|LaMarcus Aldridge (left), Damian Lillard (center), and Nicholas Batum (right) make up the core of this Trail Blazers' team and give Portland its best chance to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence|
Through four games of this young season, the Portland Trail Blazers are 2-2, with wins over the Spurs and Nuggets and losses to the Suns and new-look Rockets. Not too bad a start, but also not one that is going to overtly impress.
The Blazers, still missing 10th overall pick C.J. McCollum (foot surgery), have been relatively uneven so far, as they have had no problem scoring points (tied for sixth in the NBA in both points per game and 3PT%) but have not been able to stop their opponent on the other end of the floor (have given up sixth-most opponents points per game and fifth-highest FG%).
This is why the Blazers, as The Oregonian Blazers beat writer Joe Freeman notes, are having a bit of a identity crisis as team.
Specifically, they are not exactly sure of their strengths and weaknesses as of right now, but — under Stotts — are attempting to become the kind of lockdown-defensive team which always seems to go far in the playoffs. However, Portland's transition from a looser, less restricted squad into a more structured one on offense and defense has not been easy.
"You have to establish your style of play," coach [Terry] Stotts said. "I think we're in the process of establishing our defensive identity. It takes time. But being more physical, more aggressive in an intelligent way, is an important thing to do. That takes experience. It takes savvy."
Clearly, after giving up at least 98 points in every game this season, something is not going right for the Trail Blazers, even though they appear to have the athleticism, size, and talent to become a top defensive team. In addition to their main studs — Aldridge, Lillard, and Batum — Portland has 7-footers Meyers Leonard and Robin Lopez, former 5th overall pick Thomas Robinson, journeyman Dorell Wright, projects Victor Claver and Joel Freeland — as well as some veterans — at its disposal.
Now, I am not saying Stotts' roster is a championship-worthy one. It probably is not that, but it is competitive and should not be allowing 104 points to the likes of the Phoenix Suns on a regular basis.
This team can be great defensively, should it pick up the defensive philosophy its coach is preaching, and it can make a lot of noise in the extremely-difficult West and a deep Northwest Division.
It is good this season is only four games old, so Portland has more than enough time to right the ship and win like it certainly can. It is only a matter of time.