"I Told You So": Portland Trailblazers Edition

Commentor Robbie made one of our favorite types of posts last week; one that gives us a chance to pat ourselves on the back:

When are we going to get an "I told you so" Portland article on this site? Portland signed players identified by this site's rating system as very good but who were viewed as journeymen. Portland is one good player away from moving up to #3 in the West sometime over the next two years.

We did talk about Portland being underrated on our season preview show, and also in Patrick's Northwest Division preview article.

From Patrick:

Vegas Over/Under: 26.5

My take: Might be the best "over" on the board.

I am not going to understand the pessimism around this team. Yes, it's true that between Matthews, Batum, Lopez, and Aldridge, a lot of wins left town. But unlike most teams that push the rebuild button, Portland hasn't gone nuclear.  I don't think this is a playoff team by any means, but they managed to bring in a lot of talent to replace the guys who left.  

Everyone who made that over bet is sitting pretty with the Blazers already past the 40 win mark here in early April.  Portland, however, has outdone themselves and far exceeded Patrick's "I don't think this is a playoff team" assessment.  They are battling the Memphis Grizzlies for 5th place in the West and started selling playoff tickets this week.

How has Portland stayed in the playoff hunt?  The West isn't as strong as it has been in recent years, and that certainly helps their cause, but what about all the moves they made? We've been working on some ways to examine what the heck happens year to year on teams. Here's a breakdown of how the Blazers changed from last season to this season. A brief explanation of the two metrics:

  • MP/G82 (Minutes per Games82) is how many minutes-per-game assuming the player played the full season. Instead of dividing by the number of games the player played (if they were injured or traded) we divide by the total number the team plays.
  • PoP/G82 (Points over Par per Game82) is the margin a player gave the team by team game. For instance, Ed Davis' 2.9 PoP/Game82 this season means that he's giving Portland a 2.9 point edge each game for the 2015-2016 NBA season.

Clear as mud? Away we go.

Name 2014-2015 MP/G82 2014-2015 PoP/G82 2015-2016 MP/G82 2015-2016 PoP/G82 PoP/G82 Change
Ed Davis 0 0 20.6 2.9 2.94
Nicolas Batum 29 2.2 0 0 -2.17
Meyers Leonard 10.3 0.2 17.1 -1.3 -1.5
Al-Farouq Aminu 0 0 28.6 1.3 1.34
Damian Lillard 35.7 1.7 32.6 0.5 -1.21
Mason Plumlee 0 0 25.3 1.1 1.15
Wesley Matthews 24.7 1.1 0 0 -1.09
Noah Vonleh 0 0 14.4 -0.9 -0.92
Robin Lopez 20 0.9 0 0 -0.87
Arron Afflalo 9.2 -0.6 0 0 0.6
LaMarcus Aldridge 30.6 -0.5 0 0 0.48
Chris Kaman 17 0.2 1.4 -0.2 -0.35
Tim Frazier 0.8 0 3.5 -0.3 -0.34
Will Barton 3.7 -0.3 0 0 0.27
Dorell Wright 7.2 -0.2 0 0 0.23
Allen Crabbe 8.3 0 25.7 -0.2 -0.19
Maurice Harkless 0 0 17.3 -0.2 -0.19
C.J. McCollum 11.9 -0.3 33.9 -0.4 -0.18
Pat Connaughton 0 0 1.5 -0.2 -0.15
Luis Montero 0 0 0.4 -0.1 -0.12
Steve Blake 18.6 -0.1 0 0 0.09
Thomas Robinson 4.8 -0.1 0 0 0.07
Alonzo Gee 1.8 -0.1 0 0 0.07
Joel Freeland 7.5 0 0 0 -0.04
Brian Roberts 0 0 1.4 0 -0.03
Victor Claver 0.9 0 0 0 -0.03
Cliff Alexander 0 0 0.5 0 -0.02
Gerald Henderson 0 0 17.5 0 0

What's gone right and what's gone wrong for Portland season?

1) Good - Davis and Plumlee have more than made up for the loss of Aldridge and Lopez.

They were a 50 win team last season, with a margin of victory of over 4.2 points.  If they keep up their current pace they'll be 2.1 points over par by the end of the season, which is a significant drop, but certainly not enough to be a sub 30 win team like Las Vegas predicted.

Part of this is because Aldridge played worse than his usual self last-season. He was a negative win producer for the Blazers.  He has bounced back nicely with the Spurs but is still overpaid considering his production, while Plumlee and Davis have been their typical solid selves.  The result is a nice upgrade to their big men, and for less money.  Meyers Leonard had a terrible year, and his injury has helped them quite a bit, his minutes are going to their good bigs instead.

2) Bad - The Batum trade was a debacle

Batum is a star and was their best player last season, and all they got in return for trading him is a mediocre veteran player (Henderson), and a young but below average player who has never produced in the NBA (Vonleh).  Even though Batum has fought through injuries this year, and hasn't quite played up to his usual form, the WTF engine makes it clear that it was a massive loss for Portland.

3) Good - Aminu has filled in well for Matthews and Wright

Aminu has been an excellent rebounder and defender, and his contract is very team friendly.  Harkless has played well at times this season and has been good in the past.  He could end up being a good acquisition before all is said and done.

4) Bad - Lillard and McCollum have been worse this season

They are getting a lot of credit for their play, being called "elite" by Blazer's Edge earlier this year.  This is a dubious claim, as all they've done is increase their points per game by taking more shots.  They are both good three-point shooters and do take a lot of threes as they rightfully should. However, most of those extra shots have come from two-point range instead, where they only shoot 45%.

It's easy to root for the scrappy Trail Blazers.  Even if they aren't quite as good as they were last season, they are still racking up plenty of wins with unsung players.  They are doing it with strong rebounding, inside scoring, and three point shooting.  If their "star" backcourt takes a few less long twos and they give their best bigs a few more minutes, they can be even better.

Who is that one extra good player that Robbie says they need to move up to #3 in the West?  Sadly for Blazers fans, it was Nicolas Batum.