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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers have won four of their past five games heading into a difficult stretch of road games, starting Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers. It's time to check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on two solid games from Meyers Leonard, the curious case of the Blazers' flagging offense and predictions for the next four games.
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KGW's Jared Cowley, Orlando Sanchez and Nate Hanson talk Blazers on today's 3-on-3 chat, including a strong couple outings from Meyers Leonard, the team's struggling offense, and predictions for the next few games.Posted by KGW-TV on Wednesday, November 22, 2017
MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
1. Meyers Leonard played a big role off the bench the past two games. Before Saturday’s game against the Kings, Leonard had played a total of 15 minutes, 11 in the opener and 4 in Friday’s loss to the Kings. Then in the last two games, he plays nearly 20 minutes per game, averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. What do you think made Stotts go with Leonard? Do you trust this very small sample size of new-and-improved Meyers Leonard?
Jared: Leonard earned that playing time in practice. That's according to NBC Sports Northwest's Jason Quick, who, after Monday's win against Memphis, talked about Leonard's impressive practice performance leading up to this recent run of playing time. That's a good sign for Leonard. Before the season began, I think Leonard accepted that if he wanted playing time, he was going to have to earn it. No amount of positive talk about a great offseason and how great a place he was in would matter if it didn't translate to improvement on the court. He would start at zero and have to work his way up. To his credit, that's exactly what Leonard has done, showing his stuff in practice, which led to a show of trust from Stotts. That said, I'm not hopping on the Meyers Leonard bandwagon yet. With how inconsistently Leonard has played over the past couple seasons, it's hard to trust this until it happens for a couple weeks, not just a couple games. That said, Leonard is getting a chance and he's making the most of it right now. He's really helped the Blazers the past couple games. If Leonard could put it together, that would be invaluable to the team. A 7-footer who can stretch the floor and defend in the post? That's something every team could use.
Orlando: Love him or hate him, Meyers Leonard is making the most of his playing time over the last two games. When the Blazers offense had issues, he gave it a spark at Memphis. He played with confidence and it showed on the floor. Solid shot selection, didn’t force it on offense, he defended and he came off the bench ready to play. There are minutes out there for the Blazers bigs. Coach Terry Stotts is experimenting with his rotation more than usual and if his offense needs a boost, Leonard is an option because of his ability to stretch the floor. Can he continue to seize the opportunity? We’ll find out, but so far he is, and that means more playing time for Leonard. Let’s see what he does this week.
Nate: I don’t trust Leonard can continue this play but he’s undoubtedly provided a much-needed spark off the bench for the frontcourt. Stotts said after the Kings game, he played Leonard because Ed Davis sprained his ankle in the first quarter and Nurkic was in foul trouble. But he still could have played Caleb Swanigan and decided to go with Leonard. Although Swanigan’s first shift in the starting lineup against the Nuggets was superb, he’s struggled contributing on the offensive end and he’s picking up fouls at such a high rate that it’s eliminated his effectiveness defensively. Noah Vonleh has played well since the benching, but Stotts still needs someone to contribute as the backup power forward. Over the last couple games, Leonard has outperformed Swanigan and he’ll continue to get minutes until that changes.
2. Last week, we talked about how good the Blazers’ second-ranked defense has been. This week, let’s tackle the offense, which has not been good. Over the past 15 games, the Blazers rank 24th in the NBA in both offensive rating and points per game. Take away Portland’s first two games, when the Blazers averaged 119 points, and the team is scoring 100.7 points per game. What do you see as the biggest reason for the Blazers’ poor offensive showing this season? We asked last week if the defense was for real. Do you think this is the real offense, or do you believe it will improve?
Nate: I think the offense will improve to league average but I don’t think they’ll be the top 10 offense Blazers fans have become accustomed to seeing. There are a multitude of reasons for why the offense is struggling. First off, Lillard has struggled shooting this year. He’s shooting 40 percent from the field and just 31 percent from the 3-point line. His career averages coming into this season were 43 and 37 percent, respectively. Lillard will eventually find his shooting stroke, but so far it’s not there, and the Blazers haven’t had a consistent scorer outside of McCollum and Lillard who can relieve some of the pressure off those two. The Blazers are also the worst team scoring in transition, and while they're one of the top rebounding teams in the league, are only 24th in points in the paint. Those are high percentage opportunities that the Blazers aren’t creating. Therefore, they’re relying a lot on isolation plays and perimeter shots, which as we’ve seen this year, are components to an inconsistent offense.
Jared: I think the biggest problem for the Blazers continues to be missing shots. The team continues to move the ball around the court, averaging 283 passes per game, the exact same average as last season. The team is also moving just as much on offense, averaging 9.7 miles traveled per game versus 9.6 per game last season. Their offense isn't stagnant. It's just those passes and all that movement aren't resulting in as many made shots. Last season, the Blazers shot 46 percent from the field. This season, the team is shooting 44 percent. If the Blazers shot the same percentage as last season, that would translate to four more points per game. Those four points would mean the difference between ranking 21st in the league in scoring and ranking 13th. I think the Blazers will get better. Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic are both shooting well below their career averages. I don't believe their shooting slumps will last all season, so I do believe the offense will improve at some point. The Blazers also need to take better care of the ball. Their turnovers are up by almost two per game this season. Giving away possessions is a surefire way to kill an offense.
Orlando: The Blazers offense has been a head scratcher. Consistency has been an issue. Portland is a jump-shooting team that takes a lot of 2-point shots (near the top of the league in that category). CJ McCollum is one of the best shooters in the league, Damian Lillard is one of the best scorers in the game and both are missing layups or shots close to the basket. Teams are contesting close to the cup and that makes it tough to finish. Jusuf Nurkic has been inconsistent in the scoring department, and they also need some help on a regular basis from the supporting cast. Maurice Harkless hasn’t been a serious threat offensively, lately. Through 17 games, I'm paying attention to it, but I don’t think it’s time to panic. Teams that shoot a lot of jumpers will go through ups and downs. I think the consistency and flow will come around. Stay patient this week.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers play four road games between today and when we meet again next Thursday, tonight at the Philadelphia 76ers (9-7), Friday at the Brooklyn Nets (6-10), Saturday at the Washington Wizards (10-7) and Monday at the New York Knicks (9-7). Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
- Nate: 12-5
- Jared: 11-6
- Orlando: 10-7
Orlando: This is a long road trip. They will be tested. Win more games than you lose and this trip will be considered a success. Interesting game in Philly. Both teams present matchup problems, but who will dictate the game? Damian Lillard rolled his ankle, but is expected to play. How effective will he be? This is likely their toughest test this week. I’ll take the 76ers in a close one. Let's try this again with Brooklyn. I think the Blazers bounce back with a little payback after laying an egg the first time around. The very next day, they’re in D.C. This is always a tough game for Portland; last year they got blown out. The Wizards backcourt is one of the best in the league, the Blazers' new and improved defense will be put to the test. I don’t like the quick turnaround, give me the Wizards. A day to recover and a win in New York. The Blazers go 2-2 this week.
Nate: I think it will be a tough week for the Blazers and they’ll go 1-3. The only game I see the Blazers winning is Brooklyn on Friday, despite the 9 a.m. PT tip. I expect Stotts to learn from his mistake and go Nurkic-heavy in that game and we’ll see a Bosnian Beast-type performance out of him. As for Philadelphia, I think Ben Simmons creates a really tough matchup for the Blazers’ backcourt. The small lineup of Lillard-McCollum-Napier might not be as effective in that matchup. Against the Wizards, Portland will be playing the second of a back-to-back and Washington will be rested. I think their offense will be a little too much for the Blazers to keep up with in a tight game. The Knicks are 8-3 at home this year and have added some pieces around Porzingis. I’ll give them the nod as well.
Jared: The Blazers go 2-2 over the next four games. The 76ers are a tough matchup. Ben Simmons is a matchup nightmare for the Blazers' small backcourt, because even if you rotate one of the Blazers forwards onto Simmons, that just means Lillard or McCollum has to guard 6-9 small forward Robert Covington. Joel Embiid (22 points, 11 rebounds per game) presents problems for everyone, but I see this as a matchup that could overwhelm Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic had 28 points and 20 rebounds against the 76ers last season, but Embiid was injured and Nurkic beat up all game on Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. This is different. I think the 76ers win this one. Portland should avenge their home loss to the Nets, just like they did against the Grizzlies. They'll follow that up with a loss to the Wizards the next night. The Blazers will be playing the second game of a road back-to-back, while Washington will be playing on two days rest. I think the Blazers beat the Knicks. New York's record looks nice but they haven't been very competitive in most of the games they've played against good teams.
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