The Portland Trail Blazers had a mixed 2020-21 season, filled with highs and lows, as they roared to a sixth placed position in the league. Their 42-30 final season record took them to the playoffs, which ended in a disappointing loss to the Denver Nuggets, leading to a turbulent offseason that put the fates of several of its stars like Damian Lillard in doubt.
Despite calming the storm, the Blazers have returned poorly for the new season, ranking 11th in the Western Conference after eight games with a 3-5 early-season record.
Let's take a look at some of the early weaknesses the Portland Trail Blazers have shown.
Weaknesses of Portland Trail Blazers that have hampered their early-season start
#1 A weak fort
The Portland Trail Blazers have continued to underperform in the current season. Much of their slow start can be attributed to their poor defense, which has failed to inspire despite adding Larry Nance Jr. to their defensive ranks. The Blazers currently ranks 25th on the NBA’s defensive rankings.
They have managed 8.0 steals and 4.9 blocks, placing 16th and 17th in the league respectively, affecting their inability to compete at the top end of the league. The Portland Trail Blazers would need to have a stronger fort if they are to make the play-in game for the playoffs at least.
#2 Low conversion from the charity stripe
The Portland Trail Blazers had a nice outing last season, finishing second in the NBA’s offensive rankings, but have shown weaknesses in certain parts of their offensive game since resuming the new NBA season. Despite managing to keep Lillard after an uncertain offseason, they have been rocked by a lack of efficiency from free throws, failing to convert many of their foul advantages.
While the Portland Trail Blazers rank third and eighth in the league for three-pointers and field goals respectively, they have converted very little from the charity stripe. Their lack of efficiency has affected their season, as they rank 24th in the league for free throws percentage (72.7%), placing a step lower for free throws made per game (13.6).
#3 Poor playmaking
The Portland Trail Blazers have always shown weakness in their playmaking game, an issue never more evident than in their playoff loss to the injury-stricken Denver Nuggets last season. They ranked 30th in assists last season (21.3) and have continued in the same vein this season.
Their inability to address that part of their game during the offseason has seen all the job of creativity fall on Lillard's shoulders once again, with his 65 assists this season being twice that of second-placed CJ McCollum on the Portland Trail Blazer’s roster. The Blazers rank in the bottom ten for assists per game (22.8).
Amongst their entire roster, only five players have been able to notch double digits for assists in their opening weeks, many starters and rotations, failing to live up to expectations. Coach Chauncey Billups will need to find a remedy for his team’s lack of chance creation, which is essential if they are to find other sources of field goals production beyond their outstanding beyond arc skills.