Blazers Free Agents: None.
2016-17 Blazers Weaknesses: 30th: Front Court Scoring, Paint Points. 28th: Power Forward Scoring. 27th: 3-Point Defense, Bench Points, Center Scoring. 25th: Steals,Opponent Points. 24th: Defensive Rating. 23rd: Assists. 22nd: Fast Break Points. 20th: Small Forward Scoring.
2016-17 Blazers Strengths: 1st: Backcourt Scoring, Non-Paint Points. 3rd: Shooting Guard Scoring. 4th: 2-Point Defense, Point Guard Scoring. 5th: Starters Points. 6th: 3-Point Percentage. 8th: Points Scored.
Largest (3) Blazers Contracts 2017-18: Damian Lillard $26,153,057. C.J. McCollum $23,962,573. Allen Crabbe $18,500,000.
Player Options: None.
The Blazers spent a lot of money in the 2016 offseason, almost as if they knew something that everyone else did not. That overpaying players leads to dividends. That a lot of money tied up in personnel that gives the organization zero flexibility translates into playoff wins. That more is more.
But NBA history often tells the opposite story: teams with the highest payrolls not being champions. Teams with the most talent, who play offense and defense, who don’t hold the ball, they are the champions.
Let’s look at the ridiculous amount of money spent. Maurice Harkless (10.0 points, 50.3% fg), $42 million. C.J. McCollum (23.0 points, 48.0% fg), $105 million. Allen Crabbe (10.7 points, 44.4% 3-point fg), $74.8 million. Meyers Leonard (5.4 points, 3.2 rebounds), $41 million. Festus Ezeli (injured DNP), $15.13 million. Evan Turner (9.0 points, 42.6% fg), $70 million.
In the best case scenario, all of these signings would have blended into Terry Stotts system and their salaries would have been a non-issue. But that is not how the NBA works for free agents. A couple of max players aren’t going to play up to their contract value and because the Blazers outbid themselves, they will have trouble moving them and so they will be stuck. But let’s not be pessimistic about the money. What about the team?
The two areas the Blazers needed to address to get them to contender status- defense and ball movement- was not addressed. Only one player, Mason Plumlee, had a defensive rating lower than 110, and he has been shipped out. Everyone else are terrible defenders.
Playing the Warriors in the playoffs was anticlimactic in a disappointing season. The Blazers have lost to the Warriors, including last playoffs, ten straight. It’s not the perimeter scoring that hurts but the lack of anything going on in the front court.
In 2016-17, Lillard was scintillating and when he’s in a groove he can drop 50. But he has no impact on the high octane guards that dominate the NBA and that is a real problem. The Blazers didn’t bring in a defensive back up. They don’t have defensive talent on the perimeter either.
As exciting as the Blazers play because Lillard is a dynamic talent, they don’t move the ball. That may not be an issue in the regular season with the Blazers efficient three point attack but in the playoffs, facing defensive teams, you must move the ball and get the easiest shot possible. The ball sometimes sticks on one side of the floor. The Blazers don’t do as Mike D’Antoni preached, “shoot it or move it.”
The trade for Jusuf Nurkic was a big deal and he has instant chemistry with Lillard. His alpha personality plus his game are the reason the Blazers made the playoffs. But a few games doesn’t make a season. We need to see more of Nurkic but early returns are Olshey stole him from Denver. He has won over his teammates and the city. Now the pressure is all on him to be consistent. if he can be the Blazers may have found that frontcourt presence they are so desperate for.
As for the rest.
Evan Turner was a bust signing but it may not be that way always. Turner got off to a bad start, was injured, and then it seemed to get into his head. Turner is the classic “jack of all trades, master of none”. He doesn’t do one thing particularly well but you can trust him to play hard, make shots and be physical in the paint. Festus Ezeli didn’t play at all so the book is out on him. But with another team. He won’t be back; his contract is partially guaranteed so he can be cut loose.
The Blazers stars are stars. C.J. McCollum and his 23 points was electric. He almost made the 50-40-90 club. 50% field goals. 40% from three. 90% free throws. What kept him from that elite company (Larry Bird, Steve Nash,Dirk Nowitzki, Steph Curry) was 48% field goals. McCollum only has to prove he can guard the Jimmy Butlers of the world to have a complete game.
You build a team to compete against the best in the conference. The Blazers and Neil Olshey forgot that part. There is no one who can match Draymond Green and definitely they struggled at the small forward position. But it is the defense that keeps the Blazers frustrated and locked out of the top-4 seed club. They have more offensive talent than Utah, the fifth seed, but their defense loses games.
The highest payroll in the NBA, higher than the Cavs, Warriors and Spurs, the Blazers are in no man’s land. There are no Curry stoppers, no Thompson stoppers, no Durant stoppers. And no salary flexibility.
Yes, they will make the playoffs. Good for them. The Blazers have a lot of talent. But all offense and an apathetic perimeter defense loses games in April.
photo via llananba