The Portland Trail Blazers playoff campaign is only a few days away now. Because of an inconsistent regular season and injuries, the narrative around the team has been somewhat negative. But, in reality, this Blazers team is actually one of the best that’s been assembled for a long time.
Offensively, this team is a juggernaut. Ranking second in offense in the regular season, the Blazers had their greatest ever offensive season as a franchise. All while missing CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic for two months.
When CJ and Nurk came back, this was the best offensive team in basketball. From March 26th until the end of the regular season, the Blazers had the NBA’s best offense.
Things aren’t as pretty on defense, but this team was 21st on that end in that stretch, and were just 0.3 points per 100 possessions away from being a top-half team defensively. Now, if you look at when the team truly started rolling in April, they were not only the best offense, but they had the 10th best defense. This is just a 12 game sample from the 27th of April onwards, but they beat strong offensive teams, the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets.
When new addition Norman Powell was added to this team alongside a fit Nurkic and CJ, this team got better on both ends. This team is far better than people think.
This is the best Portland Trail Blazers team in 20 years
In 2019, a far weaker team made the Western Conference finals. This team, was fatally flawed.
There was no Jusuf Nurkic, and one-way players Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Al-Farouq Aminu played major minutes. Also, Damian Lillard wasn’t the same Damian Lillard we now know.
Often, fans and media will hark back to the glorious run of 2019. That was a good team, but in a lot of ways, it had major flaws. The strong defensive pairing of Harkless and Aminu couldn’t make shots, and backup ball-handler Turner was also very limited on offense.
Enes Kanter was the starting big man and played a massive role, but now Nurkic is the starter, and Kanter gets to eat up bench units as the backup.
There was very little bench shooting then outside of Seth Curry. Now, there is Anfernee Simons and Carmelo Anthony. Even Nassir Little can knock down threes at a league-average rate off the bench.
Robert Covington is a significant upgrade from Harkless and Aminu, as he has the ability to nail jump shots while also defending his position. He is one of the best help defenders in the league. They also have athlete Derrick Jones Jr on the bench who is a great defender and can provide a lob threat and athletic presence in transition.
The improvements that Dame has made to his game are also significant. This may be the biggest contributor to the Blazers offensive growth over the last two seasons.
2020 and 2021 Dame is a different beast to previous years. No player in NBA History has made deep threes at the rate or the efficiency that Dame has over the last two seasons. His dominance from the three-point line, along with an increase in efficiency at the rim, has meant that Dame has gone to a whole new level.
The amazing series in 2019 when he and the Blazers famously knocked out the Oklahoma City Thunder, showcased the new Dame. Deep shooting at uber-efficiency, and clutch shot-making have been the future of the extra level that he has gone to in the last two seasons.
Dame was the best performing player this regular season when selecting guys who had taken a minimum of 60 shot attempts in clutch situations. When you add his big playoff moments to the mix, he is one of the most dangerous players in the upcoming playoffs.
When looking forward to the series with the Nuggets, the Blazers can bring the best team they have had in 20 years to the table.
They haven’t had this type of two-way play or offense since the days of Scottie Pippen and the team that made the conference finals in consecutive seasons.
The 2019 team made the conference finals with less talent. This time around, this team has a balanced squad that could match the 2019 team, or maybe even go a step further.
The first game is away against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday the 22nd of May.