PORTLAND, Ore. — Lost in the months-long meltdown over the Trail Blazers' demoralizing first-round sweep in the playoffs last season was a pesky fact: this team is still pretty good at basketball.
Portland returned 11 players, including its starting five and two top reserves, from a team that won 49 games last season. Expecting the squad to regress as much as many prognosticators guessed never made sense.
If the Blazers make the playoffs again, any second-guessing is warranted. This team hasn't proven yet that it can be a competitive playoff team. But during the regular season? These guys are good.
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The Trail Blazers are proving that early, winning seven of their first 10 games behind the superstar play of Damian Lillard and better-than-expected production from its fancy new bench. Jusuf Nurkic hasn't been bad either, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and nearly a steal and a block in just under 25 minutes per game.
Portland ranks fifth in both offensive and defensive rating through the first 10 games of the season and fourth in net rating. Only one other team, the 8-1 Milwaukee Bucks, who will be in Portland on Tuesday, is ranked in the Top 5 in both offense and defense.
Here's a look at how the Blazers fared in the most recent batch of NBA power rankings.
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 7 (up 2)
What they wrote: The Blazers are quietly winning at a high rate thanks in large part to a high-octane offense. Oddly, CJ McCollum's scoring has dipped during this start, as he is averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field. McCollum has averaged at least 20 points and a 44 percent shooting average per game in each of the previous three seasons.
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 7 (up 5)
What they wrote: The Blazers went 4-1 in their five-game week, holding their opponents to just 97 points per 100 possessions, but losing to the Lakers on Saturday by missing 29 of their 35 3-point attempts. That was a rare game where their bench let them down, but it recovered 24 hours later, pushing them to an easy win over Minnesota (with Meyers Leonard playing a season-high 22 minutes). Evan Turner still can't shoot 3-pointers, but is one of 11 players who has averaged at least 12 points, six rebounds and six assists per 36 minutes, and the Blazers have scored 115.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor with Damian Lillard and/or C.J. McCollum.
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 6 (up 6)
What they wrote: It’s always nice to play a team without its best player. Watching Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler sit out in Portland might have angered a few fans, but seeing the Trail Blazers rack up wins will probably help those people get over it.
Dame is doing everything in his power to make you look at him as a top five player in this league, because that’s what it means to be first team All-NBA, and unlike most All-Star games, that’s an accolade he was not snubbed from.
Lillard’s scoring took a slight dip in the Trail Blazers’ victories as the team's role players continued to dominate. Zach Collins scored 17 points against the Pacers and then Jusuf Nurkic dropped 22 and 10 in Houston and 20 and nine at home against the Pelicans. Meyers Leonard chipped in 15 and 12 in Sunday’s victory over the Timberwolves as Nurkic led the way with 19 points.
The contributions from the post make this team more fierce, but not much will matter without C.J. McCollum operating at last year’s pace. His shooting percentage went up over the last week, but his scoring hasn’t been quite where it was last year or the season prior. Lillard taking over a bit more than before limits just how much McCollum can add on the offensive end, but, if Portland is going to make up for last season's disastrous end, he needs to be over 20 points per night no matter what Dame provides. Doing slightly less to start the year as Lillard and other players make bigger contributions might mean McCollum has better legs come the end of the year though.
The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 6 (up 1)
What they wrote: Look, we could sit here and talk about the early dominance of Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. We would have a phenomenal discussion about where their ceiling hits and whether or not they can bust through that ceiling. We could talk about the importance of patience and continuity within the construct of NBA basketball. Measuring what this team looks like at full strength and everything clipping could excite a lot of people, but also fascinate them. Or we could all just keep looking at this Evan Turner outfit.
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 7 (up 3)
What they wrote: The Blazers' schedule the first month of the season has been — and will continue to be for another week — unforgiving. And yet they've weathered it incredibly well. The impact of Zach Collins on this team cannot be overstated. This might be the best version of the Blazers since LaMarcus Aldridge left.