He fought valiantly, averaging 34ppg and 10apg on a ridiculous 45% from three, but in the end the Blazers fell to the Nuggets in six.
The Blazers just don’t have the defense to win in the playoffs. They can score, but they can’t prevent other teams from scoring. That was my biggest takeaway watching that series.
I mean, they had 5 players average double figures for that series. As a team Portland averaged 119.5 points per game over the six game series. Offense isn’t the problem:
The problem was that they allowed Denver to score 120.8ppg in the series. And that’s why despite Dame AVERAGING 34-10 in the series on an absurd 45% three point shooting, the Blazers lost in six to a Nuggets team that didn’t even have Jamal Murray.
Dame put up absolutely stupid numbers in that series, but when your team can’t get stops, it really doesn’t matter how much you score because it’ll never be enough. In game 5, he dropped 55 and his team lost in double overtime. In game 2, he dropped 42 and his team still lost by 19!
Now, Dame isn’t the greatest defender. But as the top player on the team, that’s okay–it’s on the other players around him to play strong defense. Steph Curry has never been a strong defender, but Draymond and Klay are elite defenders. The Warriors during their historic run always played great defense even though their superstar, Steph, was not a great defender. Everyone always focused on the three ball with the Warriors and assumed they were so good because they shot so many threes. Well, that’s partially true, but honestly even by 2016, maybe 2017 at the latest, the rest of the NBA had already caught up to them and started emphasizing the three ball. What set the Warriors apart was the fact that they had Steph, the greatest shooter ever, and they played incredible team defense (and they also got KD in 2017 but let’s set that aside). Nobody ever talks about how consistently great the Warriors were on defense during their dynasty run. They were not just a team that hit a bunch of threes. They still in 2021 play great defense, ranking 5th in the league this past year.
The Blazers don’t have any real great defenders. They can’t stop anybody. They ranked 29th out of 30 in adjusted defensive rating, which measures the points your defense allows per 100 possessions adjusted for the strength of the opposing team’s offense. They allowed 116.7, and only the Kings at 117.9 were worse. For reference the Lakers were the best defense at 107.6.
So this is why, despite being the #2 team in the NBA in adjusted offensive ranking at 118.4 points per 100 possessions, and behind only Brooklyn who scored 119.0, the Blazers are out in the first round. They just don’t have a defense.
But even though their offense is great, Dame’s supporting cast also came up short offensively in that playoff series when it mattered most.
In game 5, which Portland lost 147-140 in 2OT, Dame was actually a +2 net in his 52 minutes. When he went to the bench, his team got smoked. That’s got to be an incredibly demoralizing feeling for him–knowing that when he himself was on the floor, they were the better team—but his teammates just couldn’t hold the line. In the two overtime periods combined, Dame had 17 of his team’s 19 total points. His teammates were a combined 1-14 from the field in the two overtime periods, while he was 6-8.
There really wasn’t a whole lot more he could’ve done. He set the record for threes in a game (12) in game 5, and he set the record for total threes made in a playoff series in only six games. And then there’s this:
In my post from the other week on which players have the most to gain from winning a chip, I said that Dame would absolutely gain a lot from getting his first ring, but ultimately people were not going to hold it against him if he did not get there. We all know he does so much for that team; we know how great he is. But just doesn’t have the supporting cast. We don’t hold that against him.
But I think it’s starting to get to him. He posted this on Insta after game 6:
He has every right to be fed up. He was unbelievable in that series. He put up all-time great numbers and it wasn’t even close to enough.
Now the Blazers and longtime head coach Terry Stotts just mutually agreed to part ways. And Dame apparently will have a say in who they hire as the next head coach–either Chauncy Billups or Jason Kidd.
But nobody really believes a change at head coach is going to turn Portland into contenders. They need more dudes. They need elite defenders and more reliable scorers. Don’t get me wrong, I like CJ McCollum a lot, but I think he’d be better as a third option than a second option. A lot of people think of him as Dame’s “Splash Brother” the way Klay is to Steph, but CJ isn’t as good as Klay. Klay is 6’7″ and an elite defender; McCollum is 6’3″. They’re similar in terms of the roles they play on offense, but you can’t win a championship with CJ McCollum as your #2 option. Again, nothing against him because I actually like CJ a lot. But Portland just needs another dude.
The problem is, nobody wants to go play in Portland. They can’t get free agents. Dame and CJ were both drafted by Portland. They traded for Nurkic, but he wasn’t as good as he is now when they traded for him. They are not going to be able to land another star-level player via free agency. Portland is a franchise that must build through the draft and maybe the occasional trade.
So what is the plan here? They’ve made the playoffs every year since 2014, but have only won 4 total playoff series over that run. The best they’ve ever done was making the Conference Finals in 2019, but they ended up getting swept by the Warriors even without KD. It was a “close” sweep in the sense that the Blazers basically had opportunities to win all four games, but it was still a sweep.
Portland cannot win a championship in their current form. Maybe it’s time to think about a rebuild. Maybe it would be mutually beneficial to both the Blazers and Dame if they agreed to part ways.
Look, it’s awesome that Dame has been loyal to Portland and the organization has been loyal back to him. That’s rare these days. But Dame is about to be 31, and if they can’t find him another star player, he’s never going to even sniff the NBA Finals. They’ve had 9 years to try to build a championship-level team around him and they’ve failed.
They’re in a spot where they’re good but not great, and at that point you have to either figure out how to get another star or think about maybe blowing it up and rebuilding. Continually making the playoffs and losing is obviously better than being terrible and missing the playoffs, but in my view, if you cannot win a championship, it’s all the same.
The bottom line is that there’s a small number of teams that can win it all and Portland is not one of them.
They could probably get a massive haul for him on the trade market. He’s going to make an average of $44 million a year from now through the 2025 season, when he’ll be 35. It’s a big contract, but he’s worth it. And whoever gets him will have him locked down for a long time.
Trade Dame to a contender and begin a rebuild. A team like Dallas would love him. Right now they’re getting blasted by the Clippers in game 7, and Luka could really use another star player. Obviously the Lakers would benefit from getting him. Maybe the Knicks. He’d take the Bulls to the next level. The Sixers would possibly be the best fit of them all.
I just think it’s time for Dame and Portland to move on from one another. They clearly can’t get him the pieces necessary to win and he’s now 31 and needs to get himself to a true contender.
Dame has done right by Portland for nine long years. He’s given them everything he has. Now they have to do right by him: send him to a contender so he can compete for a championship before he starts to decline.