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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers are hoping to end a lackluster December on a high note with two more games on the schedule before 2017 comes to a close. 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 the Blazers' most improved player and most disappointing player so far this season, the future of Shabazz Napier, and predictions for the next four games.
If you'd like to submit a question for today's Facebook Live and podcast, email us here.
LISTEN TO KGW'S 3-ON-3 BLAZERS PODCAST
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. We're a few days away from bidding farewell to 2017. The Blazers are more than a third of the way through the season. Who has been the team's most improved player through the first 30 games? Then turn it around. Who has been been the team's most disappointing player?
Nate: Shabazz Napier has to be considered the most improved. I don't think many envisioned he'd see significant minutes this year but he's not only gotten them, he's played above expectations and provided an offensive spark to a team in desperate need of offense. I'm going to go with Maurice Harkless for most disappointing. Outside of the win against the Lakers, he hasn't had a positive impact on the team. Maybe the Lakers game will be a turning point but up to this point, his performance has been extremely disappointing.
Jared: With all due respect to Shabazz Napier, I think Al-Farouq Aminu has impressed me most. This may be the best season of his career. He continues to play excellent defense and his 3-point shooting — 44 percent on 4.7 attempts per game — has been invaluable to the Blazers. During a season in which the Blazers' offense has disappeared, Aminu's steady offense has been a surprising boon. When he's on the court, the Blazers score 108.4 points per 100 possessions, more than six points better than their season average. The most disappointing player has been Jusuf Nurkic. His defense has been solid and a big reason for Portland's improvement on that end of the court. But you can easily make the argument that he has been the primary reason for Portland's offensive decline. He has the second-highest usage rate on the team, just behind Damian Lillard, but is one of the team's least efficient offensive performers because of poor shooting and a high turnover rate. Despite having a positive impact on defense, the team is still 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor. When Nurkic is on the court, the team's offense plummets, averaging 5.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he's on the bench.
Orlando: The Blazers most improved player a third of the way into the season is Shabazz Napier. He's on pace to having the best year of his career. Napier has been reliable and efficient when he's on the floor. He's shooting 49 percent from the field and over 45 percent from 3-point range this year, smashing his career numbers in that department. On the flip side, I think you can make the case for a few players as most disappointing so far this season. For me, it's been Maurice Harkless. When the season started, I thought he was a lock to be in the starting lineup and he's disappeared for the majority of the season. Almost every meaningful stat is down from last season. His opportunities to make plays are declining and others are earning more chances. The Blazers need him to produce. Maybe his big night against the Lakers is what he needed to turn things around?
2. The trade deadline is about a month away. Nobody has increased their trade value on this roster more than Shabazz Napier. He has quietly had an impressive December, averaging about 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 23 minutes per game. While Damian Lillard was out the past two games, Napier was arguably Portland's best player, averaging 17.5 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3 assists in 36 minutes per game. Do you think Napier should be part of the Blazers' long-term plans, understanding his current contract ends after this season and he looks to be playing himself into a substantial raise? Or should Portland try to move him at the deadline when his trade value is at its peak?
Jared: Napier has been one of the team's most consistent performers. He's proven to be a good shooter and efficient scorer, and he's a pesky and effective defender. He's probably Portland's most valuable reserve right now. But the Blazers' financial situation is ugly and if Napier demands something close to the midlevel exception (about $9 million) this offseason, Portland may not be able to afford him. With that in mind, it would be smart to see what level of interest exists on the trade market for a player like Napier and what kind of value he could bring back. If Napier could be the sweetener to get a team to take one of Portland's bad contracts, or if he could return a good player — perhaps a forward — to help balance Portland's roster, the Blazers should consider trading him while his value is high.
Orlando: Shabazz Napier is going to get paid, in Portland or somewhere else. If the Blazers don't offer Napier what he believes he's worth, someone will. Any team in need of a point guard will be calling. The Blazers have to listen to offers. Our John Canzano is reporting that people he's talked to say owner Paul Allen is “getting antsy” with the team's lack of success. I find it hard to believe the Blazers don't make a move by the trade deadline and moving Napier would make a lot of sense because he is playing so well.
Nate: Napier's long term spot on this team I think will have more to do with the team's success the rest of the year than his individual success. If the Blazers continue to be a .500 team going into the deadline, I think they're more likely to be sellers than buyers. If that's the case, then this roster probably won't look the same as it does now. I think Portland wants to keep him around. But the Blazers already have so much money tied up in underperforming players, that it may be difficult to pay Napier. Not to mention, if the Blazers want Nurkic around long term, they're going to have to pay him this offseason.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers are busy in the next week, playing four games in six nights beginning with tonight's home game against the Philadelphia 76ers (15-18). They then play three straight road games, at the Atlanta Hawks (9-25) on Saturday, at the Chicago Bulls (12-22) on Monday and then at the Cleveland Cavaliers (24-11) on Tuesday. Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
- Nate: 23-10
- Orlando: 22-11
- Jared: 20-13
Orlando: They're due for a home win, right? The return of Damian Lillard, energy will be up at the Moda Center. The 76ers have struggled lately. Man, this is tempting to take Portland, even though the 76ers beat them by 20 last time. Joel Embiid is questionable to play with back tightness. I'm going to gamble and say the Blazers deliver in front of a national audience in their final home game in 2017. Then they carry that momentum into Atlanta to face a Hawks team that hasn't been good. However, it's going to be a 2-2 kind of week for the Blazers. I think they drop the next two at Chicago and Cleveland.
Nate: The Blazers will go 2-2 over the next four games. I know the 76ers have struggled as of late (2-9 in last 11) but I think their size and athleticism makes them a difficult matchup for the Blazers. So I'll pick the 76ers and Cavs to win. The Blazers will beat Atlanta and although the Bulls are the hottest team in the NBA since the return of Nikola Mirotic, but I still think the Blazers are a better team so I'll give them the nod. What I want to see out of these four games from the Blazers is a cohesive rotation before they enter a tough January stretch.
Jared: The Blazers and 76ers have both been bad in December. The 76ers have lost 9 of 11 and the Blazers 8 of 12. Joel Embiid (back) and Robert Covington (knee) are both questionable for tonight's game. It's possible they both end up playing, but I'll go with the Blazers to beat the ailing 76ers. Portland should take care of Atlanta, which has only nine wins so far this season. The Bulls are beating everyone right now, but they'll be playing the second game of a back-to-back after a game in Washington the night before. I'll pick a rested Portland squad to beat a tired Bulls team. The Cavaliers are better than the Blazers in every way and it will be the second game of a back-to-back for Portland. That's a Blazers loss.
If you'd like to submit a Blazers question for our panel to answer during the 3-on-3 podcast, send us an email here.