The start of the New Year means improving upon our weaknesses through the infamous New Year’s Resolution. The concept of resolutions also applies to the NBA. It is often said that the NBA season gets competitive after Christmas, where teams make their final major adjustments. So what should our beloved Blazers look to change as we enter 2019, both from an individual player and a team perspective.
1) On ball touches for CJ McCollum
In the past two seasons, CJ McCollum had been one of the most efficient players in the NBA. Damian Lillard provided him space off the ball and he was able to take advantage of defenses while Lillard was resting by being the primary ball handler of the second unit. Over the off-season, the team decided to make an effort in maximizing Evan Turner’s skills, which took away CJ’s role as the second unit point guard. The hope was that CJ would maintain his same level of production. After placing in the Top 35 of efficiency rankings in the previous two seasons (teamrankings.com), CJ is currently 59th. While it is important to get Evan Turner involved and playing to his strengths, CJ is the 2nd best player on the team when at best. In order to do this, CJ needs to at least get some of the on ball touches back.
2) Play the hot hand
At the beginning of the year, Terry Stotts emphasized that he wanted to create more of a solidified bench unit, a lineup where he could maintain similar levels of effectiveness, but also giving the starters a break. So far, the bench unit of Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Zach Collins, and Meyers Leonard have had mixed reviews, providing sparks at times, but also blowing some leads as well. However, Stotts has almost continuously made one mistake when dealing with his rotations: he often subs out the players who are in rhythm to keep his substitution patterns. While there are cases where it makes sense, there are other times where the rotation should be disrupted, especially if one of the starters is struggling. While Stotts has started moving towards this idea, he needs to be committed to playing the best players for more Blazers wins.
3) Nurk Fever 2019 Edition
Often times, the knock against the Blazers are that they do not have a consistent 3rd option to go along with their dynamic backcourt, and in order for the Blazers to take the next step, they need to find a third star. Now while this was true in the past, we have found a budding star in center Jusuf Nurkic. When Nurkic came over from Denver in 2017, he started the revolution that we now know as Nurk Fever. Expectations from fans were astronomically high. While Nurk struggled to live up to expectations in the 2017-18 season, we may be finally getting the second edition of Nurk Fever. Over the season, the Bosnian Beast is averaging 14.5 points and 10.1 rebounds, but the stats are not showing his true improvement. He has become an excellent facilitator, and has improved both his mobility and quickness. This has especially taken hold in the past 5 games, where Nurkic has averaged 18.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.6 steals and blocks. In addition to this upgrade in statistical production, Nurkic’s nastiness has provided an extra edge for the team and has been a catalyst in the team’s recent victories. In order for the Blazers to advance in the playoffs this season, they need to continue to have Nurkic heavily involved within the game plan.
And as many of us never complete our New Year's Resolution, the chances of the Blazers going through with these changes are extremely low. But hey, all we can do is hope for the best. Here's hoping to change in 2019.
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