It has not been a bad season so far for the Portland Trail Blazers. 8-12 through twenty games is not awful for a team in a rebuilding year, and the team is showing signs of competing in the Western Conference within two years. Not that the fans are happy with that. Many things have gone right through the first quarter of the season, many things have gone wrong, but the future looks productive for the Blazers.
1) Damian Lillard’s Shooting. During the draft, the Blazers selection of Lillard out of Weber State seemed to be a baffling move. How would he be able to score against professional level competition? Very well, as it turns out. 18.9 points per game, good enough for second amongst all point guards in the league. Lillard is shooting 43 percent from the field, and a respectable 38 percent from three point land. Lillard’s scoring touch has made many that criticized his selection eat their words.
2) The Domination of LaMarcus Aldridge. If Lillard has been good, Aldridge has been better. 20.5 points per game with almost nine rebounds a contest. Aldridge has been a force all season long for the Blazers. His standout performance came at Detroit, where he racked up 32 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in a close loss. Aldridge should definitely represent Portland in the All-Star game.
3) The Three-Point Game. Between Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum and Luke Babbitt off the bench, the Blazers have one of the deadliest groups from behind the arc. While living and dying by the three-point game is not an overwhelming formula for success, when the trio can catch fire, the shots rain down in buckets.
1) Damian Lillard’s Everything Else. While his scoring has been sensational, Lillard’s six assists per game has contributed to the Blazers being 29th in the league in assists. Lillard's 2.0 assists-to-turnover ratio is 26th in the league among point guards. His defense has also been suspect this season, with the Blazers giving up 102 point per game, fifth worst in the league.
2) The Other First Round Pick. If Lillard was a surprise, Leonard was as well, just in the opposite direction. Nineteen minutes per contest, with only five points and four rebounds per game. His poor performance has forced more playing time on an already banged up J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge, as the Blazers are visibly weaker with Leonard on the floor. While rookies are expected to have growing pains, Leonard’s poor performance this season speaks badly for his future.
3) The Blazers Bench. Leonard is not the only one performing badly out of the starting lineup. Joel Freeland has been subpar at best in relieving Aldridge, Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith cannot seem to score consistently from the point guard spot, with Smith actually having a negative player efficiency rating, and Luke Babbitt swings between adequate and awful. Price and Smith in particular have combined for 2.8-to-1.9 assist to turnover ratio when they are on the court. Opposing teams have found that they can make a solid run against the Blazers bench, and negate all the hard work of the Blazers’ starters. This is forcing more minutes on the starters, wearing them down and placing them at a higher risk for injury. The front office needs to improve the bench depth before they seriously hurt one of their stars.