Most teams have played between seven to ten games. It's fair to check in on the Association and assess some things I've noticed. Two teams I'm most fond of watching are going in opposite directions. My neighborhood Blazers can't buy a home win, even with a 60 piece from Lillard; while Davis and LeBron are showing out for showtime.
AD and LeBron. LeBron and AD. I'm going to go out on a limb and just say it; they're the best duo in basketball and they've yet to scratch the surface. Scary, I know. Either one of them can single-handedly take their team to victory. Together their ceiling seems to stretch into the stratosphere. Imagine when the rest of the Lakers start to make more shots. Danny Green's been great; if the others begin to hit open looks, look out.
This team has exceeded early expectations defensively. The good habits they're setting now will extend to situations later in the season. Davis is a monster. LeBron's reinvigorated. The perimeter guys all hustle and seem to buy in on helping as the ball swings against their rotations. Often times their extra effort stymies the opposing set, or results in a challenged shot. They're playing hard and cohesive. Davis can cover up effort plays if penetration does occur. McGee, and especially Howard, have also done a hell of a job bothering shots and gobbling rebounds. LA is holding down the fort defensively.
I've typed before about the two types of superstars. There are those who make the game easier due to their dominance. Think Shaq and the need to double or triple-team him, or get dunked on. Then there are superstars like Magic or Bird who make others better. These types of superstars know how to Bobby Fisher the chess board while others play checkers; they're always two steps ahead forecasting plays and movement. Then there's LeBron James, the rarest of superstars who can do both. He makes the game easier, and makes others better. His power can be yielded at individual times or together in unison through his cerebral acuity. James with Davis creates infinite possibilities. Is anyone more talented than AD? Does anyone know the game better than LeBron? Showtime may be on the verge of showing out.
Spicy nuggets are back, someone should tell the rest of the Trailblazers not named Hood, Simons or Lillard. As I've stated before, I'm all in on Rip City, but initial takeaways don't look good. Obviously injuries have zapped the roster, I miss Collins, but Stotts hasn't figured out his in-game rotations very well either. Tolliver needs to stop getting so much run. Local media gushes over how well he does the little things while paying attention to scheme. Have you seen him move? He's too stiff and slow; he can't guard one on one. With the way the league is spreading the floor, his lack of burst and athleticism offsets his IQ. He's a liability on defense, and frankly, he isn't shooting well either.
Perhaps Hezonja or Little get more minutes. Mario plays hard and has some bounce on defense. Nasir Little had yet to log meaningful minutes prior to last night. In the loss to Brooklyn he showed why he was a top prospect in his class. I've written before about how he could take on a roll similar to the defensive wings Portland sent away. Little is too athletic not to be playing more, even before Labissiere rolled his ankle, which has me wondering why Stotts doesn't try to go small and young. As far as I'm concerned, Skal could have been starting already. Whiteside's stats feel hollow. Hassan almost never boxes out, instead relying on his given gifts instead of hard-nosed fundamentals. He continually hunts blocked shots instead of playing sound team defense. He falls victim to more pump fakes and up-and-under moves than anyone.
If I had to truly distill the Blazers depth amidst the injury bug that has hit them so hard, it'd be this: Dame, CJ, Hood, Bazemore, Simons, Labissiere, Hezonja and Little. Tell those eight guys to play their asses off and work hard on defense while flying around with more speed and play making potential. If you need a big to bang, put in Whiteside. Besides, who really runs their offense through a traditional low post center in the west? (Jokić is a slow-footed play maker from the top or the elbows. Gobert only averages six shots and impacts the game with his defense. Towns is a seven foot Curry. Adams is not the focal point in OKC.) It's time for Stotts to dig a little deeper into his coaching bag to remedy these problems. Outside of a trade or acquisition, these flaws need some in-house, house keeping. There's something to be said about switching on defense too. The game has evolved, highlighting wings and ball handlers. Put guys on the floor who can dribble, pass, and shoot.
Speaking of shooting, where has CJ's shot gone? He should ascend to his typical averages, but he's been bad. The lack of reliable shooting from their number two guy forces Dame to go ballistic. Hood has been the second most reliable scorer thus far. McCollum also looks listless when he doesn't have the ball. Too often he's standing instead of moving off-ball or cutting backside. This lack of offensive production may also be impacting his defense. He seems to continually trail his man off ball screens, basically unlocking opportunities for the opposition's offense. I know he can turn it around, but the truth is, he has to be better on both sides of the ball.
Dame is the sun by which this team revolves. He's going straight dragon on opponents, scorching those who stand in his way. Even with Dame's flame-throwing the Blazers are 3-6. If it wasn't for Lillard's hyperbolic scoring binge, Portland would be even further down in the standings. He needs help. His numbers are certainly MVP worthy, but that's a tough case to make when your team is three games below .500. If you were to take him out of the equation, the season becomes bleak. He's the most valuable player to his team. Thank god for Dame.
Only in the NBA,
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