The first two games of Portland’s season couldn’t be more different in my opinion.
First, you have the season opener against Utah where the team didn’t look good, the defense was lacking and Damian Lillard only scored nine points.
Then, against Houston CJ McCollum outdueled James Harden in overtime for Portland’s first win. Lillard also played better in game No. 2.
So, what did we really learn from the first two games? I’ve got some answers for you.
Defensive improvements will take time
I was pretty hyped in my season preview about the defense improving this season.
Clearly, I underestimated how the shortened offseason, rushed preseason camps/games and lack of time together would affect the Blazers (and the rest of the league).
Considering, the Bucks lost at all — let alone by 20 — to the Knicks, the Clippers lost by 50 to Dallas and the Nets fell to Charlotte, there will always be letdowns in the NBA. However, this season might see more than normal.
All that said, I didn’t anticipate how bad the team would look defensively against Utah and Houston. The Jazz shot 45 percent and the Rockets shot 50 percent from the floor. That’s not good.
To make matters worse, Utah shot 38 percent from three, while Houston made just 31.4 percent of their shots from deep.
Portland, meanwhile, shot 40 and 46 percent in the first two games. If not for McCollum and Lillard’s combined 76 points against the Rockets, the Blazers would be 0-2 right now.
Portland was decent from three against Utah (36.4 percent) and good from deep against Houston (42.2 percent).
Overall, the defense needs to improve if the Blazers are going to be anywhere near what they want to be this season.
The New Guys Need More Time to Mesh
Robert Covington hasn’t quite fit into the offense yet, while Derrick Jones Jr. is close-ish to his normal averages.
Covington only scored one point in his Portland regular season debut and just nine points against his former team in game two.
He’s shooting 30 percent from the floor and 14 percent from three. Against Utah he missed all three attempts he took, which were all three pointers. Also, he’s collected three steals and a block so far.
Obviously, it’s a very small sample size, but even so that’s not the start Covington was hoping for to make his first impression.
As for Jones, he’s a low average scorer for his career (6.7 points per game). He scored nine against Utah and six against Houston. However, for Portland to be successful Jones will need to be at least a bit above average.
Jones hit three of his five three pointers against the Jazz, and then he didn’t attempt one against the Rockets.
Gary Trent Jr. or Anfernee Simons?
Is something wrong with Gary Trent Jr.? I don’t think so, but the fact that Terry Stotts admitted GTJ got fewer minutes because Anfernee Simons was healthy enough to play raises questions for me.
I know … I should say, I assume Neil Olshey doesn’t meddle with Stotts’ lineup, but can someone explain why Simons would get more minutes than Trent?
I don’t think Simons is bad, but I know what I saw from Trent in the bubble.
Yes, Trent didn’t shoot well in the opener against Utah (4/12), but Simons isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with his offense (or his defense).
Stotts said after the Houston game that he had to decide between Simons and Trent in the second half.
He picked Simons, who did contribute seven points in 10 minutes. Trent was left with just six minutes and one shot attempt.
I understand that young guys need playing time so the team knows what they have. However, is sacrificing Trent’s minutes for Simons really a route to help Portland in 2020? I don’t think so.
Could Simons improve like Trent did last year? Absolutely, and so Stotts will have to decide if Simons is improving enough to keep playing him or if Trent deserves the minutes more.
Bonus: James Harden Likes Blazers
Houston’s last superstar still wants out, but with his limited number of teams the Rockets are finding it difficult to trade James Harden.
So, he decided to expand his list of teams “he’s willing to go to” to include Boston and Portland.
Personally, I don’t want Harden anywhere near this Blazers team. Whether it’s reports about his conduct before trying to force his way out or his general ball hogging and flopping, I just don’t think he fits.
Harden is one of the best scorers in NBA history. There’s no denying that fact. However, he needs the ball in his hands.
Damian Lillard can play without the ball in his hands, but he’s better with control of the ball.
The other reason I don’t think he fits: Portland will give up too much to get him.
One suggestion was CJ McCollum, Zach Collins and two first-round picks. This is a great trade for Houston, but I’m not sold for the Blazers side.
The Rockets get a proven player, who many think should be an All-Star, in McCollum and a project prospect in Collins along with unknowns with the two picks.
Maybe I just love Dame and CJ together too much. Maybe I’m scared of change. However, I know what Dame and CJ are capable of, and I don’t think shuffling the chips THAT much is the answer to Portland challenging for an NBA title.
Maybe I’m wrong. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯