Three Things We Learned About the Trail Blazers in 2018
A wrap on the year
The year is almost over, but this season has just begun for your Portland Trail Blazers. The team is still recovering from a playoff sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last April, and after a quick start to the 2018-19 NBA season, fans are cautiously optimistic about the team.
Or are they cautiously pessimistic? Sometimes it’s hard to tell in Rip City.
As you wrap up work week at the office and get ready for the holidays, it's time to take a look back at this year in Trail Blazers history to determine what we know about this team and where they might be headed in 2019.
Damian Lillard is finally the player Portland has always needed
Lillard made his mark on the franchise when he beat the Rockets with a buzzer-beating shot to end a playoff series in 2014. I was there, as were many of you, and it was spectacular. Breathtaking. But excellence turns to greatness in the NBA only after a player makes himself whole, and Lillard has begun to do that in 2018. The star guard has made himself better on defense, and has shown improvement over his compatriot in McCollum. Lillard is as useful on offense as he's ever been, posting personal bests in things like offensive rating, 3-point shooting percentage, and scoring per 100 possessions.
The team has wanted a player like Lillard since Brandon Roy, and a point guard in particular since Damon Stoudamire. That he's reached this peak and continued to round out his game is something Blazers fans shouldn’t take for granted. Lillard a joy to watch each night, and he’s not just a scoring guard anymore. Lillard is truly worthy of his franchise cornerstone title, and that’s important.
Winning isn’t everything, but losing the same way is grating
Would you rather have the Blazers try to tank or keep their stars and continually be a winning roster who is worth seeing night after night on TV or at the Moda Center? Would you rather be the Phoenix Suns or the Blazers? How about the Sacramento Kings or the Blazers?
That's what I thought.
Even with some legitimate complaints about how the Blazers have played this season, the reality is what bothers Portland fans the most is not that the team isn't a continual winner. Seriously, the Blazers are one of the best franchises in NBA history. But a top 6 winning percentage doesn’t do you much good if you keep losing the same way year after year.
That’s the thing that has annoyed Blazers fans with this group. The true test will come this spring, when we wonder if the backcourt will get trapped to death come playoff time or if Portland can find a solution to what ails them.
This team needs a third star
Jusuf Nurkic isn't going to cut it. During his second full season with the Blazers, Nurkic has surprised me in that he hasn't laid off his dedication to improvement even after signing an extension this summer.
Still, Nurkic at his very best isn't going to be the third option the Blazers need. Portland can add rotational depth around CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard all they want, but in today's NBA the reality is they are going to need a third, bonafide star to push them beyond the first round.
This season is perhaps the best example of why that's the case. Even with excellent bench contribution at beginning of the year, Portland has shown signs of having the same weaknesses they've had in years past. A third star is the answer, and clarity around the roster theory in Portland has never been better.