Don’t sleep on the Trail Blazers


The Trail Blazers celebrating Jerami Grant’s game-winner in Phoenix (Left to right_ Keon Johnson, Oliver Sarr, Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic. Photo by Barry Gossage

Isaac Hinson, Columnist

The Pacific Northwest is becoming a hub of the sports world once again. The Seahawks find themselves at 6-3 and on top of the NFC West, thanks to the resurgence of Seattle legend Geno Smith. The Mariners made the playoffs for the first time in two decades this past fall, and have the heroics of Julio Rodriguez locked up for the foreseeable future. 

But, a little south in rainy Oregon, the Portland Trail Blazers are taking the NBA by storm. 

This season sees the return of superstar six-time All-NBA six-time All-Star point guard Damian Lillard to the line-up, after being out for the majority of last season due to recovery from abdomen surgery. 

As of the time this was written, Lillard is averaging 28.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season, on 66.2% true shooting. 

One would think that with numbers like those, Lillard might not be getting much help. However, unlike years past, that is not the case. 

Fifth-year breakout-star Anfernee Simons is averaging 22.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this season, while doing it on 55.7% true shooting. 

Newly acquired Portland-born forward Jerami Grant is also averaging 19.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 61.3% true shooting. 

In previous years, Lillard has taken far worse rosters deep into the playoffs. In the 2018-19 season when the Trail Blazers made it to the Western Conference Finals, the two starting forwards, Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu, averaged 17.1 points per game combined; less than Grant is averaging on his lonesome. 

This season also brings renovation on the defensive end of the ball, with the team currently sitting at the 5th in the league in defensive rating, up from last year when the Trail Blazers were dead last at 30th in the league. 

This change can be linked back to head coach Chauncey Billups, who made the All-Defensive team twice in his playing career, and was a part of Pistons teams that consistently ranked top ten in defensive rating. 

Arguably the biggest change from previous Trail Blazers teams to this year, is players other than Lillard being able to perform in clutch-time. 

Simons has one game-winner this season (against the Phoenix Suns), Grant has two (against the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns) and forward Josh Hart has one (against the Miami Heat). 

All of these changes have the Blazers sitting at a 9-3 record, and second place in the western conference. The last full season Lillard and the Blazers were fully healthy, they were third in the western conference and were four games away from the NBA Finals.

Now, Lillard has a far better roster, and is looking as good as he did that season. I fully believe that if there was any year for the Blazers to go all the way, this would be it.