We've reached the halfway point of the season and Blazers Outsider Chris Burkhardt has taken the time to hand out his midseason report cards for the Trail Blazers.
41 down, 41 to go. The Blazers have officially reached the halfway point of the season, and it hasn't been without its ups and downs. The Blazers started strong out of the gate, at one point holding the best record in the Western Conference. But then they hit an early season bump in the road and fell toward the bottom. Despite the rough patch the Blazers have still managed to put together one of their best first halves in recent memory. Portland currently sits at 24-17, which is two games ahead of last season's 22-19 record, and is the team's best record through 41 games since they went 30-11 in the 2014-15 season.
The Western Conference is so stacked right now, that even though the Blazers are off to their best start in four seasons they are still just the seventh best team in the west - 3.5 games behind the first place Denver Nuggets (26-12).
With all that being said, it's time we sit down and grade the Trail Blazers at the halfway point:
Damian Lillard is doing Damian Lillard things. He's averaging 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. In fact, he is one of just five players in the league averaging 26 ppg, 4 rpg, and 6 apg: The other four being James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are all MVP candidates, and Lillard deserves to be in that conversation this season.
CJ McCollum has struggled to find his shot this season, shooting a career-worst 32.9% from three-point range. Despite his struggles from deep he has still managed to shoot 45.4% from the floor and score 20.8 points per game. He has also managed to come up clutch when the team needs him. I'll take an off shooting night if he redeems himself with buckets in crunch time. The plus side is there is still time for McCollum to find the shot and get back to his normal self.
Moe Harkless has struggled all season long, but it's really no fault of his own. Harkless has tried to will himself to play but his body just is not cooperating. He has missed 15 games this year, and had to leave Portland's last game after his left knee soreness returned. He is also averaging just 5.9 points per game, his worst average since his last season in Orlando. When healthy Harkless is an integral part of the lineup. Staying healthy is the struggle.
Aminu is quietly having a very strong season, nearly averaging a double-double. While his three-point percentage isn't great at 35.6%, his overall field goal percentage of 42.7% is actually the best he has shot the ball in his time in Portland. He is also averaging a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game, and his defense continues to be the best on the team.
The Bosnian Beast is currently in the midst of the best stretch of his career. He has scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games which is something he has never done before. He is averaging 15.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and shooting 50.8% from the floor - All career-highs. Add in the 1.1 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 2.9 assists and Nurkic is just filling up the box score. Earlier this season he became the first player in recorded history to have a 5x5 with 20 or more points and rebounds: 24 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and 5 blocks. Now that's a stat line.
Evan Turner has been the man behind the wheel of the second unit and has been very solid doing so. While his 7.8 points per game is his lowest average since his rookie season in 2010-11, his 46.7% shooting is the best of his career. He rebounds and assists per game are also the highest they have been while in Portland, and he has easily been the Blazers second best defender all season. While he hasn't been bad, it would be nice to see him score the ball more.
Curry started the season slowly but has shaken off the rust and come into his own as of late. He is shooting a career-best 48.5% from three-point range, which leads the entire NBA (among qualifying players). If he continues to come around there is no reason he shouldn't see all his averages continue to rise and become the bench unit's go-to scorer.
Stauskas started the season with a bang, scoring a career-high 24 points in the season opener and scoring in double-digits in five of the first eight games. However, he has scored double-digits in just two of the last 33 and has fallen out of the rotation.
Jake Layman has been the ultimate team player this season. He started the season as the starting small forward but was relegated to the end of the bench once Maurice Harkless returned. He then registered DNPs and garbage minutes. Through it all he never complained once, continued to work hard, and has since passed Stauskas on the depth chart. Lillard said last game the Layman is "instant offense," and he has proven so as of late.
It's not that Collins has been bad, in fact, he has been pretty solid off the bench. The disappointing part for Collins is that he hasn't really made the sophomore jump we wanted and expected. While he is averaging career-highs across the board, his stats are not much better than they were last season. He is averaging just 2.6 points, .9 rebounds, and .1 assist more than he was last season. Better, but not by much.
Meyers Leonard needed to step up with the departure of Ed Davis and he has certainly done that. He is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and most importantly he has finally found a level of consistency. He has become a reliable threat from deep, shooting 41.7% on the season, and has helped anchor a strong bench unit. While he continues to be the most polarizing player in Portland, it's nice to see him finally silencing some of his critics.
GARY TRENT JR, ANFERNEE SIMONS, WADE BALDWIN, CALEB SWANIGAN: Grade: Undecided
None of these players have played enough this season to give a true grade. The four have combined to play in just 38 games this season, most of the minutes coming in garbage time. Trent and Simons or currently on the active roster, while Swanigan and Baldwin are on assignment in the G-League.