OSN: First Quarter Season Grade For The 2022-2023 Portland Trail Blazers
Our Blazers got off to a hot start this year, holding the number-one spot in the Western Conference for a couple of weeks. Lillard seemed to be back to normal, Grant provided the scoring punch the team needed, and the team’s defense was outstanding. Unfortunately, the nagging injuries of Damian Lillard set this team downward. Now in 7th place in the West, the Blazers are waiting on Lillard and the season debut of Gary Payton II to bring them back up to the top of the West. Let’s grade the team through the first quarter of the team. The grading will come from what most NBA analytical departments look at, effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive/rebounding percentage (O/DRB%), and free throw to field goal attempts (FT/FGA):
eFG% – 14th 53.9%
TOV% – 24th 14%
ORB% – 12th 25.2%
FT/FGA – 2nd .239
As we’ve seen throughout the year, Coach Billups implants his play style into this team. This means the Blazers are hyper-focused on creating in the half-court while focusing on getting the best shot possible. If anything, you can see this reflected in their pace, putting them as the third-slowest team in the league. Their eFG% should be better with this slower pace, but it’s just about league average. The TOV% is worth looking at, as a slow-paced team shouldn’t turn the ball over. One of the main reasons for this high TOV% is the lack of Damian Lillard (who only played in 38% of minutes this year) and the inexperienced guards of Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and Keon Johnson. On the boards, the paint beast Jusuf Nurkic, newly formed glass cleaner Drew Eubanks, and the shifty Josh Hart, allow them to clean up misses slightly better than the average team. The Blazers’ best attribute is getting to the free-throw line. This team drives and dishes the ball a lot, but most of these free throw attempts come from one-on-ones between Dame and Jerami Grant (about 15 free throw attempts per game). I’d give the Blazers a B- through the first quarter. Getting Damian Lillard back will help alleviate this team’s shortcomings in handling the ball.
eFG% – 20th 54.0%
TOV% – 18th 12.8%
DRB% – 16th 76.0%
FT/FGA – 11th .202
Perhaps the Blazers’ biggest weakness on defense is their ability to guard that extra pass, which shows up here in eFG%. The Blazers rank 25th in assists allowed, and the reason why it has an impact on eFG% is that teams make that extra pass leading to a more open shot. The Blazers aren’t active in the steals game either, taking fewer risks on creating turnovers, as noted by both TOV% and FT/FGA. This is a positive, especially with such a young team. Typically, less experienced players make more mistakes in the steals and foul category, but it’s showing better than I would have thought. In defensive rebounds, I would have thought the Blazers were closer to the top team, given Nurkic, Hart, and Eubanks, but I forgot that Jerami Grant doesn’t grab any boards as he’s streaking down the court to post up smaller defenders. I’m looking at a C+ for their rating on defense based solely on their ability to stay out of foul trouble and not give up those free-throw attempts.
I would put the overall team performance at a B- at the quarter mark in this 2022-2023 season. Although the Blazers haven’t completely fallen off without Dame, it’s undeniable that he’s needed for the current play style on offense to work. Additionally, the Blazers can benefit massively from his passing IQ and lower their TOV% with him at the point. On defense, coach Billups unleashes the athleticism of Shaedon Sharpe to get into passing lanes, or once Gary Payton II gets into the lineup, the defense will get better. Regardless, we can all agree that the Blazers have slightly exceeded expectations this year, even without Lillard playing most of the games.