Nov 11

What We've Learned Through Six

By mikebarrett
There have been some clear-cut positives, and some very obvious areas of concern for the Trail Blazers through their first six games of the regular season.

We knew the schedule was stacked against them early, as the Blazers have now faced five of the top seven teams in the west.  But, given what we've seen so far, there's no one around the team who's satisfied with the 2-4 record.  That's a positive.  But, it's only a positive if it's used as a motivational tool and not a factor that leads to internal finger pointing and second guessing.  

The one term we've used to describe Portland's rookies so far this season, can be used to describe the entire team- they look like they belong out there, and are getting more comfortable.  And, that they know who and what they are.  That sounds like a pretty fundamental starting point, and it is, but using perspective, that's really all we wanted in this first handful of games this season.

I mentioned this the other day, but sometimes you're struggling in certain areas and don't have a good idea why.  That, very clearly, is not the case with this team.  The things we thought would be a concern, are a concern.  If it were only that easy to fix it.

One thing that's a bit comforting is that we're still dealing with a relatively small sample size here.  Two wins in the the first six games was about where most people had Portland.  It does no good to hide behind low expectations, but there are some positives that are just as obvious as the negatives.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 29 points against San Antonio on Saturday, is clearly not going anywhere in this team's plans.  Wesley Matthews, while not up to his own standards shooting the ball, has been the defensive leader of this team.  J.J. Hickson has double-digit rebounds in every game but one so far, and is coming off a 13-rebound, 14-point effort against the Spurs.

Nic Batum deserves his own paragraph, especially following Saturday's game.  With the exception of the game at Oklahoma City, Batum has been very solid.  He was a huge reason Portland won at Houston, and should have been the reason Portland beat San Antonio.  He had 33 points, asked for the ball and the situation repeatedly, and could end up leading the Blazers in scoring this season when it's all said and done.  

Damian Lillard is looking like the front runner for the ROY award, leading all rookies so far in scoring, assists, and minutes.  He's scored 20 points or more in four of the first six games.  It's safe to say no one, except perhaps Damian, expected that.  And, the other lottery pick, Meyers Leonard, looks like he's getting more and more comfortable on the floor, has used his athleticism around the rim, and is learning his way around the defense, the opponents, officials, and the offense, where he's relegated to screen setter and rebounder.

Then, as you know, we get to this gap.  It's a gap that has shown itself plainly against some of the elite teams in the west that we've seen so far.  It's forced Terry Stotts to place a bigger-than-expected burden on five guys, and to have to tailor his substitution pattern accordingly.  

There were the staggering numbers that followed the loss to San Antonio on Saturday.  You know it well by now.  The Blazer bench was outscored 63-4 in this game.  If you flip it, it's just as eye-popping.  Portland's starters outscored San Antonio's starters 105-49, and lost.  

This situation will be better on most nights.  Well, let's hope so anyway.  The thing we do know is the bench is not likely to change at any point in the near future.  I do think at some point Leonard will be put starting lineup and Hickson will begin coming off the bench, which will help the balance of scoring.  It'll also help give the coaching staff some flexibility.  But, it's not like that'll be a game changer.  

What will be a game changer will be changes the Blazers will be able to realistically make on defense.  That's the bigger issue.  Portland is currently allowing 50.7% field goal shooting to its opponents.  That's 30th in the NBA.  The Spurs shot 57 percent on Saturday.  Yes, guys like Gary Neal were throwing the ball backwards at the rim and it was going in, but this hasn't been an issue in just one or two games.  

The Blazers know they should be able to shoot 47 percent, 46 percent from three-point land, out rebound their opponent, turn the ball only 15 times, score 109 points, at home, and win.  On Saturday, all that happened, except for the win.  I'm not sure I've ever seen an offensive display like that, from a Portland team, and ended up talking about a loss.  

Again, it's only been six games.  What happens in the next six will give us a much better idea of what to expect moving forward.


  1. There just is no bench with this team. Obviously, Meyers Leonard is going to be a very serviceable NBA big moving down the road, but that's really about where it ends. Portland is a couple of million bucks under the cap, I think, and they need to do something to make a shooter materialize from somewhere. This team is one injury away from catastrophe and while it appears that the Portland Negative Injury Juju has moved from Portland to Minnesota, it's unreasonable to expect that this thin core is going to make it through the season unscathed.

    There have been so many good players in and out of the revolving door that it makes one's head spin. What wouldn't we give for Patty Mills NOW, for example? Yet Portland spent this past off season obsessing on Roy Hibbert and retaining Nic, and seems to have neglected doing more than fill empty chairs on the bench.

    Portland's starters can play with anybody. Their bench is going to get beat by everybody. It's gonna get ugly unless something is done... Yet every indication is being given that this season is going to be tossed into the discard pile so that a magical $10M free agent offer can be made next season to, who exactly? It's dumb, the Blazers had $15M this past year and couldn't get anybody to come here...


    by Carrite on 11/11/2012 9:34 PM
  2. yes im a guy sorry barrett :P
    well, barrett first of all good article. right now i see an 8 man rotation, as follows, the starters price meyers and sasha. im excluding babbitt in this rotation, why, u ask, well as follows in one game didnt box out on the line, and in this spurs game went in with an 8 point lead and left trailign by 2, now two faults came out of it, one being price and babbitt, stagnet offense left price in bad shooting opertunities.
    getting into babbitt while i have a vasly hatred for guy, as all u analyst and media and broadcasters and praised a man whos defense is non exsistant, you praise his offense, and as coach stotts has said has a nba specialty, shooting threes, lets dive into that, ive seen off the bench the old nate iso offense coming off the bench, babbitts sits in the corners and wing corners waiting for the ball has no movement, which has two problems, one being his defender has 5 feet of room to help on weak side defense on the primeter so disrupt any penitrating guard, and second doesnt allow babitt the room to take a quality shot, those pausing moments we've seen in past years were blamed on porr confidents, now result in non picking and popping out and no movement so anyone guarding babs, (while has to stay true on defense) also has the wiggle room as babs has no inside game. two things babs need to learn is pick and pop, to not only get his shot but to help guards, and two posting, one faset of his game i actually applauded last year, when he received mins at small forward, like batum, when he had a smaller defender he could use his size. this year made a power forward, is undersiazed out matched, and can only be used in ideal situations.
    With all that said i say we look at new rookie freeland, why the confidence while spotty, has the drive to want to scroe is our only other guy who will post up besides hickson (giving wesley an honerabel nod there) we need somethign in the post, as that starting five are mainly jump shooters, the motion offense is great for the satrting five as they have great shooters but off the bench face a lesser skill level and no fire power, as everyone is a role player at best, freeland would be our good inside out player and free babs maybe for threes, or atleast give screens to pentrating gaurds.

    by jamie (guy) on 11/11/2012 9:56 PM
  3. ps yes when im passionate about a topic i write too much and i hope u can understand it lol

    by jamie (guy) on 11/11/2012 9:57 PM
  4. Well put, Mike. Barring a trade we couldn't refuse, our starting six (counting Leonard) are set for the foreseeable future. So the big job for GM Olshey now is to improve the bench enough to complete with the best in the West. Maybe a trade can be made this season or maybe we have to wait until next summer's free agent market, but the team has the $$$ available to make one or two good moves in that direction.

    I like the idea of eventually bringing JJ off the bench. Nothing against his play, which has been solid or better, but JJ can bring a game-changing attitude whereas Leonard isn't that far along yet. Also I'd like to see JJ playing some 4 with Leonard at the 5. Could be a great board cleaning combo.

    I'm not a praying man, but, please God, no serious injuries to starters this season!

    by dgpdx on 11/11/2012 11:51 PM
  5. Hey Mike:
    I am really not too concerned about our team at all; we have all said with a new team, a new direction, a new coach, and GM that this was a building year that would take time.

    Lillard as you said is all and more then what we have hoped for and as he said this is not a do or die year so has time to learn new ways to out fox some of the elite PG. and of course get better on D. He will get better on D because that is a hole in his make-up that aggravates him, and everybody says, Defense is mostly desire, so I am not worried in the least about him.

    Wesley is not the offensive Guru that most shooting guards are, but he is the leader on defense, a vocal leader on offense and is applying his new arsenals that he has trained for. His dribble drive, his court awareness, his taking it to the rim and elevating has all improved. I am not sure what he is supposed to do on offense that he is not doing with scoring Guru’s in Batum, and LaMarcus and Lillard being a great shooter and contributes the ball more to those two then Matthews. In fact, I have often wondered what is the difference between 2Gd and SF; Nic and Wesley could trade places and no one would actually know the difference. Needless to say with him being the forth option on offense and he is still learning, he will be fine.

    Nic is Nic and is growing in leaps and bounds, he can shoot the lights out and play terrific D. Same with LMA. Of course JJ is our clean up guy.

    For sure we give up a big % to the opponents on D, but we have also created more then normal turn-overs on these opponents, all our opponents except Houston is elite teams with super stars attached to them and has been together for much more then 6 games. You and the Wild one has said countless of times that team D and lock down D is the toughest to learn with new players and a new system, so I am thinking that we need more time and that is all.

    The bench scoring is a little deceiving as Stotts leaves at least two starters in the game at all time to be the designated shooters, With Price and Barton missing pre season games, are still learning to adjust to the system.

    I agree with everybody about Leonard and JJ trading places, but as of yet Leonard is not a banger on the boards and JJ fits the bill with LMA better then Leonard would.

    For right now, I feel we just need to be patient, plug some holes, with adjustments, and keep learning to play as a team. Our Defense will get better, because the whole team is dedicated, and that will be the corner stone.

    by Hg on 11/12/2012 3:37 AM
  6. I think the starters look great! As they and others have said a number of times, they can legitimately hang with anybody in the league. I think that statistic you mentioned is illustrative of that. Additionally, I can easily see that even in just a handful of games, Meyers Leonard is already improving and is actually showing that he is a BIG force in the middle. Imagine what it'll look like once he has some real experience? He's so raw right now that it is no stretch to say he WILL be an extremely solid defensive center who will be able to challenge the toughest guys in the league down the not-so-long-as-expected road Yes, even Tyson and Dwight :)

    I agree that defensively, the team can make improvements right away. This is something within the immediate control of both the coaching staff and the players. This, more than anything else, should be their constant focus. While most were not expecting a serious run at the playoffs, it is clear that if they improve defensively, such a goal is not outside reality, especially considering how very good the starting unit is. As such, they are obligated to themselves and to the fans to do everything they can to make the necessary adjustments, unless Olshey wants them to purposefully tank for better lottery position.

    As far as trades for better bench pieces go, I think that if they are available, and the team doesn't have to give up important starters/core, then they should do them. A local blogger and a not-so-local blogger I follow on Twitter are both wishing for JJ Redick to become a Blazer. Not a bad choice, but is a player like that attainable without giving up pieces that make the team decent in the first place? I like Olshey's philosophy of not going after players that don't "move the needle" or ones that lock up cap space. For "bench" players, I would think prudence is even more important. You don't say, give up Wesley and a lesser player or two, for a guy that's coming off the bench, especially when there is virtually no one to take Wes' place (this is a scenario I've seen floated several times already this season. I just don't understand why so many want to dump a glue guy who constantly hustles and only makes $6 mill a year!. THOSE kind of guys are ESSENTIAL to any winning team). To be honest, I have a hard time seeing a situation where Olshey is able to upgrade the bench via trade during the season without giving up a needed asset. There really is no point in making the BENCH better if by doing so, you make the STARTERS weaker...is there?

    At any rate, other than being really frustrated with the loss of focus and intensity at the beginning of the 4th quarter against the Spurs that essentially lost the game (my first one in attendance this season!), and being pretty displeased with Stotts' rotations and substitutions most of the time (as I image Freeland, Will, and Victor are), I am really happy with what I've seen from this squad and especially from the core. They are growing in leadership and in execution. Damian is amazing, Lamarcus is struggling a bit but still reliable, Wes is still doing Wesley things, JJ is KILLING it on the boards and in the hustle department, Meyers is steadily improving with every minute on the floor, and Nicolas appears to be FINALLY making some actual progress! They won on the road, in OVERTIME, and have hustled back into games that looked impossible to win. Plus, they beat the Lakers :) I know this much: it's a pretty decent position to be in considering all that's happened over the last two seasons. Still a great day to be a Blazer!

    by SisillaRiann on 11/12/2012 6:22 AM
  7. Btw, Wes and JJ make basically the same amount of money and have basically the same stats. JJ's been in the league longer, and is a starter for Orlando. Right now, he's shooting better than Wes and scoring a little more, but over his career, his numbers are mostly lower than Wesley's. I like JJ as a player, but can't see where bringing him in to replace Wes makes much a difference in the long run :)

    by SisillaRiann on 11/12/2012 6:29 AM
  8. good morning MB. most of what i wrote in my comment from last blog applies to the answer to your question, so as not to be redundant, i'll merely summarize here.

    1. over the next four games, if 1 or fewer are wins where the bench has had little-to-no impact (as is happening now for the most part), make the switch of J:J. For Meyers. it has to be done to give the 2nd unit some leadership and punch.

    2. put both Freeland and Claver into the bench rotation. these guys have more ability than the average rookie and both will battle for their minutes. we will see the results of this move on the court. besides, did we really bring them over here to sit on the pines?

    3. plan on J:J. to have a future in portland. he's making just 5.4 million this year and we should be able to hold on to him.

    4. shop Wesley around. he's underachieving and not doing us any favors with his inconsistency on the offensive end. let's face it, he is the starting group's weakest link. i'm not saying jump at the first offer or anything like that, but it's becoming time for the Wesley Matthew experiment in portland to come to an end. think of it this way: can anyone even picture the blazer starters hoisting the championship trophy with Wesley amongst them? i know, it's harsh, but it's time for a much-needed upgrade.

    5. Stotts needs to learn to rotate better. thus far, i'm not impressed, but i'll reserve judgement for a few more games..

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 11/12/2012 7:57 AM
  9. First, I thought the officiating was a bit biased in the Spurs game. Wishing we could get an official on our payroll.

    Second, I like Stotts rotations. How will the bench improve if they don't get some successful playing time.

    Third, Lamarcus's fade away shot drives me crazy. He needs to drive to the rim. He is a big strong powerful guy.

    Fourth, I am missing the allie-oops we use to get from Miller.

    by mzelena on 11/12/2012 9:05 AM
  10. Wow!!!!
    All these new inputs are getting my mind in a swirl.
    The little example of Joel Freeland, I would say he is not quite ready for rotation, because he has to think to much getting adapted to the NBA rules, With all the speedy guards in the NBA driving to the basket, you don't have time to think, you have to re-act. On offense he is a little too timid, he needs to learn to be pro-active along with re-active. Nevertheless, I agree, if he is going to be a Blazer, it is time to get his feet wet with regular rotation minutes.

    Claver is on the in-active list, so we have pro-active, re-active and in-active from our foreign players.

    I know part of Stotts job is to win some games, but if this is a rebuilding year, and as Lillard has said it is not a do or die year and the old vets is not likely to be around over one year, why not break in the newbie players.

    Regardless of all the input, there is a lot of new things to get used to this year with the starters not only playing a different offensive sets, but getting a more dominating defensive sets. So, just maybe we need to go a little slower than norm.

    Other then that I like all the new input, I am for Leonard to be asserted into the starting five, but he is not yet the banger that JJ is, so maybe until then we leave JJ in to accommodate LaMarcus. Two finesse bigs in the game may not be a good thing as it brings redundancy.

    by Hg on 11/12/2012 10:29 AM
  11. Why does JJ get so many rebounds. 1. Energy 2 desire 3 Blocking out and positioning. Meyers Lenard needs to learn only #3 but it will take time.

    by Ancientone on 11/12/2012 12:00 PM
  12. I''d MUCH rather active Claver & have him learn on-the-job v. having Luke (put him in st. clothes) out there; let's take our chances w/ Claver (he will make mistakes but the experiences will b invaluable + I'll live w/ Claver's mistakes over Luke's ineffectiveness EVERYDAY).

    Once Barton works himself in/gets comfy, he'll add some good bench firepwr. I have a STRONG feeling a move will b made mid-season to get a proven scorer (a sg or a guy that can play the 2 & 3) that could start for many teams (& will start for us sometimes) & wants/accepts the role of powering our bench (2-3 of our players will b traded away & yes, most likely Wes will b the centerpiece in what we give; I'm a fan of Wes but he holds the most value for us to trade & get exactly what we need; IF Wes is traded, I KNOW that Claver won't b & I VERY much hope Barton stays here bc we'll regret getting rid of him ;). I'd love to c Olshey work his magic & pull off getting Klay Thompson! Another good possibility would b Alonzo Gee (I don't think Cle. would give him up but it might b easier & cost less to get him v. Klay ;)

    by Simpson on 11/12/2012 3:51 PM
  13. Someone will emerge from the bench and show promise. Nolan and Babbitt appear to be moving down the bench closer to the locker room. The two old vets are worth short stints to cover foul trouble. That leaves Victor, Joel and Will. Play them. After all this is a throw away year. Develop our young guys.
    Winning ball games is sugar on top of what the Blazers are trying to get done this year. Our core group is young and improving. One rookie that is a certain future allstar. A rookie big that is perhaps future allstar caliber.
    Stay the course. Play hard, develop players, STAY HEALTHY.
    Next year go big. GO BLAZERS !!

    by Divotking on 11/12/2012 5:20 PM
  14. Mike you would have made a good politician. An honest have you. You have the uncanny ability to put a positive spin on anything. Always a good read.

    by Divotking on 11/12/2012 8:09 PM
  15. Ancientone: Given the desire, the key to rebounding is timing. JJ seems to have perfect timing on most rebounds. It's why he can outboard guys 3-4 inches taller.

    by dgpdx on 11/12/2012 11:20 PM
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