The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The dismal state of the Portland Trail Blazers

Team in midst of biggest tank in past decade
The+Blazers+are+projected+to+end+up+with+a+top+five+pick+in+the+2024+NBA+Draft%2C+finishing+with+two+picks+in+the+NBA+lottery.+
BRANDON WILLMAN
The Blazers are projected to end up with a top five pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, finishing with two picks in the NBA lottery.

Entering their Wednesday night matchup with the Brooklyn Nets Jan. 17, the Portland Trail Blazers are 10-29 and are the No. 14 seed in the Western Conference, just three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs, the team that won last season’s NBA Lottery. 

When franchise cornerstone Damian Lillard left the team, it became clear that the 2023–24 Blazers were not a team that had grand expectations. Yet still, a winning percentage of .256% is disappointing. 

Since their last win, coincidently a win over the Nets Jan. 7, the Blazers are on a four-game losing streak and have had their worst losses of the season. It started with a 28-point loss to the New York Knicks, then an awful 62-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a 23-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and finally, an 11-point loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Losing by 62, which is one of the single-worst losses in any regular season game in NBA history, is just the tip of the iceberg. In the third quarter, the Thunder outscored the Blazers 43-17 and secured an already-decided game. 

The Blazers had just two players score in the double-digits, OKC had six such players. Scoot Henderson, the heralded third-overall pick of the most recent NBA Draft, had just 13 points over 31 minutes in the loss, finishing with a person plus/minus of -56, the second-worst individual performance in that stat in a single game. 

Just one night later, in their loss to the Timberwolves, he posted a plus/minus of -27, bringing his total over two games to a plus/minus of -83, the worst two-game stretch ever. 

At just 19 years old, Henderson is developing as a player. But with the recent immediate success of other young guards such as Luka Dončić, Trae Young and LaMelo Ball, it seems that Henderson is not having the success expected of him in year one. While putting up 12.7 points, 5.0 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game is respectable, he is shooting just 36.4% from the field and 30.4% from beyond the three-point line.

His inefficiency as a scorer is part of the growing pains, but he will need to figure it out as he develops in the league for the Blazers to elevate their team ceiling beyond what they achieved when Lillard was on the team. 

Alongside Henderson on the young Blazers core is 20-year-old Shaedon Sharpe (15.9 points per game scorer who has already shown immense potential), 24-year-old Anfernee Simons (best scorer on the team whose biggest liability is defense), 25-year-old Deandre Ayton (can be a good piece but has struggled with health this season) and several other pieces in their early 20’s with potential to be fantastic role players. 

Simons found himself in trade rumors all offseason, something that may happen again if the team commits to Henderson as their primary ball-handler going forward. As a good scorer with playmaking abilities, Simons can bring back a lot of value for the team if they choose to move away from him.

If they keep him, he and Henderson can have a partnership similar to the one that Lillard and CJ McCollum had during their time with the Blazers. 

Right now, the Blazers are playing with too many players who are very good when they drive to the basket. The problem rests in the fact that defenses can just stack the paint and force them to shoot the ball, something only Simons has proven to be elite at. Role players and the development of their young Henderson and Sharpe will be the keys to unlocking the success of this franchise, but it is unclear what will even be possible with how the current season is playing out. 

While trading Lillard proved to be a necessity, seeing the franchise icon of over a decade change teams and immediately be a piece in the 28-12 second-place in the Eastern Conference Milwaukee Bucks is a hard pill to swallow. 

As they watch their former star push for a deep playoff run, the .256% winning percentage puts the Blazers on pace for their worst season since the 2005–06 campaign. 

Moving on from Chauncy Billups feels like a necessary move and likely, a few more seasons of fringe playoff teams will be the future for Blazers fans before a hopefully developed young core can push to win the Western Conference. Luckily for the team, their 2024 NBA Draft pick is protected if they do not make the playoffs and they also have the rights to the Golden State Warriors first-round pick if does not land in picks No. 1 through No. 4. 

But right now, the Blazers identity is lost in translation.

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About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.