The Portland TrailBlazers are getting off to one of their worst starts since the 2012–13 season. Portland is 27–35 and currently the 9th spot of the Western Conference standings.
The TrailBlazers have been dealing with key injuries to give them this start, Festus Ezeli has been injured since the beginning of the season and there are reports saying he will miss the remainder of the season because of knee surgery. Al-Farouq Aminu suffered a calf strain on Nov 8th and never could get fully healthy, he’s been one of their strong presences off the bench.
Portland’s bad stretch stems from the defensive end. They have the 4th worse defense in the league right now. The TrailBlazers defensive efficiency is at 1.082 they rank 26th in opponents scoring per game (110.2.).
They have defensive issues everywhere else but around the 3 point arc. Whether it’s stopping the pick and rolls or guarding the cutters on the weak side, the Blazers are struggling.
Defense is an issue, but adding a third superstar to play alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would be just what the doctor ordered in Portland. The better teams in the NBA has a big three – look at Cleveland (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant), and even the San Antonio Spurs somewhat formed a big three (Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldrige). Portland doesn’t have enough star level players to compete with the top tier teams this year. Other than Lillard and McCollum, the highest scoring player on the team is the Center Jusuf Nurkic at 14.5 PPG.
The Small Forward and Center position in the starting lineup aren’t contributing well. Starting from the PF position, Meyers Leonard is only averaging 5.6 PPG, shooting 37% and 34% from 3 PT line. He’s in to be the stretch 4, but his numbers are way down from last year and not shooting the same. He currently ranks 47th in PPG in his position; he is at 8.99 PER – 66th out of 70 PF’s.
There’s another lack of production from the SF position, Maurice Harkless, even though he has career-high numbers he is still not producing enough to help Lillard and CJ out on the offensive end. Moe is averaging 10.8 PPG and playing 29 minutes. He’s a starting SF and his usage rate is lower than bench players in the NBA. That’s a big problem in the Western Conference as they have a lot of good PF’s and SF’s and the Blazers are getting outmatch in every single game by that position whether it’s scoring, rebounding, or even assists.
The solution to the TrailBlazers’ problems this year would be getting a better lineup and that can be accomplished by signing a star level small forward in the offseason that’s going to compete night in and night out. Another solution to the TrailBlazers issues would be to improve the bench and sign a defensive player. When I say better lineup, the Blazers need to upgrade the PF position. Having a PF that’s only averaging 5.7 PPG is not acceptable and that’s not what winning teams look like. Put Leonard on the bench and sign an offensive PF that can crash the boards well. Moe Harkless is a great player that’s improving on his game each year, but he’s the perfect player off the bench to give them a spark on the defensive end and scoring the ball as well. Pairing him up with Turner and Ed Davis will be a good lineup.
They can improve their bench by putting Moe Harkless, Aminu, and Leonard to the bench and signing a Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams level of player off the bench to make an impact on the game. Allen Crabbe is a great player off the bench and shooting well from the 3PT line this year; however, having another player to play alongside with can give Lillard and McCollum more time to rest.
Lastly, getting the team to full strength and everybody being healthy is the key to success for the Blazers.