OK, it’s time to face the music here in Portland. And please, no comment about small sample size and overreaction.
The Trail Blazers are struggling out of the gate and it’s clear we’re not seeing the same team we watched finish the season strong last year. You can admit that now and try to fix it or just let things get further off the tracks.
The defense has been in and out, I’m not sure the team is consistently playing as hard as it has in the past and the bench – thought to be a big strength of the Trail Blazers – is being overwhelmed.
And of course there are the rebounding issues, too. Portland hasn’t won the battle of the boards since opening night of the season.
We’re not accustomed to those things and it’s obvious that expectations were higher than this. Bur right now, the Portland Trail Blazers are mainly CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and a bunch of other guys. Yes, Maurice Harkless has had his moments, but after that I am not seeing much in the way of consistent contributions.
I’ve been constantly asked, off the air and on, what can be done. How can this team be fixed?
There are no easy answers. Solutions are based on alternative directions and there aren’t many available. Change the starting lineup? Sure… and move who from the bench up to a starting role?
The best reserve – in a tiny, very limited role – has been rookie Jake Layman and I doubt he’s going to leap-frog all those veterans into the starting five. (Although on a team where outside shooting seems to be a need, I'd consider it.)
Any solution starts with playing harder. Somehow, a fuse must be lit because the effort on defense hasn’t been matching that of this team’s opponents.
I’ve said this before but I believe the days when the Blazers could get away with small lineups for long periods of time are numbered. They are getting killed in the paint on a nightly basis and I believe the lack of size is part of the reason for all of their fouls.
I would give Meyers Leonard a shot at the power forward job and not just for a game or two. I’d give him a month to see how his comfort level looks. At the very least he’s going to help spread the court and make it easier to get dribble penetration.
That’s a radical move given that he’s barely played over the first nine games. But isn’t it time for a change?
The elephant in the room as far as the bench play is concerned, is Evan Turner. This man has not only chalked up the two worst plus-minus performances of the season in the NBA, he has – by a wide margin – the worst overall plus-minus (-11.6 per game, if you can believe it) in the NBA so far this season.
Make whatever excuses for him you want, the Trail Blazers are consistently being outscored every time he puts a foot on the court.
I have talked to many people around the league and none of them seems too surprised that Turner hasn’t worked out in Portland.
“Couldn’t believe they went out and got him,” said one long-time coach in the league. “He doesn’t fit with the way Terry Stotts likes to play.”
“He’s one of those guys the ball sticks to,” said another coach. “He’s a ball hog.”
Portland is trying a lot of things with Turner in an effort to get him going but so far the results haven’t been there. And to be fair, it’s hard to have great plus-minus numbers when the other guys you’re on the floor with aren’t playing well. But it's a real puzzle to decide if they have a low plus-minus because of him, or he does because of them.
Allen Crabbe is not getting enough shots, not having the impact he needs to have and I'm not sure whose fault that is. Ed Davis is suddenly a foul machine. Noah Vonleh is up and down and it’s been difficult to get points out of any of them.
Yes, the record is still decent, but with the way the Trail Blazers have been playing I believe tough times are ahead unless something is done.
And the Wednesday night debacle against the Clippers looked like a bad omen. Lillard can’t keep carrying this team on his back forever. The defenses are already starting to gang up on him and he's already taking too much contact.
There are almost too many questions right now. And not enough answers.