When oklahoma city thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a buzzer to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, he not only coddled Damian Lillard by setting the franchise scoring record, he soured the mood of many a Blazers fan. Subsequently, the Blazer’s Edge mail was full of lamentations, many of which centered on the Portland guardsmen. Anfernee Simons was the main target, but Lillard also received some criticism, despite the praise for him.
A representative sample arrives in our Blazer’s Edge Mailbag today, in anticipation of Portland’s rematch with the Thunder tonight.
I’m getting tired of this. SGA stopped Judge Winslow because he was too slow. It was too slow because we don’t have a guard capable of playing defense. Now we’re looking at the cost of that again. I understand keeping Dame for all the reasons everyone says, but then they have to get rid of Simons. I don’t know how many more losses she’ll take until she can’t take it anymore.
Can we pump the brakes a little?
Let’s talk about the guards first.
Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons aren’t perfect in every aspect of the game. We know this. We know the defense. We know about the mesh, occasionally the lack of it. If you push me, I’m not going to argue that the two of them should be paired up forever. If you remember, I’m one of the people who said, in the preseason, that Josh Hart could be a better starting shooting guard next to Lillard, especially if the Blazers could turn Simons into a really good starting forward. Having seen Simons play, my opinion is more nuanced now, but I wouldn’t abandon it entirely. It’s perfectly possible that’s right, in the long run.
But in the short term, if you’re looking for big trouble with the Blazers, Lillard and Simons aren’t it. Lillard is averaging 28.3 points per game, Simons 23.2. Both hover around 40% from three-point range on double-digit attempts per game. That’s crazy.
Opponents never rest in this defense zone. If they overplay one side of the court, the other is vulnerable. The Blazers keep one or the other on the court for every competitive minute, and anyone can drop a dozen in the blink of an eye.
Simons has played 29 games this season. He has scored 19 or more in 22 of them. In a evil night he’s scoring 15, on a bleh night he’s at 20. His “meh” is someone else’s game they call their mom for.
Don’t even start with Lillard this season. He has played 19 times, scoring 19+ all but one.
Does Simons get caught up in difficult tries at times? Yes. Who doesn’t?
Has Lillard lost any escape skills, particularly on the trail? Probably. He still screwed up Luguentz Dort something horrible in the fourth period on Monday night. He just has to save it for special occasions instead of throwing afterburners constantly like he used to.
On their nights off, this perimeter accomplishes what many wish they could, period. Don’t sneeze about that, especially with Jusuf Nurkic somewhat inconsistent and Jerami Grant cooling off a bit as the season progresses. Those starting guards are the most profitable asset the Blazers have.
Now let’s talk about the team. Lillard and Simons are receiving criticism less for their own play than for the expectations that followed the Blazers after their terrific start.
Is a short A little too early in the season to rely on aggregate team stats, but not so early that we can’t reference them. The Blazers have a +0.5 margin of victory in 31 games this season. That puts them eighth in the Western Conference, 14th in the league overall. Have been good. They have not been special.
However, the memories of that special beginning still linger. A 10-4 record makes wins seem ordinary and losses painful. Going from 7 to 10 since then has provided frequent pain…not strong, not unreasonable, just repeated, like poking where you just got a flu shot. No blow is bad. Two or three might even be a practical joke. By the seventh, you’re upset as heck. This is what losses feel like for Blazers fans right now.
But let’s be real. The Blazers play close games like gambling addicts roll the dice. Early in the season, they had a good run. Last-second shots seemed like Portland’s birthright. They’re still spinning the cubes on the felt almost every night, but the averages are catching up with them. They’ve lost some close games, games they were winning before, which makes the small point hurt even more.
This is how close games work in the NBA. Narrow down the fate of the game to three possessions, not to mention one shot, and you’ll find that everyone on the court is among the best basketball players in the universe. There is no safeguard against the opponent’s success for a minute or a single move. You listen to the scouts and the coach, you play hardball and see what happens.
However, when the ball doesn’t bounce your way, there must be “a reason.” The guards’ less redeeming qualities are the current fashionable explanation in Portland. fair. If Lillard and Simons were elite defensemen, the Blazers could be too. However, when has that ever been a possibility? And what team has that combination of world scoring and world defense at both guard positions?
Lillard and Simons are probably part of the reason the Blazers have lost 14. Maybe a game or two will come to their debit. They’re pretty much the ENTIRE reason Portland has been in position to win 17.
With the West bunched up as it is, it’s far more important to catch the 17 for sure than try to bet out and turn the 14 into 11. Move up one of those two guards and the defense might improve, but all else being equal, the record won’t. will. The opposite, in fact.
If a deal comes through that makes the Blazers better on defense while maintaining scoring potential, I’m still for it. It’s becoming increasingly clear that said deal had better be GREAT, or the Blazers will have to wait until the offseason, thinking hard about their future, to execute it. Until then, Lillard and Simons are worth celebrating, as is the winning record.
Forget 10-4. That was a mirage. Right now, settle for Portland staying in the thick of things and let’s see what happens over the next 30. Lillard and Simons might not be the perfect perimeter for a World Championship team, technically, we don’t know yet, but they are. a great duo for a very young 17-14 year old squad that is still growing. And that’s who the Blazers are right now.
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