At every turn over the past few seasons, the Trail Blazers have deviated from the archetypal plan. Neil Olshey, the entirety of management, and coaching has left many Portland fans scratching their heads and makes me wonder what direction they are headed in this offseason.
The Summer of 2015 first began the spending spree. Olshey put pen to paper and signed Al Farouq-Aminu to a 4 year $30 million deal after posting solid numbers of 10.2 points and 6.1 boards. He basically fell off the next year, shooting under 40% from the field and 33% from three. He didn’t full recover this season, again shooting below the 40% threshold but raising his three point percentage to just below 37%. Olshey then willingly gave C.J. McCollum a max contract spanning 4 years after winning most improved player. His usage rate hovered at 27% with his minutes skyrocketing this season, yet he put up vastly underwhelming numbers.
These contracts pale in comparison to the Blazers’ next Summer’s not-so-blockbuster signings.
Neil Olshey seemed to be under some kind of spell in the Summer of 2016. It’s as if some guy held a gun to his head and demanded he overpay inconsistent small forwards. He unconsciously signed Evan Turner to a 4 year $70 million and Mo Harkless to a 4 year $40 million, He even doled out $26 million to underachieving tweener Andrew Nicholson, only to release him a year later. He was basically the Jordan Belfort of the NBA.
And now, he’s starting to pay his dues.
After a breakout year (by his standards) Evan Turner produced nearly 11 points per game, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds and shot 45% from the field and 24% from behind the arc. Undoubtedly solid stats but nothing to pop champagne over. This year, Turner was a shell of his greatest self, putting up a mediocre stat line of 8.2 points, 3.1 boards, and 2.2 assists.
Mo Harkless hasn’t been as shoddy as Evan Turner, producing 6.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 0.9 assists on unbelievable shooting splits of 49.5% from the field and 41.5% from three.
Why has Terry Stotts chosen to play the incompetent Turner when Harkless has performed considerably well as a 3-and-D competitor? As the 14th ranked coach, according to ESPN Stotts runs a perimeter centric offense. The flow offense he employs runs its guards, mostly Lillard and McCollum, off downscreens from its power forward and center, with the small forward often receiving another down screen from the guard who doesn’t get the ball on the wing. It is a creative offense that gets the players moving in a circular motion, but it really focuses on its guards.
After producing a breakout, 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 20 games, Nurkic stats dropped in each category. A bulky, plodding center like Nurkic is not preferable when the Trail Blazers’ center is utilized as a passer and a screener.
Nurkic’s slow foot speed has proven troublesome in the modern NBA, put on full display in an embarrassing sweep against the Pelicans. Jusuf played just 23.4 minutes, with Zach Collins garnering crunch time minutes as a stretch 5 and Ed Davis as a rebounding center. Perhaps Nurkic’s versatility is his biggest fault.
The Blazers should not sign Jusuf Nurkic to a contract this offseason, and sources say they do not plan to. They should wait for the inevitability of a team signing Jusuf to a pricey extension and determine the next steps from there.
The existential query subsists; Can Lillard and McCollum coexist in the same backcourt?
On First Take, Stephen A. Smith briefed McCollum, “Nobody else around you has enough value to get you the pieces that you need to get over the competition that you’re going to go against.” He has a valid point, no one on the Blazers current roster has the trade value of Lillard or McCollum. Does this necessarily mean they rid of either of splash brothers 2.0? Not so fast. After three seasons of the backcourt coexisting, the Trail Blazers have improved minimally from 9 seed to 8 seed to 4 seed and home court advantage.
McCollum brought up a great counterargument against Stephen A. stating that it is not exactly what they should do, but what they can do. Meaning, sure McCollum and Lillard should be traded considering both are similar ball-dominant guards, but would the return be worth it? Would they be better than they were before? It evokes the condition of the Raptors in the East.
Nevertheless, you can’t talk about Damian Lillard and not bring up his disenchanting playoff performance. Once known as one of the most clutch players in the NBA, Dame Time dissatisfied on the biggest stage. He averaged 18 points a game on 35% shooting. Your best player simply can not play how he did and expect to get past the first round.
The Rockets are a consummate mold for how the Trail Blazers should proceed. With P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and a quintessential pick and roll partner in Clint Capela, the Rockets have hit the sweet spot. They attempt the most three’s in the league at, nearly 42. They also allow 104.8 points per 100 possessions, ranking 5th in the NBA at defense. They were even in the 93rd percentile for pick and roll offense, falling behind another perimeter centric team, the Warriors.
What does this mean? It means the Blazers should imprint Houston’s blueprint on their team by snagging 3-and-D players on the market while maximizing players under contract.
And that is going to be tough for the Trail Blazers.