The Portland Trail Blazers got a lot of credit this summer for keeping their core intact and hedging their bets on the idea that they had another level they could reach this season. But much of that was born out of necessity. Once again, they were unable to lure any marquee free agents to town. So instead they gave Evan Turner $70 million as a sort of reluctant consolation prize.
Portland did a terrific job of building from within and filling in holes as it goes, but the team seems to be at a bit of an impasse. The Blazers are who they are. The question remains, is that enough to really push the status quo in the Western Conference?
Before last season, the Blazers’ bench was at or near the bottom of the league in scoring for several years in a row. They were still fairly middle-of-the-road in 2015-2016, but that was a dramatic improvement. They can’t afford to regress again in that department and still expect to climb the standings in the Western Conference and improve on their 44-win campaign from a year ago.
Their saving grace, of course, has been the MVP-level output of Damian Lillard, along with the ever-expanding scoring prowess of his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum, who put up a career-high 37 points in a win over the Grizzlies last Sunday, including 16 points in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers close out a tough road victory.
Lillard struggled in that game – going just 3-of-11 from the field – but again showed his leadership and unselfishness by deferring to McCollum in crunch time when the latter obviously had the hot hand. That particular performance notwithstanding, Lillard has been phenomenal. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, nearly 40 percent from three, and he’s currently second in the league in scoring at 32 points per game.