shown up on the floor. The Blazers are playing with a toughness that had been lacking the previous few seasons. Being a physical team on defense that consistently brings effort and energy is something that keeps you in games when the offense isn’t hitting shots and can lead to a lot of wins.
Rain #3: Gary Payton II Still Isn’t Ready
The season debut of Gary Payton II shouldn’t be too far away and it’s intriguing to think about adding his defensive prowess to a team that is already much improved in that area. With Lillard now sidelined too, the team will have to lean heavily on some of the younger players to step up in both of their absences. Considering how competent the defense has looked without Payton, he should make a solid defense even better. He’s one of the better on the ball defenders in the league. As long as the team is doing well, there’s no reason to rush him back into the lineup, but hopefully he’ll be cleared to play in the coming weeks.