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The Building Trail Blazers Are Falling Apart

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After overachieving last season, the Blazers made some splashes in the offseason. Unfortunately for them, these moves have yet to pan out.

Prior to the start of the 2015-16 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers looked like a team destined for a rebuilding process. The team lost four of their five starters, most notably LaMarcus Aldridge, who signed with the San Antonio Spurs. The weight of the team was completely put on the back of star point guard and lone retained starter, Damien Lillard. To the surprise of many, the new-look Blazers put together a fine season ending in the second round of the NBA playoffs, with Lillard leading the way accompanied by a blossoming star in CJ McCollum. It became clear that owner Paul Allen had no desire to tear everything down, and thus the Blazers would be very active going into this season, further retooling their roster. 

In a successful season last year, the Blazers still lacked a true rim protector and a formidable defensive-minded wingman. As a result, the team went out and signed former Celtics small forward Evan Turner to a four year $70 million deal and former Warriors center Festus Ezeli to a two year $15 million deal. Additionally, the team decided to match a four year $75 million offer sheet to bring back sixth man and three-point sharpshooter Allen Crabbe, and also brought back Meyers Leonard on a four year $41 million deal and Moe Harkless on a four year $40 million contract. In a less eyebrow-raising move, the team re-signed CJ McCollum to a four year $100 million deal. The Blazers’ moves put them second behind only the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers in overall team payroll for the entire NBA. Portland was clearly banking on these moves panning out, as much of their roster looked to be set for at least the next four seasons. Unfortunately for them, the moves have been underwhelming to say the least as we hit the start of 2017. 

Let’s start with the signing of Evan Turner, who put together an excellent season on both ends of the floor during his final year in Boston. In a sixth man role, Turner averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game for the Celtics. For the fifth straight season, Turner proved his durability, playing in at least 80 of the team’s 82 regular season contests. He provided the Celtics with an interior post scorer and slasher, shooting over 60% in the paint with a .99 points per possession rating which ranked directly below former Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. He was also serviceable playing the point-forward role, as well as defensively ranking near the top of the league in pick-and-roll defense with the ability to close out on shooters. 

In his short time with the Blazers, Turner has certainly not lived up to the hype. In 29 games, his averages are down across the board (9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists) and it is affecting his defensive game. For his career, Turner has an impressive defensive rating of 105, which has blown up to 115 thus far this season. Defensive rating measures the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions. As a team this season, the Blazers rank 29th in the NBA allowing 112.2 points per game, up 8.5 from 2015-16. Turner hasn’t been able to keep up on both sides of the ball against opponents, and thus far this season that has been very evident. 

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David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Even with Allen Crabbe breaking out for the Trail Blazers last season, it still came as a surprise that the Brooklyn Nets offered him a four year $75 million contract. It might have even come as a larger head scratcher that the Blazers decided to match the offer. Last season Crabbe shot the lights out of the ball, hitting 51.4% of his shots from 10-16 feet, 44.9% of his shots from 16 feet-three-point arc, and 37.4% of his shots behind the arc. Many expected Crabbe to take another step forward this season, but unfortunately that has not been the case. 

Crabbe is a shooter, and in order for shooters to have an impact on the game, they need to take shots. Crabbe’s usage percentage this season is down to 14.4% which is 2% lower than last season. In conjunction, his turnover percentage has increased to 9.8%, the highest of his career. While his three-point percentage has increased to over 40%, his excellent percentage below the arc that helped make him successful last season has taken a substantial hit. His 51.4% from 10-16 feet, for example, is down to 23.1%. Ouch. 

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Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

While Festus Ezeli has shown he can be a solid contributor and rim protector throughout his short career, he has spent most of it on the sidelines. Missing the entire 2013-14 season after right knee surgery, Ezeli has only played in 170 out of a possible 246 regular season games discounting that season. Still, the Blazers brought him in at what looked to be a bargain deal especially with some of the contracts that were given out this summer. 

Unfortunately, Ezeli has yet to suit up for the Blazers and recent reports have surfaced that he will miss the entire season with a knee issue. While the money isn’t a total killer, the Blazers were counting on Ezeli to be a valuable contributor a fill a pivotal role they lacked last season. Without him, the Blazers rank 28th in the league and are struggling again to stop inside shot attempts (teams average 60.5 two point shot attempts vs. Portland this season). 

Both Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard have seen expanded roles this season after receiving their contract extensions. Harkless has squeezed his way into the Blazers starting lineup, and has upped his scoring and rebounding averages to 12.2 and 5.2 per game from 6.4 and 3.6 respectively last season. Defensively he has taken a step backwards with his rating taking a five-point hit. Leonard too has decreased his defensive efficiency and shooting averages across the board, seeing his effective field goal percentage dip by over 12% from last season. 

Going into this season, the Blazers looked like a team with a bright future ready to build around their star-studded backcourt of Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum. Unfortunately, at 13-20, the team has done a complete 180 and things aren’t looking to good in the Pacific Northwest. One thing is for certain though: these players need to step up quickly or there will sure be changes in the front office. 

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

Which one of these players did the Trail Blazers not sign this past summer?
Created 12/21/16
  1. Chandler Parsons
  2. Evan Turner
  3. Festus Ezeli
  4. Allen Crabbe

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