The Portland Trail Blazers 2016-17 season has been one of the less excitable things to talk about, pockmarked with an array of injuries, disappointments, and steep pay checks. Damian Lillard is averaging career high stats, C.J. McCollum has played all-star level basketball and the remaining members of the roster have appeared to find their niche in some way or the other, be it through Mason Plumlee’s passing versatility or Allen Crabbe’s newfound hot shot. But unfortunately, things just haven’t gone as was planned and expected by many. Let’s do some Blazers goal setting in an attempt to see what should be expected by fans for the latter half of the season.
Blazers Goal Setting for the Second Half of the Season
Rain or Shine, Make the Playoffs
The battle for the final Western Conference playoff spot is almost as exciting as watching the top teams slug it out for home court advantage. Only 4.5 games separate the Nuggets, at eighth, from the Suns resting at the bottom.
To put this into perspective, at the same stage last season, 13 games separated the 8th best and worst teams in the West. Portland is only a hair of a percentage point behind Denver, coming off their excellent OT win against the Celtics. Of the eight teams vying for this one slot, the Blazers come out as having the best squad on paper along with playoff experience for three years straight. Only the Mavs can match this record, but they haven’t really come out banging as a playoff contender this season, even though they’re still just four games shy of the spot.
Simply put, the roster and coach that the Blazers have is too good to miss the playoffs. They have one of the most elite backcourts in the NBA that throws up fifty points a night on average, and in Lillard and McCollum are two stars that play All-Star basketball – it’s a different story that they both certainly won’t be heading to New Orleans for the game, it’s unheard of for coaches to vote in 2 players from a losing team. Terry Stotts was voted the second best coach of the 2015-16 season, and so to pinpoint the Blazers underwhelming season on him alone is premature. If any coach in the NBA knows how to turn losses into wins, it could be Stotts himself. Portland retained their core players from last season, so Stotts already has an idea of when and how to play them. Although his rotation’s haven’t quite been up to the level required so far, it’s fair to trust him to turn the tide as the season progresses.
Moreover, the Blazers boast a 9-5 record against the rivalling teams for the final playoff spot. One of the goals should be to maintain this record. Down the stretch, these wins will have direct connotations on the final regular season standings. The more the Blazers assert their dominance over the lesser teams in the West, the higher chance they give themselves to snag the eighth spot. The importance of these wins is magnified tenfold by the fact that all eight of these teams find it hard to compete with the elite teams in the NBA. It makes their wins against other teams even more valuable.
Make C.J. McCollum Untradeable
Neil Olshey is a smart GM, and the trade deadline will almost certainly pass without McCollum packing up to go elsewhere. However, amidst all the rumours its important to remake the point that in McCollum, Portland have an unbelievably good scorer who fits in well with the team in terms of chemistry and is working hard on his developing, albeit not complete defence. No one else on the trading block in the league currently comes even close to McCollum in terms of ability and youth. It’s hard to understand how an interruption in the harmonious backcourt would benefit Portland in the long run. They admittedly need a big defensive presence, but giving up the asset of McCollum is not worth any player. Yes, even Hassan Whiteside.
The reigning MIP can shoot the ball from any spot on the floor and can drive with zest. In particular, he’s developed a pull-up midrange game that leaves him with the 2nd highest midrange clip in the league. His undeniable versatility is enhanced by the fact that he can easily switch over to the point guard position while Lillard is on the bench. Shabazz Napier hasn’t quite reached the standard of an effective backup point guard yet.
Never Throw In The Towel
This holds true for virtually every squad in the NBA, but unlike the few that choose to tank for draft picks, the Blazers need to understand that there is quality in their roster and there is competition but it is beatable. Although making the playoffs as an eighth seed only to play the Warriors in the first round might be a short-lived playoff run, it would hold value for a number of reasons. First of all, it would extend the Blazers’ impressive record of consecutive playoff appearances to a 4th straight year.
More importantly, however, playing a truly elite franchise in the Golden State Warriors would be an effective wake-up call to the Blazers. Getting wiped out would send a message that the Blazers are not even close to a championship team, and if that is their end goal, drastic changes need to happen.