Many, including myself have said the Portland Trail Blazers would not be very good this season. This may still prove to be true. But if nothing else, the Blazers may become a team of intrigue. Through three games, the Blazers have defeated the Lakers, Rockets, and played a solid game against the Oklahoma City, narrowly losing to the Thunder in their home opener to begin the season 2-1.
Damian Lillard is playing up to, if not beyond, expectations, averaging 21.3 PPG, 9 APG, and 4 RPG. To be honest, all of the Trail Blazers’ starters are playing well. LaMarcus Aldridge is picking up where he left off last year. Nicolas Batum is too. Unfortunately, that means he is playing inconsistent. J.J. Hickson, despite being undersized at the center position, is playing with a lot of energy and is averaging nearly a double-double per game. Wesley Matthews is the go to guy on the defensive end and has moments in which he is a knock down outside shooter. Collectively, the Blazers’ starters are challenging their opponents. Despite the commentary from fans and pundits, they are playing a competitive brand of basketball that is fun to watch.
As predicted, the Blazers bench is neither deep nor especially talented. But a few guys are making the most of their minutes. Meyers Leonard’s stat line is not necessarily impressive. For a young rookie at the center spot, he holds his own. You can see he is learning by the minute and doesn’t back down from stars like Dwight Howard. This should prove to be valuable experience that will pay dividends in years to come. Luke Babbitt in spurts has come in and played some good minutes. Against Oklahoma City, his outside shot was effective and he seemed to play with confidence. This could not always be said about Babbitt’s play the last couple of seasons. Nolan Smith is a high effort guy, but he is a considerable drop off from Damian Lillard.
In just a short time as head coach, Terry Stotts is a stark contrast to former coach Nate McMillan. His motion offense is not only entertaining to watch, but seems to give a number of players opportunities to fill up the stat sheet. He also has a knack for working the officials. Something McMillan the stern, but stoic leader never really was able to execute. It’s peculiar, but essential skill that gives the players the impression the coach has their back. Thus far, the impression is his players respect him.
The season is young, three games old. Never the less there is a cautious optimism in the damp fall Portland air for this young Blazers team. The team is playing with energy, enthusiasm and camaraderie. These are the essential ingredients for a team that may be a little short on talent. If the Blazers can continue to play high effort inspired basketball, they will at the very least captivate fans. Could they sneak into the playoffs? Best not to look too far ahead, there is a lot of season left.
-- Patrick Hughes is on Twitter. Follow him at @phughespdx