Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

Is Moe Harkless still valuable to the Trail Blazers if he's not a shooter?

There's been some confusion among fans of the Portland Trail Blazers this season when it comes to the small forward spot. 

Maurice Harkless has been battling a knee injury all season long, and Jake Layman has filled in for him with surprising results. On offense, Layman has found his role, acting as a cutter, 3-point shooter, and rebounder. On defense, Layman is a bit of a work in progress. As such, coach Terry Stotts has opted to play Harkless as much as he can with the starting unit when the 25-year-old has been available to play.

Praise for Layman have been vocal as fans have attached to his unselfish style of play and hot shooting. Harkless remains the unquestioned natural talent of Portland's forward lineup, but Layman has worked his way into a position that’s made it harder to question his involvement. 

Meanwhile, Harkless has done the opposite. Where before he was the player cutting through the mid-post and gnashing for rebounds down low, Harkless seems a bit lethargic and out of step. His statistics are now no longer an outlier, either. Layman has matched much of Harkless’ advanced numbers while becoming a better shooter.

Contextually for these Blazers, this is the case for Layman in the starting lineup... CJ McCollum has struggled in his new role as a pure shooting guard next Damian Lillard, and Portland has struggled at times on offense. With Al-Farouq Aminu remaining a high-variance 3-point shooter, the first unit in Rip City has needed shooting at the wing and Layman provides that in spades.

Layman has taken a jump in his 3-point percentage, going from 20 percent last season to a whopping 36 percent this year. He mostly shoots above the break 3-pointers, and while it might be better if he was more effective from the corner, the pace at which he plays puts Portland in different positions to get triples.

At the same time, Harkless has regressed in terms of shooting. The St. John's product has gone from shooting 40 percent to 20 percent on corner 3-pointers according to Cleaning the Glass. As a result, Harkless’ points per shot attempt are down 40 percentile points 

We've covered how Layman has moved without the ball before, but the statistics tell the story of his breakout season. The Blazers are 11 points from assists per 100 possessions better with Layman on the floor then they are with him off of it, according to pbpstats.com. Portland’s assist percentage on 2-point field goals goes up when Layman is on the court as well, which makes sense given how much he’s willing to be on both sides of a pass.

The same can’t be said for Harkless with regard to his on/off numbers, and that’s disappointing. Surprisingly, many of his advanced statistics — assist percentage, rebounding percentage, steals — are hovering around where they’ve been in the past. It’s the shooting that’s made Harkless a less viable candidate on offense, despite his defensive impact.

This brings us back to our original question, of why Stotts has decided to stick with Harkless despite production from Layman. Is it an ego boost for the often-moody Harkless? Is it Stotts sticking with the more experienced player? Is it because Harkless is a better defender?

In any case, Harkless and Layman aren’t interchangeable in Stotts’ eyes. Harkless brings a defensive presence that Layman can’t match, although the gap between them could be narrowing. Five-man-lineup data from NBA.com actually shows that Portland’s two most-used groups have one difference, and that’s the small forward spot with Layman and Harkless as the variables. While Harkless still has the better individual defensive rating, the lineup with Layman has both a better defensive rating and net rating.

Having watched this team for some time, it seems best if Layman is on the starting unit from here on out because of his passing and 3-point shooting. The bench rotation has struggled to defend in fits and starts, sometimes acting as a cohesive unit and sometimes getting blown out only to force the starters to try and play catch-up for 30 minutes again. 

Harkless on the second unit could help create a more stable defensive identity for them as well as give Harkless additional room to operate without having to worry about blowing assists from Lillard and McCollum.

Who knows if this might happen? At this juncture, Layman is at least in the rotation for good. In recent games, with Harkless back in the lineup, Stotts has declined to bench Layman, continuing to play him somewhere around 20 minutes a night. That wasn't the case at the beginning of the season, and it goes in line with the kind of adaptation that Stotts as made with deeper rotations this season.

We are now 52 games into the NBA season, so it's time to start making some judgments about what we've seen and where this team is going. Harkless continues to battle his knee, and although he is statistically performing well outside of scoring, the Blazers have struggled enough as a unit that they need him to shoot now more than ever. 

Any further slavish dedication by Stotts to Harkless could hinder Portland's second half, and if Layman continues to shoot at the clip he does, it's clear he's the better choice as the starting small forward. Harkless is still able to bring something to the table, both on offense and defense, but if he can't get his shooting stroke back it'll draw into question where he fits in this Blazers rotation moving forward.

Nassir Little to return, Mario Hezonja out for Portland against New Orleans

Nassir Little to return, Mario Hezonja out for Portland against New Orleans

The Portland Trail Blazers will not be at full-strength coming out of the All-Star break but will welcome one player back from an injury.

At post-practice media availability on Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said that rookie Nassir Little will return to the rotation Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Forward Mario Hezonja and guard Damian Lillard both will be out.

Little suffered a left ankle sprain while trying to block a shot from Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar with 37.9 seconds left in the Trail Blazers 127-99 loss in Denver on February 4, 2020. The X-Rays came back negative after the incident. 

After the game, Little told media he tweaked it that morning but decided to play through it. 

The 25th overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft has averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 39 appearances for the Trail Blazers.

 

Damian Lillard expected to miss a minimum of three to four games with groin injury

Damian Lillard expected to miss a minimum of three to four games with groin injury

The All-Star break is coming to a end and the Portland Trail Blazers are back at practice ahead of their game Friday vs. New Orleans. 

The biggest question at practice Thursday would be the health status of point guard Damian Lillard, who suffered a groin strain in the final minutes of the Trail Blazers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on February 12th. 

The All-Star told reporters that his condition is improving, but that he will miss at least three to four games, but it could extend even longer.

"You start feeling better right away, but I think it's that last 15% that takes so long [to heal]. Right now, it's just continuing rehab."

Head coach Terry Stotts joined Dan & Nigel in the Mornings on Rip City Radio 620, which is simulcast on NBC Sports Northwest where he discussed Lillard's injury.

With groins, you just don't know. It could be a week, it could be a month. Who knows? 

Lillard was able to get an early jump on the rehab process during the All-Star Break. "We were fortunate one of our H & P people were in Chicago to be able to give him treatment."

"You can't just say you're going to play through it because it could be bad," Lillard added. "I've been doing all the training and rehab I can do, and I'm sore as hell. But, I've got to take time off."

The Trail Blazers will face the New Orleans Pelicans (23-32) Friday at Moda Center, followed by games vs. the Pistons (19-38), Celtics (38-16), at Pacers (32-23) and will finish February on the 29th at the Hawks (15-41). 

Anfernee Simons, who is recently coming off a concussion injury, is the likely replacement while Lillard remains out. CJ McCollum said Thursday he anticipated playing more point guard in Lillard's absence. Head coach Terry Stotts said the rotation will be a game-time decision. 

Proclaiming February 19th as Rip City Day!

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Proclaiming February 19th as Rip City Day!

Rip City, Baby!

Those words have become synonymous with the Trail Blazers and now it'll be etched in history as Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler will proclaim Feb. 19, 2020 as "Rip City Day" during Wednesday’s city council meeting.

It will honor the Portland Trail Blazers 50th season, but also pay homage to the person who uttered those words 49 years ago. 

The phrase "Rip City" came almost unintentionally by way of iconic Blazers announcer Bill Schonely.

It was in a game vs. the LA Lakers on February 18th, 1971, when Jim Barnett sinked a shot from deep. In what would have been a three-pointer now, the crowd roared and Shonely shouted, "Rip City! All right!"

Schonely will be in attendance during Wednesday’s declaration. So will Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan. The proclamation is scheduled to be read by Wheeler at 10:30 a.m. at Portland City Hall.

Read the full proclamation here: 

City council declared June 12th as Portland Trail Blazers Day last year to commemorate the Trail Blazers Western Conference Finals appearance. Soon, even Damian Lillard will have his own day, according to a tweet from Mayor Wheeler!

It's a momentous occasion for the Trail Blazers, Schonley and Rip City!

Terry Stotts provides update on Jusuf Nurkic's recovery from right calf strain

Terry Stotts provides update on Jusuf Nurkic's recovery from right calf strain

Rip City was abuzz nearly a month ago when Damian Lillard revealed that center Jusuf Nurkic participated in a "full speed, contact, up and down" practice.

"He looked good to me," Lillard added. 

Nurkic suffered compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula on March 26th, 2019.

However, as Nurkic was ramping up basketball activity ahead of a return to the NBA court, Nurkic suffered a right calf strain in practice, which Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts had described as a "setback" in media availability before a home game against the Utah Jazz on February 1st. 

Tuesday, Stotts joined Dan Sheldon and Nigel Burton on Rip City Mornings for Trail Blazers Tuesdays and gave an update on Nurkic's recovery from the calf strain.

Well, we wait for the staff to clear him that's always [the protocol], the medical people always take precedent and when they [clear him] it'll be a gradual process back into it as always. It's been over a week since we left Portland so we'll see how he's feeling when we get back. But it's always the same procedure coming back; the medical staff gives their opinion of what he can do and ramp it up to where he was before he hurt his calf.

Although, Nurkic cannot undergo full contact, full speed practices as he had been before the setback, he's still at the practice facility, often rehabbing. 

"He's there every day. It's not like he hangs out at home and just says 'okay I'm ready now,'" said Stotts. "You know he comes in and just because he's not on the court he's getting treatment, he's in the weight room...doing cardiovascular weight training, he's doing everything except on the basketball court doing basketball activities." 

Hopefully, Nurkic's recovery progresses as planned and he can return to the court soon. 

You can listen to the full interview here.

Terry Stotts remains uncertain how long Damian Lillard may be out with groin strain

Terry Stotts remains uncertain how long Damian Lillard may be out with groin strain

The Portland Trail Blazers limped into the All-Break with the majority of the roster nursing some sort of injury. 

Damian Lillard was added to that list in the final minutes of the team's loss to the Grizzlies on February 12th when he suffered a right groin strain. 

The injury forced Lillard to remove himself from the Three-Point Competition and All-Star Game in Chicago and put his playing status in question for the Blazers return to the court on Feruary 21st vs. New Orleans. 

Lillard was still able to join in the All-Star festivities, performing on stage with Lil' Wayne and Jeremih. He even got engaged!

Head coach Terry Stotts was on Rip City Mornings with Dan and Nigel on Tuesday and he gave us an update on his star guard.

With groins, you just don't know. It could be a week, it could be a month. Who knows? - Terry Stotts

Stotts didn't put a timetable on Lillard's return, but he did say that he would be at the team's practice facility either Tuesday or Wednesday to be re-evaluated. However, Coach Stotts doesn't expect Lillard to practice Wednesday when the Trail Blazers return to practice. 

On the bright side, it appears Lillard got a very early jump on the rehab process. Said Stotts, "We were fortunate one of our H & P people were in Chicago to be able to give him treatment."

With team staff members on-site, the Blazers and Lillard wasted no time getting his body back to 100 percent. 

The Blazers start their post-All-Star break schedule at home Friday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans. 

Hopefully, fans heading to Moda Center are greeted by a healthy Lillard in the starting lineup. 

Tipoff is set for 7:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest and the NBC Sports My Teams App. 

Trail Blazers transfer Moses Brown, Jaylen Hoard to Texas Legends

Trail Blazers transfer Moses Brown, Jaylen Hoard to Texas Legends

Moses Brown and Jaylen Hoard are headed back to the Lone Star State. 

The Portland Trail Blazers completed two-way transfers of both players to the Texas Legends of the NBA G League, as announced on Monday. 


Brown, the 20-year-old center out of UCLA, has played in nine games for Portland, averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. With the Legends, Brown has averaged 14.9 points while shooting 63.8 percent from the field and 49.2 percent from the free-throw line. He’s also adding 7.6 rebounds and 1.41 blocks for the Legends. 

Hoard has averaged 2.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 13 games with the Trail Blazers this season. The 20-year-old rookie has been averaging 18.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 16 games for Texas. He’s been a hot hand for the Legends as of late, posting a double-double 27 points and 16 rebounds in the Legends victory over Agua Caliente on Feb. 7.

It's perfect timing for both players to get some extra work in. The Trail Blazers and the rest of the NBA are on All-Star break. Portland's will return from the break and host the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. 

Social Media has spoken: Damian Lillard would have never let the All-Star Game go that long

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Social Media has spoken: Damian Lillard would have never let the All-Star Game go that long

Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game was an overall experiment from the league with its new format.

And it seemed to work.

Both teams were playing a little bit of defense and the fourth quarter was way more competitive than it has been in recent years.

The new format looked like this:

Each of the first three quarters begin with the score of 0-0 and lasted for 12 minutes.  At the start of the fourth quarter, the game clock was turned off and a final target score was set of 157.

The final target score was determined by taking the leading team’s total cumulative score through three quarters and adding 24 points.

Team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo were laying it all out on the line.

It came down to the free throw line with Anthony Davis hitting 1-of-2 to help Team LeBron secure the win. 

FINAL: Team LeBron 157, Team Giannis 155

Team LeBron had to score 33 points in the final period to get the win.

About halfway through the 33-point flurry, NBA fans started posting on Twitter about five-time Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. They knew what time is was...

Fans were letting the world know that the game would’ve already been over if Lillard had been healthy enough to play.

 

One fan even mentioned, Lillard would’ve ended the game just like he did in the postseason against the Thunder.

Oh snap.  

As King James attempted a Logo Lillard game-winner, but with no success, fans were quick to say Dame would’ve had that one.

It wasn’t just fans in Rip City that wanted Damian Lillard out on the court.

Fans from all over the country were posting about how Lillard Time would've been spectacular down the stretch of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. 

NBA fans sure missed them some Logo Lillard.

This season, Lillard is averaging 29.5 points per game, while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from deep.

This fan even went as far as to say that Lillard should've still won the MVP honors.

Even though Lillard was reppin’ Team LeBron from the bench and didn’t get a chance to get on the floor, it was clear that social media was missing Dame Time.

Fingers crossed the All-Star Game will have the same format moving forward for Lillard to shine once again and prove social media right. 

Damian Lillard is ready for the final playoff push: 'The urgency just has to be there'

Damian Lillard is ready for the final playoff push: 'The urgency just has to be there'

The 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend did not go as Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had planned.

He was going to participate in the three-point contest.

He was going to get buckets and try to help Team LeBron get the win against Team Giannis in the All-Star Game.

But, with a strained groin injury that Lillard suffered in the last game before the break, his All-Star weekend turned into him focusing on getting healthy and performing his music in front of thousands.

Lillard admitted that his weekend in Chi-Town has been a lot more chill now that he’s injured.

In a sit-down interview with Trail Blazers Digital Content Manager Amara Baptist, the 5-time All-Star gave his thoughts on the weekend, an update on his health and how the Trail Blazers are ready for a final playoff push.

“Just to be able to lay low, be with my son, be with my family has been cool,” Lillard told Baptist.

Lillard said he feels ‘pretty good,’ just four days after suffering a right groin strain in Wednesday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and has been getting treatment and training while he has been in Chicago.

“It’s obviously sore, it’s a legit injury,” Lillard added.

The Trail Blazers team captain didn’t get to showcase his basketball talents this weekend, but he did get to share his musical talent with the world, performing on the NBA Saturday Night stage.

“It was cool just because being selected for the three-point shootout and the All-Star Game, and then not being able to play because I’m hurt, but still having a side of me or a talent that could be put on display was pretty cool,” Lillard said.

“Being able to share my music on the stage in front of that many followers and viewers, I thought that was real cool. I was excited about that, like it was my All-Star.”

In his 8th season, Lillard has been putting up historic numbers.

He’s been on a scoring tear.

In his last 10 games, Lillard is averaging 34.7 points, 9.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds. He is also shooting just under 50 percent from the  field, while hitting 47.2 percent from three.

Lillard admitted that it was tough not to compete in the All-Star Game this weekend.

I think we work so hard to be acknowledged for what we do. And this is like a reward that you don’t get to participate in… I realize that my health is first and my priority is my team if I want to come back and try to give us a chance to make a playoff push, then I can’t risk that by going out here and tweaking my groin a little bit more, making it worse than it is. Not only for this season, but going forward. I had to make a business decision, I guess. Obviously, I can even feel it, I know it wouldn’t be right to do from the standpoint of the future and the rest of the season it didn’t make sense.”  -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

Now it’s all about the homestretch of the season. Portland does have a favorable schedule, too, with 15 of their final 26 games at home.

Lillard knows he and his team must come together and be on the same page.

I think the urgency just has to be there. I think in our last 12, 13 games, we’ve played with a mentality, an edge that we need to win games, and I think that’s why we’ve won more games than we have been winning, especially against the better teams in the league -- home and on the road. So, I think we just have to continue that. I think coming out of the break you’re going to start seeing teams who are struggling to stay in that race, just fade away. -- Damian Lillard

After having that look in his eye Wednesday night following the loss to the Grizzlies, Lillard said, “It’s far from over. Believe that. It’s far from over.” 

Lillard added to that message this weekend:

“I think we’ve got to be that team that continues to fight through because we’ve been here before, so I just think it comes down to the urgency and how much it means to us, and I know it means a lot to our team. I gotta get healthy and we just have to come correct, our mentality has to be right. We’ve got to be on the same page, we’ve got to play with that purpose,” Lillard said.

The 29-year-old also mentioned that getting Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) and Zach Collins (left shoulder) back from injuries will only help them in the postseason.

“Once we get in [the playoffs], I’m pretty sure we’re the last team that anybody wants to see.”

*Mic Drop.

*Wave.

WATCH FULL INTERVIEW HERE:

Devin Booker: 'Dame is one of my favorite players to watch'

Devin Booker: 'Dame is one of my favorite players to watch'

It was just four days ago that Damian Lillard suffered a right groin strain and then suggested that Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker should be his replacement for the NBA All-Star Game.

And that’s exactly what the league decided to do.

Despite not participating, Lillard was still introduced alongside Booker before Sunday’s game.  

Before action tipped off, TNT’s Allie LaForce spoke with Booker about how Lillard had mentioned that he was one of his favorite players to watch.

Booker feels the same way.

It’s a mutual respect thing. Obviously, Dame is one of my favorite players to watch too. So, I want to go out there and do what he would do – get a few buckets and hopefully get the win. -- Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker said pregame

This season, Booker is averaging 26.4 points, 6.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds.

Lillard spoke with the media on Saturday about how much of a fan he is of Booker’s game.

“I watch a lot of their games, just because I like to watch him play.”

The 2018 NBA Three-Point Contest Champ will now have Lillard on the bench cheering him on in tonight’s All-Star Game.