BY STEVEN VAUGHAN, 750 THE GAME
The Portland Trail Blazers season turned into a tank. But the team is doing a good job of losing. They have lost nine out of their last 11 games. And as of Wednesday they have the fifth-worst record in the NBA all to themselves. That means they have a 10.5% chance of getting the first pick in the NBA Draft in June. That pick, whoever gets it, will be used to select Victor Wembanyama, who happens to be doing things like this.
But what are the things you should be watching for to give the Blazers the best opportunity to win later? I will give you 3 things that will be important heading into next season.
1. Shaedon Sharpe Development. Getting to the rim.
We’ve all seen the jumping ability of Shaedon Sharpe and the highlight dunks.
That is great. You need to have elite athletes on the team. But when it comes to winning basketball games, dunks still count as only two points. Sharpe is averaging 24 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists since being inserted in the starting lineup on March 22nd. Those numbers are great. What I want to continue to see is Sharpe attack the rim and not get reliant on the three point shot. Sharpe is averaging 18.6 shots per game and averaging 8.1 three pointers attempted in this stretch. Those are numbers I want to continue to see. The knock on CJ McCollum in the past and Anfernee Simons presently is an inability to draw fouls and get easy points at the line. Sharpe is averaging just under five free throws a game. Continuing to get to the rim and getting to the line will help get easy points and help the team win when it matters.
2. Team turnovers to be lower
I understand that next season Damian Lillard is going to be handling the ball. But I want to see the turnovers lowered. I think turnovers have a lot to do with coaching. We saw under Terry Stotts the Blazers were always one of the lowest turnover teams in the league, but the assists were low as well. In fact, in Stotts’ last season, the Trail Blazers had the lowest turnover percentage in the league. But they also had the lowest assists percentage in the league. Under Chauncey Billups the Trail Blazers are more in the middle: 21st in turnover percentage and 18th in assist percentage. Damian Lillard averaged a career high in assists this season under Billups. Going into next season I want the assists to be higher and the turnovers to be lower. That would require Billups to put players in the right positions. In the past two games, the Blazers beat the Timberwolves and lost a close game to the Grizzlies. The Blazers had 10 turnovers in each game. That is a great number and shows me something promising out of Billups who hasn’t shown a lot of good things in his first two seasons as head coach.
3. Rooting for Wizards, Pacers and Magic to lose.
This one isn’t as much fun. But you NEED these three teams to continue to lose. Every percentage point matters in this year’s draft lottery. The prize is Wembanyama, a 7’5″ player who runs, shoots, and defends like a guard. Oh, and he also protects the rim at an elite rate. He is the best prospect since LeBron James. Last season, the losses weren’t as important as there wasn’t a surefire number-one overall pick. This season is drastically different. If the Blazers are to get lucky enough to land that pick and get Wembanyama, the dynamic of the team changes. All of sudden they have a shot to win a championship with Damian Lillard. He could be that good. The Blazers are rooting for the Wizards, Pacers and Magic to lose every game, giving Portland the fifth-worst record in the league, and with it a 10.5% chance at Wembanyama.