Without a blockbuster at the deadline, did the Portland Trail Blazers get any better?

Without a blockbuster at the deadline, did the Portland Trail Blazers get any better?

The 2019 NBA trade deadline came and went, and the Portland Trail Blazers failed yet again to make a big-time move. General Manager Neil Olshey was on the horn trying to get a big deal done, and he told NBC Sports Northwest’s own Dwight James that he had the green light to push forward on a couple of trades that never happened.

Now, Blazers fans will have to settle in with what Portland did get in Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere.

Hood is the obvious choice to make a big impact this season. The Blazers are already weak at the wing position, particularly with Maurice Harkless struggling to find his footing. Jake Layman has played well in his stead, but is more of an offensive weapon than anything else.

Hood is a bit of a reclamation project after a couple of seasons where he saw his progression sputter. Although he’s a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, he’s shied away from his long-range game this year. In Utah, Hood generally shot around 46 percent of his field goals from beyond the arc. In Cleveland this year, that had dipped to 33.5 percent

The real question with Hood will be if he can limit some of his poorer tendencies. Cleveland was not good for his development, and he often relied on a lot of dribble-heavy possessions before taking long 2-pointers. As is the case with any mid-range player, Hood will need to take smart long jumpers to make himself valuable.

It’s clear that Hood has the kind of skillset that plugs into the Portland offense. As a mid-range shooter, Hood attacks from the same general part of the floor that CJ McCollum already inhabits. Both like to hoist floaters in the lane and take elbow jumpers. Hood is also pretty effective on slow post-ups from the wing or stop-and-spin moves around five feet that, after watching tape, feel sort of Brandon Roy-ish, at least in their aesthetic. That should help teammates put Hood in the right position early on, since they already know how to help McCollum.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts will try to get Hood take a few steps back, behind the arc, to help Portland's bench keep up their 3-point onslaught.

I also have my reservations about Hood as a defender. Yes, he’s taller than a lot of the other guards on this roster, but even at 6-8 he’s not a small forward. His most successful years with the Jazz saw him play a majority of his minutes at SG, and so how Stotts arranges him with Seth Curry, Harkless, and Layman will be interesting.

Labissiere is a long-term project, one with very little downside. He’s raw, but is at least a shooter. Labissiere has been buried on the Sacramento Kings’ bench all season long, and has seen action in 13 games this year.

The knock on Labissiere is one that’s endemic to his age. The Kentucky product is a step or two slow, particularly on defense, which is common for just about every NBA big man during their first few years. Olshey told Dwight that he thinks Labissiere fits better with the Blazers’ style of play and I have to agree with him. Portland has made a clear switch to stretch the floor by any means necessary this season, most obviously on the front line with the boost in the minutes of Meyers Leonard. Labissiere at least makes more sense than Caleb Swanigan, an earthbound, low-post type of hustle player who seemed like he wasn’t super excited to be on ice for all but 145 minutes this season.

Analyzing Labissiere statistically this season would be a bit dishonest given his lack of playing time, but looking at his previous two years lends us something. Labissiere shot well from 3-point range in 2017-18, and was in the 71st percentile for his position, according to Cleaning the Glass. The real worry is that his at-rim percentage wasn’t great. The long-term goal for him is to find a way to be multi-faceted on offense. So many young guys seem to find a groove and never move out of it, particularly when they're shooters.

Labissiere could also be an impactful player defensively, but his instincts will need to develop. Yes, he’s athletic, but too many people get caught up on “wingspan” which includes the width of players' shoulders. You block or alter shots vertically, so standing reach is far more important since it’s a measurement of actual height.

In that department, Labissiere measures the same as Meyers Leonard — 9 feet — which is three inches shorter than Zach Collins. Leonard has grown to learn how to at least alter shots, and Labissiere has a good block percentage for his position. Still, you worry about him hunting and giving up dump-off, so there’s some work to do there.

Portland got better in the short term by adding both Hood and Labissiere, and didn’t give up anyone of importance to do it. Yet again, Blazers fans are left wondering if they’ll ever see a blockbuster trade that does something, anything to shakeup this roster. Meanwhile, Olshey has made another smart, low-risk move that could end up paying off this spring. 

If it doesn’t, the Blazers will be where they always are, which is where they’ve always been.

Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

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Blazers Outsiders: What to expect on his long road trip

The Blazers have the unenviable task of starting the "second half" of the season with a seven-game road trip. The trip will see them hit the road for two weeks, play games in two countries, and have tipoffs ranging from 1pm to 8pm. Needless to say, it's going to be an exhausting trip. 

The trip starts on Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets (30-29), then sees the Blazers take on the 76ers (37-21), Cavaliers (12-46), Celtics (37-21), Raptors (43-16), Hornets (27-30), and end with the Memphis Grizzlies (23-36). 

It may not seem like it, but this is a pivotal trip for Portland. The Blazers need to finish the season 16-9 to hit the magical 50 win mark. If the Blazers hit 50 they will almost be a lock to be the four seed in the west. 

Not only will 50 wins help them lock in the four seed, but it could even get them the three seed. Oklahoma City (37-20) needs to finish the season 13-12 to get to the 50 win mark. While that may sound easy for a team like the Thunder, consider that 19 of their final 25 games are against current playoff teams. One small slip up and the door is open for the Blazers. If that happens, the Blazers needs to jump right through. 

A winning record on this road trip will be a great start.

4-3 should be the goal for the Blazers. Anything better is great, anything worse is a step in the wrong direction. There are some tough teams on this trip, but they are all winnable. 4-3 may be the goal, but 5-2 is certainly achievable. 

The Nets, Cavs, Hornets, and Grizzlies should be wins, while the Celtics and Raptors look like losses on paper. The 76ers are a wildcard. Philly is a tough team, but without Joel Embiid in the lineup they are a lot easier to take down. The Trail Blazers can pick this up and go 5-2.

So much hinges on this trip. Finish above .500 and you continue to move closer to locking up a top seed. However, go below .500 and you could easily come back home as a sixth or seventh seed.

First things first, the Blazers need to set the tone with a win over the Nets on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 4:30pm, with coverage beginning at 3:30pm on NBC Sports Northwest.


 

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets: How and Where to Watch

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 4:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Even

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (3:30 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio


INJURY UPDATES

The Trail Blazers have listed Damian Lillard (left ankle sprain) as questionable and Rodney Hood (gastrointestinal) as probable for Thursday’s game at Brooklyn. Hood was not at practice on Wednesday.


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum & Terry Stotts weigh in on the impressive James Harden streak 

Jamie Hudson: Trail Blazers Notebook: Enes Kanter is ready to roll

Dane Delgado: Life without Ed Davis: How has Zach Collins filled in this year?

Mike Richman: Trail Blazers know their year will be defined by the postseason (Part 1 of 3) 

VIDEO: Damian Lillard's Top Plays of the Season... so far


Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Enes Kanter talks terrorizing basketball rims to Jersey Shore tanning beds on The Daily Show

Enes Kanter talks terrorizing basketball rims to Jersey Shore tanning beds on The Daily Show

Before Enes Kanter makes his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, the Turkish center took a trip back the Big Apple for an appearance on the The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Kanter, who was acquired by the Blazers following the NBA Trade Deadline, talked about his move to the “home of the hipsters,” why its important to use his platform as a sports figure and his fascination with Sponge Bob SquarePants and Jersey Shore.

Let’s look at what your newest Trail Blazer had to share. 

On joining the Trail Blazers:

"I'm very excited. The Portland Trail Blazers are about to make the playoffs. They're the four seed in the West. And they just beat the Golden State Warriors, so I'm very excited about that.”

On learning English via Sponge Bob SquarePants and Jersey Shore:

“Well, I was in college. I asked one of my friends, ‘where can I learn the street language?’ and he said, ‘there’s a show.’ And I said, ‘What show?’ and he said, ‘The Jersey Shore.’ So I just started watching Pauly D, Snooki and was like... this is so weird. First two months, I didn’t understand a word they were saying, and then after that I started understanding and then the next thing I was in a tanning bed."

On why he’s chosen to speak up about what’s going on in Turkey:

"I have a platform. I’m trying to use this platform for all of those citizens and all of those people who don’t have a voice. You see, people know my story, but there are thousands and thousands of people out there who have stories that are way worse than mine. Like the Hizmet movement’s people, led by the scholar Fethullah Gulen, but not just them. You know, the Kurds, the Alawites, and the secularist minority groups in Turkey. If you talk about the government or regime or President Erdogan, they think that you’re a terrorist. That’s why they have claimed that I am a terrorist. So I tweet that the only thing I terrorize is their basketball rims.”

Watch the full segment here.

Enes Kanter's contagious energy expected to be on display in Trail Blazers debut

Enes Kanter's contagious energy expected to be on display in Trail Blazers debut

Enes Kanter will make his first appearance for the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, as the Blazers take on the Nets at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. 

Kanter, who signed with the Blazers on Feb. 13, is expected to make an impact immediately, and possibly even shake up Portland's rotation. 

Ahead of the Brooklyn game, Blazers reporter Jamie Hudson joined The Brian Noe Show to share her thoughts on how Kanter will fit in on Portland's roster, and what we can expect from the new center from the start. 

Take a listen to the clip above.

The Blazers look different, but are they better?

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The Blazers look different, but are they better?

This is the third of a three part All-Star Break feature series. 

Read part 1 on how this Blazers season will be defined on Portland's success in the postseason.

Read part 2 on Damian Lillard's will to win.

Damian Lillard had to run to do a radio hit, but he had time for one last question after practice wrapped up in early February.

“Are the Trail Blazers more equipped to make a deep playoff run than they have been in past?”

He intercepted the question like a lazy cross court pass.

“I think any time you remain the same, you keep a group together and come back after you go through something like that together,” he said, alluding to last season’s playoff sweep. “If you can hold it together you’re going to be better equipped going forward because we’ve been through it.”

Lillard was touting Portland’s continuity, a buzzword that can sound like experience or staleness depending on the ear.

But after trading for Rodney Hood and signing Enes Kanter, the Blazers have clearly admitted that continuity could only take this team so far. The final 25 games of the regular season should be sponsored by a new term: Configuration, as in how to fit together all the moving parts on an increasingly deep roster.

Neil Olshey went bargain shopping at the deadline, turning a couple of fringe players into two rotation mainstays. Hood is averaging 23 minutes a game in four games with the Blazers and offers an intriguing option at either forward spot. Kanter is likely headed for about 20 a night as the backup center, and should provide some offensive punch to Portland’s frontline. There is simply a numbers crunch, which will leave someone left watching most nights.

No matter how the minutes shake out, it’s clear this is the deepest and most versatile roster the Blazers have had in the post-LaMarcus Aldridge era. Jusuf Nurkic is playing the best basketball of his career, Jake Layman looks like a legit NBA scorer, throw in Hood and Kanter and it’s obvious the Blazers have upgraded Lillard’s supporting cast. Terry Stotts now has more options and more combinations to work with, a strength that reads more like a challenge.

The endless rotation questions have already touched a nerve with Stotts, who bristled at a relatively innocuous query about his starting lineup just before the All-Star break, and that was before the team signed Kanter. His in-game decisions will likely serve as his best answers. But with home court advantage on the line during the stretch run, Stotts doesn’t have the luxury to spend too much time experimenting with his new look roster.

Who plays and when certainly matters, but the rotation questions miss the larger point. The Blazers made a two solid and essentially risk-free moves in an effort to upgrade the roster. However those additions may not have answered the fundamental questions this team faces.

Do the Blazers have an answer -- or a lineup -- that can respond when the inevitable double teams envelope Lillard in the playoffs? And on the other side of the floor, is there a combination on the roster that can consistently get enough stops against elite competition?

That’s why configuration has surpassed continuity in the Blazers vocabulary hierarchy. The Blazers have options. Next they’ll need answers.

Trail Blazers Notebook: Enes Kanter is ready to roll

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NBC Sports Northwest

Trail Blazers Notebook: Enes Kanter is ready to roll

BROOKLYN – As the Trail Blazers first practice post All-Star break wrapped up, the majority of the team was getting up three-point shots on one side of the court, while the rookies Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons went over plays with the newest additions to the team, Skal Labissiere and Enes Kanter.

Blazers assistant coach Nate Tibbetts ran through the sets with Kanter, showing him different options. After about five minutes of showing and teaching, it was time for Kanter and the three others to show what they had learned.

Tibbets yells out with a smile on his face, “Okay, we’re going to go over the three plays.”

After practice, Kanter joked that smoke was coming out of his head after trying to learn so many plays in a short amount of time, but he also said, “when you have guys like Dame and CJ on your team, the game just becomes so easy on the offensive end.

“I just tried to get all the sets in, in like 30 minutes. I probably don’t remember any of them right now,” Kanter joked.

The overall consensus after the first practice with the newly acquired backup center– Kanter is a “chill” dude who is ready to bring the energy.

Kanter is expected to be inserted into the rotation in the Blazers first game back since the All-Star break on Thursday night against the Nets.

He has high expectations of himself.

“I want to bring more energy and try to be a good teammate. I think it’s my eighth year in the league now, so I’m trying to help the young guys and try to be a good teammate and the best question for me is – how can I make others better?” Kanter said.

Kanter has been looking over videos of the Blazers’ main offensive sets since the start of the All-Star break.

The only two players he said he knew on the Blazers’ roster before joining the team was Rodney Hood (both played in Utah together) and CJ McCollum after playing pick-up games over the summer together.  

During Wednesday’s practice, the Blazers scrimmaged and got up and down the floor quite a bit.

Both Damian Lillard and Evan Turner expressed their feelings of adding Kanter to the team.

“Really strong. I knew he was strong when we played against him… Each time he got the ball he was able to get a quality shot on the block. He was really good on the block, a really good offensive rebounder. Everything that I knew from just observing him, from watching him before we became teammates… The game looked easy to him on that end of the floor,” Lillard said.

“I’ve always been a big Kanter fan. He had a good practice today… Trying to fill him up as much as possible,” Turner added.

Kanter also said he is already feeling like he is a part of the team.

“From the first moment that I stepped in, everybody was trying to help and everybody was talking to me about lots of stuff so it’s become very easy. I feel like I’ve been part of this team for a long time from the first day,” Kanter said.

After Kanter was waived by the Knicks he had a long list of teams pursing him, but it came down to just two teams for the 26-year-old.

“I was deciding between Lakers and Portland… I wanted to play for Portland,” Kanter said. 

THE ROAD TRIP & ED DAVIS:

As for this Blazers seven-game road trip, Turner summed it up pretty good:

“The blessing is -- there’s no back-to-backs… It’s a great test. We’ve got a great mixture of some top caliber teams,” Turner said.

First test for Portland is the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night, which means it will be the first time the Blazers will face their former teammates, Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier.

Davis, Lillard and Turner already went out to dinner together earlier this week.

Lillard said that Ed likes Brooklyn and there was a list of things he misses about Davis…

“Everything. He was a great dude, first of all… The personality… What he brought to our team, I think we all miss him,” Lillard said.

But now that it’s the second half the season, Lillard is focused on two goals: “Just get the job done… We need 16 for a 50-win season. A 50-win season is what I would like for our team… Have a good playoff performance, that’s all I care about right now.”

INJURY NOTES:

Damian Lillard (left ankle sprain) is questionable and Rodney Hood (gastrointestinal) is probable for Thursday’s game at Brooklyn.

Hood was not at practice on Wednesday.

Four things Zach Collins needs to improve in 2019

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Four things Zach Collins needs to improve in 2019

This is the third story of a three part All-Star Break feature series.

Read part 1 of this feature series on whether Zach Collins has hit his sophomore slump

Read part 2 of this feature series on how Collins has filled in following Ed Davis' departure.

Second-year Portland Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins is filling in nicely for Ed Davis, although in a significantly different role. The Blazers wanted more shooting out of the minutes provided from Davis last season, and Collins has done that when asked — albeit with some streaky months behind the 3-point line.

Still, Collins is a young NBA big man and as such he still has many things to improve before he can be considered for the starting lineup. Let's take a look at four things Collins needs to solidify as we head into the bulk of 2019. 

3-point shooting

Collins has already become a reliable 3-point shooter in the aggregate, but he has been streaky on a month-to-month basis. That streakyness directly correlates with his offensive effectiveness, not to mention Collins’ confidence

Now that teams know that Collins should be respected as a 3-point shooter, it's time for the Blazers big man to adapt and get more practice in with players defending him tighter. Portland needs him to be a good shooter from that spot, particularly this season with Al-Farouq Aminu struggling from beyond the arc at the 4 position. 

Foul rate

We have talked before about the difference in the perception of Collins on defense this season. Collins has always been a guy who fouls quite a bit, but his explosion in blocks at the beginning of the season really made up for that. Now that his blocks have regressed, Collins’ fouling look more dire.

While it would be nice to say that Collins needs to improve his blocking, that's not a realistic suggestion. In fact, because Collins has been so good at swatting opposing field goals, blocks are less likely because players are starting to stay away from him. Nevertheless, Collins is still altering shots and his rim protection numbers are quite good. 

What isn't good is his propensity to foul, and NBA coaching staffs have tricks of the trade to impart upon him to bring those numbers down a little bit. Footwork, hand positioning, and time spent in front of NBA refs can all help. Once Collins gets his fouling under control, he’ll be even more valuable on defense.

Finishing

Collins shoots just 66 percent at the rim according to Cleaning the Glass, putting him smack dab in the middle of the rankings for his position. He has done a good job this season of changing where he gets shots on the floor, effectively cutting out all of his long jumpers.

But where Collins really falls short is when he's close to the basket, particularly because he's not a strong offensive-rebound-and-putback type of player. Where someone like Ed Davis benefits in field goal percentage thanks to a high amount of offensive rebounds dunked directly back into the basket, Collins often shoots close to the rim on dump-offs and post-ups. He's not great at either, but learning to navigate down low could just take some more playing time. 

Defensive rebounding

People have really come back around to the idea of defensive rebounding being important. Where before most statisticians were obsessed with offensive rebounding as a means to additional possessions and quick buckets, now we are again looking at how players snatch up opponent misses as a way to prevent those very things.

Collins is near the bottom of the NBA for his position when it comes to defensive rebounding. He grabbed a defensive rebound around 16 percent of the time compared to 34 percent of the time for a guy like Ed Davis. That puts Collins in the 22nd percentile and Davis in the 97th percentile, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Thanks to Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Evan Turner, the Blazers are a good defensive round rebounding team. But for his own personal development, Collins needs to focus on this portion of his game, particularly as he learns to go after the ball from different parts of the floor as he guards all kinds of NBA big men. 

Damian Lillard not focused on chasing rings, wants to do things the 'right way'

Damian Lillard not focused on chasing rings, wants to do things the 'right way'

Over All-Star Break, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard joined Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports on his Posted Up podcast. In the episode, Lillard revealed his thoughts on Anthony Davis wanting out of New Orleans, on the Blazers additions of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter, why he hasn't demanded a trade out of Portland, and so much more. 

Let's take a look at what the four-time All-Star had to share. 

On addition of Rodney Hood:

"I think his ability to score, his size, and now you got different lineups you can play with, where he’s switching and guarding so many different positions that I know can help with our versatility and help with our different lineups.”

On adding Enes Kanter before All-Star break:

“Since he’s been in the league, he’s been one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, really good in the paint. He’s competitive and he was one of those personalities, you know and I think for every team, you need one of those guys.”

Thoughts on Anthony Davis requesting a trade and what he expects:

“I hope he gets what he’s looking for. We were same draft class. We’ve been in the league 7 years now, so he’s been there 7 years and he felt like he’s done his best. He’s given them what he’s wanted to give them and he’s ready to move on. You can’t be mad at him for that. Some people might have something to say about he’s going about it, or whatever, but he ready to move on.”

On how Paul Allen helped Lillard get his album recorded:

“He ended up letting me record my first album at his house. That summer I went back, we had to put everybody’s name on the list and all this stuff to see who’s going to be coming and all that. It was all set up.”

On how the team handled the passing of Paul Allen: 

“I think we’ve handled it pretty well. It’s been different because for us, he obviously comes to a lot of games, especially home games. We leave the court, we walk through the tunnel and before we get to the locker room, he’s usually the first person’s hands we shake…Now we walkin’ back there and it’s almost like you looking for him a little bit because you’re so used to it from all these years.”

The importance of not selling out for a championship:

“Even though it’s a tough position, having a lot of responsibility. Six, seven years of fighting, trying to get over the hump. Even though it’s hard, I don’t want to take my position for granted. I think it could be worst. I could be in worst situations where I’m not valued the way I am, where I’m not in the position to have the type of individual success that I’ve had, and also, each year as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the other stuff. Obviously we all play to win a championship, I compete to win a championship. But I’ve learned its about so many other things: the relationships, the impact that you have on other people and their lives and the impact that you can have on their careers."

"I know in my heart I want to win a championship, but it’s more important to me to know, me and Chief we really friends, me and CJ we really friends. I could say alright I don’t want to be here, I want to go do this because I want to win and I could ruin stuff for other people…When my career is over, I’m going to know the relationships I’m going to have, I’m going to know the people who knew I was solid with them, regardless of if I was at the top or if I controlled all this stuff, I did it the right away."

On convincing free agents to come to Portland:

“It’s an underrated city. For a lot of people with social media and everything, there’s so many distractions for us now, more than any era in the NBA. In Portland, there’s less of that than a lot of other places. So for you to be the best version of yourself as a basketball player, it’s a good city. It’s a good environment, as far as our team, it’s a good organization, and I think that’s something that gets overlooked."

To listen to the full interview on Haynes' podcast, click here. 

Will to win: Damian Lillard’s rare gifts power the Blazers inside and out

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Will to win: Damian Lillard’s rare gifts power the Blazers inside and out

This is the second of a three part All-Star Break feature series. Check Wednesday for part 3…

Read part 1 on how this Blazers season will be defined on Portland's success in the postseason.

The Trail Blazers arrived at their Miami hotel late. It was a Saturday night in March 2017 and Portland had just come off a troubling road loss in Atlanta that dropped their record to 31-37.

Damian Lillard and Evan Turner stayed up late into the early hours of Sunday watching boxing and chatting. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez lost his perfect 46-0 record and then Gennady Golovkin went 12 rounds with Danny Jacobs. When the fights ended, Lillard and Turner were up until around 2 a.m., the conversation mostly steering far away from a bad loss just hours earlier.

The following day, Lillard lit up the Miami Heat for 49 points, dragging the Blazers across the finish line with his own heavyweight performance.

“That’s when I knew it was different,” says Turner, who has played alongside All-Stars Andre Iguodala, Rajon Rondo and Paul George during his 10 NBA seasons.

It was the first time Turner came to truly appreciate his teammate’s’ greatest strength. On the flight home, he came to a realization that Lillard’s will and determination set him apart from other star players Turner had played with in his career.

“Just when you watch him play. The only thing I can say is it’s his will,” Turner says. “I don’t know if he’s born with it or if it’s from his Dad or anything, but it’s a will. That’s the only thing you can really say.”The deep three-pointers are obvious. The scoring binges are easy to count on the scoreboard and the stat sheet. But what separates Lillard is an authentic and unflappable belief in himself and his teammates. 

Sometimes that plays out in more subtle ways.

Earlier this February, the Blazers trailed Miami by eight with the clock running under 30 seconds. Terry Stotts had instructed his team not to foul. But Lillard wasn’t ready to accept defeat and watch the clock run out. He committed a foul with 15 seconds left.

“I’m like ‘Bro, we can’t win,’” Turner recalls thinking. “But in my head I’m like ‘Let me stop’ because that dude truly believes in winning in any situation.”

It can come off as corny or even out of touch in interviews. After tough losses, Lillard will insist his team was ‘right there,’ a few bad bounces away from pulling out a win. When asked about title contenders, Lillard will scoff if a reporter doesn’t include the Blazers among those likely to be competing for a championship. Even more tangibly, Lillard won’t finalize promotional trips in the summer that are scheduled for early June, earnestly believing that the Blazers will still be playing.

When Lillard discusses games, he will often circle back to some version of the phrase “our minds were in the right place.” Lillard’s mindset and his ironclad will are perhaps his best attributes. The “You Know What Time It Is” branding on his adidas signature shoes is born out of that attitude. He refuses to accept games have been decided and has the requisite ability to change outcomes in the waning seconds.

It’s why when talking about the postseason, Lillard laughs when asked if there will be lingering effects from Portland’s disheartening playoff sweep at the hands of New Orleans.

“I’m one of those people that I believe you gotta go through [stuff],” Lillard says. “You gotta experience that stuff. That’s just what it is. I look at it as a time that we had to go through it. Everybody’s had their time where they’ve had to go through that failure, or that struggle, whatever you want to call it. It’s how you use that, and how you bounce back from it. That’s all it is to me now.”

He points out that Pelicans have completely unraveled since they beat the Blazers in the playoffs last April, while Portland is right back in the mix, yet again eyeing home court advantage in the postseason.

“When we get to playoffs that’s where it comes from here,” Lillard says, tapping his heart.  “That’s when you’re like, ‘Alright that’s not happening again. We’re coming with it and having a better performance.’”

Lillard’s intangible skills have been praised countless times before. His leadership holds the Blazers together and helps to seamlessly incorporate new additions to the locker room. But his unmatched will and uncommon determination are at times under appreciated. The Blazers’ franchise player genuinely believes his team can compete for a title this season, and for a few of his teammates that belief is contagious

“I honestly believe up until the last second that we have a chance,” Turner says. “Because the dude is gold.”

The Blazers have added depth this season, they’ve found a better role for Turner and coaxed more consistency out of Jusuf Nurkic. But the constant is the play and unwavering belief of Lillard, the guy that taps his heart when talking about the playoffs and taps his wrist at crunch time.