When we talk of NBA stars that perform and (help) lead their teams to glory, we often forget a key name or two. Sometimes it’s because the player is vastly underrated and most other times it’s because we believe their teams aren’t good enough for glory. Then there’s the few times where we just flat out forget how good the player is until they remind us.
The Portland Trailblazers roster has the funny distinction of falling under all three scenarios.
For years, Damian Lillard has become somewhat of an afterthought when we run down the best players in the league. The Trailblazers have been near the top of the league the previous two seasons but very few people had them penciled in as the next potential champion.
Lillard and running mate C. J. McCollum have given the Blazers a prerequisite one-two punch over the past few seasons and they continue to flourish with each other. This season they were averaging a combined 51.4 points per game and giving defenses all they could handle.
Do they have enough help to make a real run?
Hasan Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza are the next three Blazers in terms of scoring. The trio is averaging a total of 42.6 points per game and that output is now in jeopardy.
Whiteside is an able scorer but is mostly looked upon as a rim defender and rebounder. There might not be enough shots available for him to really make an offensive impact but he can be an imposing figure when given the opportunity. He’s definitely there more for the defensive side of the ball, leading the NBA with 3.1 blocks per game.
Ariza has opted not to head to Orlando due to a custody situation involving his son. Portland will miss his veteran savvy and perimeter defense, probably more than his offense.
That brings us to Anthony, playing the role of the guy who needs to remind us how good he is. After what could only be described as a weird last few seasons, Anthony signed with Portland back in November. In 50 games, he’s averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
This is his big chance to show a flash of the ten time all-star that defenders feared playing once upon a time. He has to find a way to play off of Lillard and McCollum when they’re all on the court. He also has to be a go-to guy at times to give those two a longer rest.
The Blazers do not have another front court player with his caliber of skill.
If you take the 94 points averaged by the top five scorers then factor in the teams scores 113.6 points per game, it shows they rely heavily on those players at the top. With Ariza gone, everybody will have to improve their output and every game will have to be played like it’s a playoff game.
Portland is currently ninth in the Western Conference and close enough right now to force a play-in series for the playoffs. If the Trailblazers do eventually make the playoffs, they just might have the firepower to upset a higher seed.