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The Trail Blazers: Be Careful What You Wish For

The Numbers

  • Average Seed
    12
  • 📉 Pessimist
    20.5 wins
  • Realist
    28.6 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    36.7 wins
First Seed
 
0.0%
Division
 
0.3%
Top 4
 
0.0%
👍 Over (38.5)
 
8.7%
👎 Under (38.5)
🎀 Playoffs
 
3.3%

 

The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time.

Peter Benchley

The Brief

It wasn't that long ago that the Blazers were winning around 50 games a season and regularly making the playoffs. Then, owner Paul Allen decided that it was rebuilding time! Since then, the Blazers have been shuffling deckchairs in all parts of the organization. We will evaluate whether this has amounted to anything (spoiler alert: not so much), and whether the Blazers can expect more of the same this season.

The Story

The meme of the "Treadmill to Mediocrity" was popularized by Kevin Pritchard, who was the Blazers general manager from 2007-2010. The idea is that if a team regularly is "mediocre" and loses in the first round, it's a worse place to be than if the team is bad. The logic is that a bad team can grab top draft picks and rebuild. But this logic completely falls apart when we examine empirical evidence. However, for Pritchard himself, it's probably true. The worst place for a general manager to be is on the treadmill of mediocrity. Pritchard got fired despite the fact that he helped construct a very good team.

Last Year

  • Actual Wins: 33
  • Expected Wins: 32.6
  • Lucky Wins: .3

 

Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Damian Lillard 3167 23 .075 5.0
Nicolas Batum 2807 25 .177 10.4
LaMarcus Aldridge 2790 28 .073 4.3
Wesley Matthews 2403 27 .105 5.2
J.J. Hickson 2323 25 .203 9.8
Meyers Leonard 1206 21 .034 .8
Will Barton 894 23 -.006 -.1
Victor Claver 812 25 .001 0
Luke Babbitt 730 24 .035 .5
Eric Maynor 572 26 -.026 -.5
Sasha Pavlovic 528 29 -.006 -.1
Ronnie Price 510 30 -.026 -.3
Joel Freeland 477 27 -.042 -.4
Jared Jeffries 350 31 -.121 -.9
Nolan Smith 288 24 -.189 -1.1

 

Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 32.6 total Wins Produced
  • 3 players leaving
    (3405 minutes, 9.0 wins)

It's very interesting that the Blazers chose to listen to Pritchard then. Their rebuilding has brought them Damien Lillard, who won rookie of the year last season. And unfortunately, we see the Blazers have decided to go for a  "Knick it up" strategy. You see, the Blazers have pinned their hopes on "star" forward LaMarcus Aldridge. While Aldridge scores a lot, he does so at a below average rate. And he doesn't do much else well. Lillard is a little better, he's an above average scorer, but not by much. Really, he just shoots a lot, and doesn't do much else well either. Thus the Blazers had an "All-Star" in Aldridge and the "Rookie of the Year" in Lillard to go with a losing season last year.

 

This Year

 

  • Projected Wins: 28.6
  • Conference Rank: 14
  • % Playoffs: 3.3

 

Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
LaMarcus Aldridge 4.4 2939 28 .090 5.5
Damian Lillard 1.0 2916 23 .093 5.6
Nicolas Batum 2.8 2549 25 .175 9.3
Wesley Matthews 2.4 2133 27 .103 4.6
Robin Lopez 5.0 1796 25 .068 2.5
Dorell Wright 2.9 1443 28 .134 4.0
Mo Williams 1.2 1265 31 .004 .1
Will Barton 1.8 1103 23 .012 .3
Meyers Leonard 4.9 902 21 .055 1.0
Thomas Robinson 4.3 731 22 .033 .5
C.J. McCollum 1.0 617 22 .103 1.3
Earl Watson 1.1 481 34 .071 .7
Allen Crabbe 2.0 363 21 .048 .4
Victor Claver 3.2 257 25 .009 0
Joel Freeland 4.5 177 27 -.044 -.2

 

Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 30.3 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 2.1 WP (roster changes)
  • 1.1 WP (age/experience)

 

The offseason didn't get much better. They stuck with the scoring mentality and let J.J. Hickson go and picked up Robin Lopez. They also picked up Mo Williams, another overrated scorer who also happens to be ancient. It wasn't all bad (they did pick up Dorrell Wright and draft C.J. McCollum), but their good pickups will play behind Lillard, Batum and Matthews. In short, the few steps forward the Blazers may have made were undone by their poor team construction strategy.

 

The Wrap

They say things go in cycles. The Blazers have gone from being a strong team to a scrub team before. It's possible they'll return to being a contender. It won't be any time in the near future though. The Blazers are following the classic "Yay Points!" strategy. Unless there's a major shift, Portland fans can expect to see the Blazers at the bottom of the Northwest for the foreseeable future.

Dre is being overly bearish on Damien Lillard. It's true that Damien was not the deserving rookie of the year (that honor belongs to Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond). It's also true that he didn't do much other than score. But Dre glosses over the fact that .075 is actually quite good for a rookie, and that 23 year-olds tend to improve every year. There's no reason to believe that he'll remain a one-dimensional player, and I think Arturo's projection at .093, while not wrong, is conservative.

Having said that, I agree with Dre that I have no idea where the optimism on this team is coming from. They've swapped Hickson for Lopez, and they are essentially hoping that the team is going to improve dramatically simply through Lillard making a big 2nd-year leap. That's a lot to hope for.

The whole Robin Lopez vs. J.J. Hickson swap is an interesting test of the competing advanced stats methods. Basically wins produced loves Hickson and the various on-court/off-court metrics hate him. Meanwhile, everyone is indifferent on Lopez. Anyway, as a Blazers fan who already had to watch us skip Jamal Franklin with three second round picks (for Allen "Yay Points!" Crabbe, in fact) I am hoping the other side has the edge here. Not counting on it, though.
When you wrote "Paul Allen decided it was rebuilding time" Did you mean knee rebuilding time? What I remember is after Roy and Oden's (again) knees blew up and the team was failing they shipped out the aging vets for draft picks. Wallace is no longer an all star, Camby hasnt played much, and Felton is still bad since being traded.
I was disappointed the Blazers didnt trade LA and resign Hickson but if they were going to go with LA they needed to get a real center. The blazers were horrible at opponents fg% (29th) but good at defending the 3pt line (4th), so I feel that Hickson at center did have a large part in that poor interior defense along with the rest of the team. We will see if the defense improves with RoLo.
Lillard was wildly inefficient last year but I think its a little early to hang him out to dry just yet. With another year(hopefully playing less minutes) and some more teammates that are real nba players we could still see improvement.
This summer wasn't spectacular but if rumors are true they tried to sign splitter which would have been a great move. After that failed at least they didnt go all pistons and give loads of money to whoever, and for that they should be applauded. They made small signings/trades, with no longterm money, Lopez and Wright. Mo William's should be gone next year too hopefully!
I am curious at what the poor team construction is? They got T Robinson for 2nd rounders, while he has not been good he is still young talent that could develop.
Though I don't think the Blazers will make the play offs this year I dont think things are as bad as you make them out to be.
While I expect the team to be bad, the off season moves where reasonable. Zache Lowe from Grantland has a pretty detailed explination of the offseason moves, and team expectations. The Blazer's tried for Splitter and it did not happen. They have also missed on Hibert and Millsapp in previous seasons. The current plan was replace the bench, take no long term contracts, and wait and see what Aldridge does. The team is expecting to be forced to trade him at some point.

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9603329/the-portland-trail-blazers-refurbished-roster

As to why the Blazers let Hickson walk. As JesseW mentioned and mentioned in the article, the Blazer's could not defend the pick and roll. Specifically the at the rim side of the roll. While not Hickson's fault, his size (and individual defense) was listed as a primary factor to the lack of rim defense.
On track to miss this projection by a country mile. No doubt Lopez and Aldridge are outperforming their projections massively, not sure where the rest of the disconnect comes from. Looks like there will be some pretty huge misses on the team projections, the formula needs an overhaul. Jazz over the Pacers?
Its not just Lopez and Aldridge, its the entire starting lineup. Matthews and Batum are performing at a Star-Level and Lillard has improved more than expected.

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