The headline going into this year for the Blazers was rebuilding. The team essentially lost their entire starting lineup (with the exception of Damian Lillard) over the course of this offseason due to free agency. They still have their coach in Terry Stotts who, if he can keep them above 500, will make it his third consecutive winning season with the Blazers. In the past, the Blazers have always been a very competitive team but were constantly hindered by the high level of competition in the west. Many experts at the beginning of the year predicted that the team would only win between 20-26 games but they have surpassed that and are on track to make the playoffs.
Lets look at the the backcourt. The Blazers this year could have the second best scoring backcourt in the NBA with Damian Lillard and the rising star C.J. McCollum. Both average over 20 points a game, both shooting above 37% from three point range, and both over 42% from the field. C.J. McCollum has easily been the biggest breakthrough for the Blazers and the NBA this year, averaging over 23 points in the month of February. Lillard has played out of his mind this month averaging around 30 points a game. This included an impressive 51 point performance against Golden State where he shot 9-12 from three range. The only issue with this impressive backcourt combination is that they are used at a very high rate. They both play over 35 minutes a game and both have very high usage rates. This could cause fatigue and potentially injuries in the future.
The interesting thing about the Blazers is that aside from their backcourt they are not very impressive from a statistical standpoint.The next highest scoring player is Allen Crabbe who only averages 10.9 points a game coming off the bench. They have a decent wing player in the versatile Al-Farouq Aminu and a decent big man in Mason Plumlee, but these are rotation players who do not put up star numbers.
So lets look at the overall team statistics. As you may note they are pretty average in most categories. They rank well in the rebounding categories but in defensive stats.
20th in assists
15th in turnovers
8th in overall points scored
3rd in offensive rebound rate
9th in defensive rebound rate
18th in pace (They play at a somewhat slow pace)
8th in both field goal makes and attempts
12th in field goal percentage
7th in three point field goal percentage
25th in free throw percentage
25th in steals
24th in blocks
We should note that the success experienced by the Blazers is as a result of their performance against the west against whom they have won around 60% of their games. The West is still the better conference when you look at the teams at the top(Golden State, Spurs, Thunder). Portland is also in good position in terms of upcoming games. They only have 13 more games against the west which is low compared to other teams vying for a playoff spot.
According to ESPN’s fivethirtyeight.com, the Blazers are favored to win exactly half of their upcoming 24 games. This would give them 42 wins on the season which will most likely give them the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs this year.
To conclude, the Blazers are a mystery to many following the NBA. To me they are an anomaly. We expected them to take the route that most teams who loose their entire starting lineup tend to head towards, which is tanking, yet they have somehow found themselves in a heated playoff battle in the Western Conference.
By Ian Riaf