PORTLAND, Ore. – This wasn’t a good season for the Blazers. The team didn’t live up to expectations and the majority of the players on the team came up short in that department as well.
The Blazers, however, finished the regular season with 41 wins, the picture of mediocrity. The team played much better after the All-Star break with an 18-8 record, fourth-best in the NBA. The Blazers were especially lifted by their performance in March, when Portland won 13 of 16 games. But even though the Blazers finished the regular season strong and made the playoffs, the season was a disappointment overall.
Some of the grades for the Blazers for this season won’t be pretty. They reflect the reality of what happened all season, not just in March.
The good news is the book has closed on the 2016-17 season. The players can work this summer to improve their games. The front office can make smart moves to improve the roster. Everyone gets a fresh slate, a blank report card, when training camp begins next October.
GRAPHIC INSTRUCTIONS: Take a stroll around the court and check out the player cards for the nine rotation members of the 2016-17 Portland Trail Blazers. Click on each card to open a larger version. Click on the card again to flip it over and see the back. To close the card you’re looking at, click it one more time. Mobile users, rotate your phone to see the full graphic.
Nurkic’s value to the Blazers can’t be overstated. In 20 games after he was traded to the Blazers, Nurkic averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals. During the 2016-17 season, no player in the NBA averaged at least 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, 1.5 blocks and one steal per game.
During that 20-game stretch, Nurkic showed he could dominate games in so many ways – scoring (he scored more than 20 points three times, including 33 against the Nuggets); rebounding (he grabbed 10 rebounds or more 10 times, including 20 against the 76ers); distributing (he had five assists or more in six games, including eight against the 76ers); collecting steals (he had two or more seven times, including four steals against the Spurs); and blocking shots (he had two or more 11 times, including three times with five blocks or more).
It wasn’t just individual success, either. The Blazers were 27-35 last season without Nurkic and 14-6 with him. The Blazers hit their stride with Nurkic in March, when they went 13-3, the best record in the NBA that month. In March, the Blazers scored 112.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed 104.2 for a positive net rating of 8.3, a massive improvement over their numbers for the entire season (107.8 offense, 107.8 defense, 0 net rating).
Also instructive is how the Blazers performed in April and during the playoffs without Nurkic. The Blazers went from an 8.3 positive net rating in March with Nurkic to a 1.6 positive rating in April without him. In the playoffs, they couldn’t contend against the Warriors without Nurkic. Their offense plummeted without Nurkic, to 96.3 points per 100 possessions and their defense imploded, allowing 114.6 points per 100 possessions. Their net rating was an abysmal negative 18.3.
It’s this simple. The Blazers are a very good team with Nurkic and a mediocre – at best -- team without him.
As good as Nurkic was in Portland, his last season in Denver was a disappointment. Nurkic averaged only 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 blocks and 0.8 steals in Denver. He fell out of the rotation in early February and was labeled as lazy and malcontent.
Nurkic is a gifted passer, but he often tries to fit the ball into too tight of spaces, resulting in turnovers. During his 20 games in Portland, he averaged 3.1 turnovers. Among centers, only the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Pelicans’ DeMarcus Cousins averaged more. Nurkic needs to have a better sense for when to throw the pass and when to pull it back.
The Blazers’ 22-year-old center is also prone to foul trouble, collecting 3.7 fouls per game during his 20 games with the Blazers. He didn’t foul out of a game with the Blazers, which indicates he knows how to play without fouling when necessary. A little more of that cautionary defensive aggression in the first half of games would be helpful to the Blazers.
Blazers report cards
Note: Report cards weren’t made for Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier or Tim Quarterman, because they played too few games and minutes for an accurate assessment of their value.
How we determined each player's grade
These grades reflect where each player fits within the hierarchy of the league, as judged by statistical data. The NBA statistic “Player Impact Estimate” (PIE) was the data point used to calculate each grade.
According to NBA.com, PIE “measures a player’s overall statistical contribution” while they’re on the court. It is a comparable stat to Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
The formula to compute the statistic incorporates points, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, personal fouls and turnovers.
For context, Russell Westbrook had the highest PIE in the NBA with a score of 23, followed by Anthony Davis with a score of 19.2. An average player in the NBA, according to the PIE statistic, had a score between 10 and 11 and included players like Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat.
19 PIE and up — A+
17.7-18.9 — A
16.4-17.6 — A-
15.1-16.3 — B+
13.8-15.0 — B
12.5-13.7 — B-
11.2-12.4 — C+
9.9-11.1 — C
8.6-9.8 — C-
7.3-8.5 — D+
6-7.2 — D
4.7-5.9 — D-
3.4-4.6 — F+
2.1-3.3 — F
0-2.0 — F-
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. Follow him on Twitter here.