We’re finally seeing the Blazers of last season; a team playing with a sense of confidence and serious firepower. They ended the month of March with a 13-3 record. All of a sudden, we’re seeing a team half a game back of 0.500 ingrained in the playoff picture, when not even four weeks ago they’d been written off as the disappointment of the season.
A huge part of these wins have come with the timely addition of 7 foot, 280 pound Jusuf Nurkic. Along with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, these three have finally formed a trio of elite players in Portland – something that was missing all season long.
The Big Three
In the month of March, no other big 3’s scored as many points combined as Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic. On offence they are a devastatingly lethal trio.
McCollum can’t be left with even an inch of space, especially inside the 3 point line. He’s gone so far as to dub himself, “the greatest shooter in the world within the 3 point line,” and with reason. His 55.1% clip from inside the line comes from his ability to isolate and pull up in a split-second, along with blowing by defenders with ease.
He’s no pushover from beyond the arc as well – his 42.1% clip was enough to enter the 3-point contest during All-Star break. One of his valuable assets is his ability to run the floor when Lillard sits on the bench. He’s not a true point guard but picks up the reigns as an effective 2nd option.
Lillard has been on a tear since the beginning of March as well, averaging 29.1 PPG and 6.0 APG a game along with season high 3 point and regular field goal percentages. He’s prone to showings of inconsistency but has been nothing short of elite lately. His month was highlighted with a 49 point, 9-12 three’s performance against the Heat.
There is nothing Lillard can’t do on the offensive end. When driving to the hoop, he has a canny ability to draw contact and finish with strength. He’s a slippery player who the defence simply cannot hang on to. Combined with his special leadership qualities that have undoubtedly motivated the rest of the roster, Damian Lillard has shown every inclination of being the franchise man for the Blazers, for many seasons to come.
What has been most exciting about this team in recent times has been Nurkic’s addition. Mason Plumlee was a good utility player for the Blazers, but his replacement has filled in Plumlee’s void tenfold. In Nurkic, the Blazers finally have a regular post up player, with whom coach Terry Stotts can trust to throw the ball to in key times. This just adds another facet to Portland’s offensive scheme, to keep opponents guessing at more regular intervals.
In particular, Nurkic’s pick-and-roll with Lillard has proven to be an extremely tough weapon for defences to pick apart. Unlike most bigs, he possesses the ability to receive the ball before rolling too far into the paint. This leaves him with the ball, against a much smaller defender, just outside the key. With this he’s able to use his giant body and barrel through, with surprising composure, and finish. His highlight reel from a career high 33 point, 16 rebound outing shows his posting ability along with his rolling and finishing ability to a great extent.
Finishing the Season Strong
Jusuf Nurkic has just suffered from a non-displaced tibular fracture and is set to miss the rest of the regular season, at a minimum. While this will hurt the Blazers’ playoff chances, they’re currently two full games ahead of the Nuggets, and are playing far better basketball with have a far easier schedule.
Their first round matchup against the Warriors still appears likely, where their season will probably hit its end. Most importantly, though, the Blazers have shown the type of basketball they are capable of playing. The season began and continued in shambles, but has reached a stage where it has been somewhat salvaged.
Lillard (26), McCollum (25) and Nurkic (22) are three youthful and abundantly talented players, that could be the future of Portland. It’s up to the front office to make the right moves around them and push Portland back into their status of an elite Western Conference team.
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)