Going into the season, expectations were relatively high for the Portland Trail Blazers. After going 44-39 last season after losing four of their five starters, it was felt that last season wasn’t a fluke and that this Blazer team was going to be right in the mix this upcoming season. Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned. The Blazers are currently sitting at 13-16 on the season and have lost six of their last seven. While this was a similar start for the team last season, there is more reason to panic about the Blazers this season.
The Struggling Portland Trail Blazers
The Acquisition of Evan Turner
This past offseason, the Blazers wanted to be big spenders in free agency to help put their team over the top. They were able to lure Evan Turner from the Boston Celtics with a 4-year, $70 million contract. As soon as this signing was announced, there was more negative reaction than positive. Turner is a solid player who thrived in the 6-man role with Boston, but his fit with Portland has been iffy so far. One of the biggest aspects of their team is perimeter shooting, and that is arguably the biggest weakness in Turner’s game; he is currently shooting 24.9% from beyond the arc.
While Turner has been on the court, the Blazers have actually been significantly worse; his +/- on the season so far is -6.4. He is currently averaging 9.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 3.0 APG. There have been some flashes of him fitting in with the team, but it has been more of a negative connection so far. The front office is probably starting to regret this decision they made.
Injuries on Injuries
Throughout an NBA season, injuries are going to hit almost every team. For the Blazers, those injuries have come very early in the season. It was announced today that free agent acquisition Festus Ezeli will miss the remainder of the season once he undergoes surgery on his left knee. He has not played a single minute for the Blazers this season because of the ongoing knee issue. When the front office decided to sign Ezeli, they knew that they were taking a huge risk because of the knee issues. This is another head-scratching decision made by front office. When healthy, we have seen the potential in Ezeli’s game from his days with the Warriors. But right now, the issues just don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
Another Blazer that has been sidelined with injury is Al-Farouq Aminu. He had been out for a month with a calf injury and made his return to the court on December 5th against the Chicago Bulls. Since his return, he has not been the same player. The Blazers are really missing his perimeter shooting and his ability to defend the best player on the opposing team. He has missed the past two games with a back injury. Hopefully, he can return to the court sooner rather than later and be healthy for the team going forward.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Blazers is their defense, and that has been the case for them yet again. They currently sit at 30th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.4. If a team wants to take the next step and be one of the elites, it starts on the defensive end. Because of their defensive woes, it makes it much more difficult to turn good defense into an easy offensive possession. During this current skid of going 1-6 in their last seven, the Blazers are giving up 114.8 PPG and have given up at least 120 points in three of the past four games. Sure, a team can go ahead and score all of the points they want. But if they aren’t going to put in the time and effort on the defensive end, it is going to come back and haunt them.
There is legitimate reason to push the panic button on the Blazers. The defensive struggles are still there, and their offseason acquisitions have not lived up to expectations. There is only so much that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can do for that team. The Blazers are currently the 8th seed in the West. With every team above them looking like much better teams, it will be interesting to see what happens going forward. But if they want to move up in the standings, they really need to get it together before things get out of hand.
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 7: Damian Lillard of Portland Trail Blazers drives the ball against New York Knicks during an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2014 in New York, United States.
(Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)