trailblazers

Portland Trail Blazers: Five early question marks

Can Blazers right ship?

At 8-11 on the season—and mired in inconsistent play—the Trail Blazers have plenty of question marks on their early season. If they can rebound, and answers any of them, is yet to be seen.

Can Damian Lillard keep up the pace?

In 19 games this season Damian Lillard is averaging 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Rookies just aren’t supposed to play like this.

And while Lillard looks like a no-brainer for rookie of the year, it’s still only 19 games. Can he keep his ridiculous pace up?

Lillard has already seen some lumps. He started Portland’s recent East Coast swing hitting 27 percent of his shots for 13 points a game. He responded to that adversity by scoring 24, 24 and 23 points over his next three games.

Damian Lillard

Lillard could bring the ROY back to Portland this season. (Photo: Associated Press)

If he can continue to bounce back like that, there’s no reason Lillard can’t stay on track.

Is LaMarcus going soft?

Many a Blazer fan knows the moniker “LaMarshmallow,” used to highlight LaMarcus Aldridge‘s penchant for playing soft.

After his breakout 2010-11, the nickname started to fade. The once-pushover of a power forward had started to become an elite player and a driving force on the court.

But so far this season, LaMarcus has started to show signs of losing that tough step of his game.

L.A.’s 8.0 rebounds per game is down from his mark two season ago, but consistent with his 8.0 from last year. The troubling stat is his 45.5 shooting percentage, which stands as the lowest mark in his career. It’s drastically lower than his 50.6 average over the last two seasons.

With only four 5o percent shooting games this season, Aldridge has to get that toughness back.

Why is Hickson still starting?

J.J. Hickson is enjoying a great season as Portland’s starting center, and on any other team he’d deserve his spot. But with scoring woes from the bench, and a lack of defense in the paint, it could be time Hickson moves to a backup role.

At 11 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, Hickson has been a double-double master for Portland. But with him starting, opponents have dominated in the paint, and he’s averaging less than a block a game.

Meanwhile, Meyers Leonard is doing everything he can to make a name for himself.

Portland’s less-talked about rookie is averaging 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. But he’s also averaging 1.0 blocks, and in only 18.6 minutes per game—compared to Hickson’s 28.4 minutes.

With a need for defense in the paint, and points off the bench, it could be time these two swapped roles.

Can the defense play strong on two fronts?

Generally a solid defensive team, Portland has seen plenty of struggles on that front this season.

The Blazers are allowing 102.2 points a game, which ranks them 12th overall in the Western Conference. The biggest reason for that ranking is their inability to play consistent defense on the whole floor.

JJ Hickson

It could be time Hickson returned to the bench. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Some nights Portland limits opponents under 40 percent shooting from the outside, but are outscored by double digits under the basket. Other nights it’s reversed, with opponents shooting near 60 percent.

And on its worst nights, Portland is outplayed everywhere.

Until the Blazers can play consistent defense on the court, they’re not going to win many games.

Will Batum ever find consistency?

After an explosive start to the season that saw him shoot 48 percent and average 20.8 points a game through Portland’s first 10, Nicolas Batum looked ready for a breakout All-Star season.

But despite the hot start Batum has rescinded to shooting 42.5 on the season with 16.8 points per game.

His three point shooting has been less than stellar at times, and he’s hitting 36.9 percent of his shoots beyond the arc this season.

While Batum looked like he could be developing into a player that deserves his monstrous offseason contract, there’s no doubt that the inconsistencies that have plagued his career are still there.

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