Nov 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) passes the ball away from San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) and power forward Boris Diaw (33) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 115-105. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Trail Blazers' Best Games Ahead of Them?

I should be charged with blasphemy and beheaded comparing the Portland Trail Blazers to the San Antonio Spurs. One of these teams hasn’t been below .610 since 1997, has four titles, another Finals appearance, and three Conference Finals Appearances. The other has been above .610 exactly three times in those 16 years, with just two Conference Finals appearance, no Finals appearance, and obviously no titles (DAMN YOU LAKERS!).

Still, there’s an interesting trend developing that ties these teams together.

Both are atop the NBA leaderboard, the Blazers at 12-2 and the Spurs at 12-1. Both are riding 10-game win streaks. Both are in the top-6 in three-point percentage, both are in the top-10 in opponents’ points allowed, and both are in the top-11 in points per game.

And they’re both doing it while their best players are not playing… well… their best.

Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are in severe funks. Ginobili is averaging fewer points than any season since his rookie campaign, and his field goal percentage is lower than any season but one. Tim Duncan is even worse: career-lows in both scoring and shooting percentage. The caveat is that they’re 36 and 37 years old respectively, and nobody lasts forever in this league.

Portland’s one-two punch is faring better. While both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are averaging career-highs in points, both are also averaging career-lows in field goal percentage, with Lillard shooting a woeful 39% overall and a puzzling 38% from two. Only his 39% three point shooting is keeping his scoring efficiency out of Kemba Walker territory (but he still has the 13th worst field goal percentage of any player projected to hit 300 shots this year). Aldridge isn’t much better, as his 45% clip is 3 whole points worse than his next-worst season.

So what does this mean?

For the Spurs, it might mean a slow adjustment away from the big-three days of Duncan, Ginobili, and Tony Parker as they deal with the fact that they’re getting older. But San Antonio has a system, and they stick to it. That’s one luxury that having the same coach for nearly 20 years will afford you.

For the Blazers, it means something more exciting: they could be better.

What if Lillard and Aldridge started shooting at their career averages? Aldridge would be averaging 22.9 per game, and Lillard (if all he did was improve his 2-point shooting) would be at 20.6. That means 2.5 more points per game for a Blazers team that’s already 7th in points per game. Those points would  push them into 5th in that category, not to mention the accompanying defensive boost by forcing teams out of fast break opportunities or the ability to build momentum.

A short time ago, I wrote about how Blazer fans should simply enjoy this sudden and unexpected ascendance into the NBA’s elite, and how looking too closely at stats ruins the fun. That’s still true. And nothing about what’s presented here guarantees that the Blazers will get any better. Nor does it means they’re anywhere near the franchise the Spurs are.

But it’s an interesting counter-argument for those folks quick to poo-poo the Blazers’ streak as luck or aberration. At least on this single point, there is actually room for them to get better.

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Tags: Damian Lillard LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers

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