Portland's season opened with a doozy last Thursday. The Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home in the Moda Center to give LeBron James a career-opening loss in LA.
Not bad, right?
As Blazers fans joke about a Lakers loss equaling anything else that may happen in the season, there is real excitement in Rip City. The team is now 2-1, and they look good.
We heard during training camp the types of changes the Blazers would make on both sides of the ball. But this roster doesn't look much different than the last one, and perhaps lost more than it gained. Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts have talked at length about their joint goals, but on Thursday it was time to put up or shut up.
The results so far have been excellent. I mean, if you want to forget about that Washington Wizards overtime loss (which I certainly do).
Here are three things I have noticed that the Blazers have done well to start things off in 2018-19.
Portland is taking more 3-pointers … just like they wanted
Stotts was unhappy with the rate of 3-pointers and the quality of attempts the Blazers got last year. The offense stagnated as both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum pounded the air out of the ball. The guards took turns acting as the de facto scorers after the first substitution. It didn't help that Shabazz Napier did much of the same after he caught a little juice during a stretch of games late in December.
Portland’s changes in reaction to last season's offensive deficiencies has been stark. Passes have been crisper, the team wants to share the ball, and players are more decisive without being careless in their shot selection.
The result through the first three games is that Blazers’ per 100 possession 3-point attempts have jumped by four, a huge amount. That’s additive considering Portland is still top team percentage-wise.
There was a real possibility that more 3-point shooting could have come at the cost of shot selection, but that doesn't appear to be the case. It's been higher quality shots from whomever is open.
The defense looks good without Ed Davis
Whatever you want to call it — buy in, I suppose — the Blazers have it. It's too early in the season to talk about defensive statistics at this point. But if the Blazers were going to show a dip from Ed Davis departing for the Brooklyn Nets, we would have noticed by now. Much as they have on offense, Portland seems to be playing excellent team defense this year. Rotations are succinct, assignments are obvious, and the team has exercised discipline. Whatever you want to call it — buy in, I suppose — the Blazers have done it.
The biggest question mark was Zach Collins, who has continued his excellent play from last season. Collins recorded six blocks against the Lakers, and has eight in three games. He’s been rotationally sound, and despite some fouls, has handled his increased minute load. That’s always the worry, by the way: That some guy who plays well and has advanced numbers to support a larger share might flame out with more minutes. But Collins looks ready to be a top guy for Stotts this year. I’m impressed with Jusuf Nurkic as well.
They're passing the ball more efficiently
The other big offensive goal for the Blazers this season is sharing in the rock. Thus far, they have succeeded in their task.
While basic assist totals have remained the same, the quality of assists has increased for Portland over last season. They’ve jumped seven percent (!) in 3-pointers made thanks to an assist, and their assist-to-turnover ratio has ticked upward despite being less careful with the ball over the first three games.
Plus, have you watched these guys?
Everyone — Lillard, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Nik Stauskas — wants to share the ball. This team was already prone to having a feel-good aura around them given how connected the locker room is. They've started the season with some kind of benevolent, altruistic sense to pass the ball and take the best shot. The only time they deviated from that was at the end of that Wizards game when Lillard tried to take on every Washington player by himself.
There is going to be lots more to talk about when it comes to this Blazers team this season. They started off with a bang and if their bench can contribute how they have so far, this team won't be a pushover.
It's early, but it's been fun in Portland.