Every team wants a winner. Golden State Warrior fans lived through decades of mediocre basketball with a few peaks and long vast valleys, but all that seems to be lost since the fall of 2015.
We’ve seen enough of the 2017-18 season to see that the 2nd half form of last season’s Trail Blazers was no fluke, but where are they headed? Are we going to see them head towards the upper echelon of playoff teams, unseating the experienced Spurs and the exciting Nuggets teams?
Let’s give out some grades for this seasons Portland Trail Blazers at the 12 game mark.
2017 NBA Draft, Glancing Back
We saw the Blazers trade up grab the 10th pick to select Zach Collins out of Gonzaga. I’m all in favor in the value of moving up in the draft, especially in a loaded draft like we saw here in 2017! Collins comes in as a rookie big man ready to contribute to an NBA roster, and ideally he would have the opportunity to crack the regular rotation, even on the deep Portland bench.
Now normally this is where one would assume that I would take a shot at the Blazers for selecting a offensive minded player with the 10th pick when you have players like Donovan Mitchell available as a all around guard off the bench to assist with defensive liabilities and Bam Adebayo available to be the shot blocker/facilitator Nurkic needs opposite to him on the low block, but when a team moves from the bottom 10 in defensive rating to 8th (5 spots higher than the Spurs and Nuggets at 13 and 14 respectively) the following season, I’m just going to let this one ride out. Zach Collins has seen a grand total of 25 minutes on the court thus far through 12 games; there’s no need to critique too heavily on his playing availability at this point.
2017 NBA Draft Grade: B
Everyone’s aware of the gluttony of guards the Trail Blazers feature every night; unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, we’re all aware as well of their defensive struggles. While offensively McCollum and Lillard are carrying the load for the team, nearly every defensive metric ranks the duo in the lower half of the league over the past few years. Their defensive struggles are well noted and place a severe limit on the potential and growth of this team moving forward. You can expect the Blazers to be looking to their future defensive potential with their upcoming first round pick in 2018.
Guards/Ballhandlers Grade: B+
There’s a few reasons (Vonleh’s presence and depth, Aminu and Harkless’ defensive presence) that the Blazers have reasonable sucess early in the season, but Nurkic is the straw that stirs the drink. In the above win over OKC, Nurkic’s presence made every attempted shot inside the paint by Westbrook or George a second thought instead of a “thunderous” statement.
This team’s resolve and success in 2017-18 hinges on the defensive presence of Nurkic and others inside the arc, and anything other that All-NBA effort by Nurkic every game will lead to yet another first round exit.
Big Men Grades: A
The Blazers have one of the more fascinating roster situations in the league; they have a deep roster of players in their prime years of production, but they are destined for a 45-win season and a 6 seed in the Western Conference with the current trajectory of their roster. Best case scenario for the Blazers would be a first round victory this season, followed by a major free agent signing in the offseason to solidify their roster’s defensive woes (someone needs to guard Curry/Harden/Westbrook) and an experienced well rounded veteran to lead their bench unit. Lookout for Avery Bradley and Lou Williams to get a long look from the Rip City front office this offseason.