I was excited for this Portland Trail Blazers team at the beginning of the season. Looking at the layout of the West, I thought they could sneak into the playoffs as one of the lower seeds. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit quickly. The Blazers lost Anfernee Simons, Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III, and Scoot Henderson within a couple of days to start the season out, and they needed help keeping up with teams with such a young guard core. The optimism may have deflated for most, but I’m here to highlight the good in the Blazers’ season.
One of the most impressive aspects of their play has been their ability to cause turnovers. Tied for first in the league in turnover percentage, the Blazers have demonstrated an aggressive defensive strategy. It should come as no shock, given the defensive menace that the Blazers have on their team, Matisse Thybulle. In case you weren’t aware, Thybulle is a two-time All-Defensive player in his five-year career. He’s fifth this year in steals per game at 1.6. What’s more impressive is that he can do this while limiting fouls, committing only 1.2 fouls per game. This ability to disrupt the opposing team’s flow highlights how active Coach Chauncey wants this team to be on defense. Once the team figures out its offensive identity, the active, hands-on defense will create easy baskets on the other end.
The Portland Trail Blazers have also showcased their prowess in offensive rebounding. Maintaining a solid presence on the offensive glass is pivotal in basketball, as it provides additional scoring opportunities and keeps the pressure on the opposing defense. I was excited when the Blazers acquired Robert Williams III because he was an absolute vacuum when he played for the Celtics. Deandre Ayton is also a prolific rebounder, averaging over ten rebounds per game. While we did lose Robert Williams for the year, Ayton has continued his offensive rebounding domination, averaging 3.9 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. Jabari Walker has also helped on the offensive boards, averaging 3.4 rebounds per 36 minutes played. This ability to effectively follow up shots underscores the team’s tenacity and hustle and reflects a strategic emphasis on maximizing every possession. The Blazers’ proficiency in this area indicates their commitment to an aggressive, assertive style of play, a vital component for a team looking to establish itself as a contender.
Anfernee Simons’ improvement is another bright spot for Portland. Part of why the Blazers were confident that trading the best player the franchise has seen in Damian Lillard was the rise of Simons’s production. Last year, Simons’s per-game stats were 21 points, four assists, and 2.6 rebounds on 44.7% shooting from the field. This year, the stats have increased to 23.1 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.4 rebounds while slightly decreasing in field goal percentage to 41.9%. His enhanced stats per 36 minutes show his individual growth and increasing importance to the team’s overall makeup. Simons is playing more impactful minutes, averaging 25.5 points and 5.4 assists. Zach Lavine, slated to make $16 million more yearly than Simons, is averaging only 20.3 points per 36 minutes. That’s an easy decision for any front office to make on which player you would rather have. This kind of development from Simons is essential for a Blazers team looking to build a strong foundation for future success.
The youth of the team is a significant factor. A young roster brings energy, enthusiasm, and a lot of room for potential. Going into the year, the Blazers had the third youngest roster with an average age of 24.2 years old. The other two youngest teams were the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. Currently, the Blazers feature eleven players who are 24 years old or younger, meaning most of the team can’t rent a car yet. The two “old men” on the team are Malcolm Brogdon (31) and Jerami Grant (29). They will be around for a bit, with Grant signing an extension this offseason until the 2027-2028 season and Brogdon’s deal expiring at the end of the 2024-2025 season. I look for the Blazers to scoop up more veteran leadership between the trade deadline and next year, but having a young team can create an exciting ceiling.
While the Blazers may not be playoff-bound, there are still some exciting points to make with this team. The Blazers are active on defense, which tells me the team is excited to play. Thanks to players like Jabari Walker and Deandre Ayton, they’re also eager to crash the offensive board to get second-chance points. Anfernee Simons has stepped up in his scoring role with the team, solidifying him as a top-ten shooting guard in the league. Remember, the youth of this team. It can sometimes be frustrating, but the invaluable minutes these young players are getting will positively impact their careers. Even though the injury bug still looms (Ayton, Sharpe, Brogdon, Grant, and Thybulle all missed the January 15th game), I remain optimistic that this season will prove valuable for the Blazers team.