It truly was a season for the ages for the Portland Trail Blazers. After being projected to win between 37 and 41 games this season and miss the playoffs in the West, the Rose City squad turned in a 49-33 season that earned them the number three seed in the Western Conference.
With such a great regular season behind them, it’s only fair that we give out a few awards to players that were key contributors to the team’s success.
Team MVP: Damian Lillard
This was by far the easiest award to give out due entirely to the fact that Damian Lillard was the pulse and heartbeat of the Blazers this season. Where Lillard went, the team followed. In the team’s 13-game winning streak in the middle of the season, Lillard was the best player on the floor most nights. He elevated this Blazers squad to unexpected levels that surprised even the savviest of NBA fans.
Leading the team in points and assists per game, at 26.9 and 6.6 respectively, Lillard brought a team that many believed would be picking high in the lottery to the third seed in a bloodbath of a Western Conference. Dame is a front-runner for an All-NBA first team selection this year over other superstar point guards like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Chris Paul thanks in large part to his contributions on the offensive end where he carried the team for large stretches of the season.
We’ve come to expect the offensive production for Lillard, but where he truly shined was on the defensive side of the ball. Lillard was by no means a lock down defender this season, where he posted his best defensive box plus/minus since the ’14-’15 season, albeit at a -1, but he more than made up for that with a staggering 7.7 offensive plus/minus. Was Dame a defensive liability this season? Yes, but not nearly to the extent that we have grown accustomed to seeing in seasons past.
There’s not much more to say about Damian Lillard’s contributions to the team, and it would seem hard to argue that he was not the most valuable player on this roster.
The “Token Veteran Leader” Award: Evan Turner
Here’s a crazy stat that I just found: The Blazers are the only team in the NBA to not have a player over 30 play in a game this season. Isn’t that just absolutely incredible?
This is the team that ended up third in the West (sure they were just three wins away from missing the playoffs, but still). That means that there’s really only one player that can earn the “Token Veteran Leader” award.
It’s none other than journeyman forward Evan Turner!
Turner did everything that the Blazers needed him to do this season. Whether it was score a tough basket to tie a game, fly into the lane for a much needed offensive rebound, or lock in on the defensive end for multiple possessions, Turner was that guy.
If you look at the box score, Turner would never jump out at you, but he made the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. And the Blazers needed every one of the plays that he made (Which he better have, he is making $17 million a year!).
As the oldest member of the team, Turner was able to lead this gaggle of young men into the playoffs and his contribution to that end should not be understate. A well deserved “Token Veteran Leader” award for Evan Turner.
The “Wow” Award to the player that most exceeded expectations: Zach Collins
I promise this isn’t a homer pick simply because Collins is a former Gonzaga Bulldog. If the beginning of the regular season was any indication, the Blazers were not expecting Collins to play meaningful minutes for a playoff contender, but that’s what we Zags do, we exceed expectations (okay, I had to put at least one humble brag in). But on the real, Collins rarely saw the floor in the early parts of the season.
By the end of the year, Collins was eating up minutes in the front court and defending at an above-average level. Collins still has a ton of room for improvement, but early indications are that he is everything that we wanted Meyers Leonard to be and more.
According to Basketball-Reference.com’s lineup data, Collins was a piece of the two five-man lineups that outscored opponents by the largest margin per 100 possessions (Pat Connaughton and Ed Davis were also members of those five-man groups as well, but more on that in a second).
After being drafted with the #10 pick in the draft, many believed that Collins would be stashed away to bulk up and learn the speed of the NBA after having only one year of college experience. Few believed he would make a meaningful impact for the team. For that, Zach Collins is the winner of the “Wow” award for the player that most exceeded expectations.
Most Underrated Three-Man Combination: Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton, Ed Davis
I’ll be completely honest, not for a second did I believe that the Blazers’ best three-man lineup in terms of plus/minus per 100 possessions would lack Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic, but here we are.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Blazer’s most productive three-man lineup consisted of Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton, and Ed Davis. Sure, they only played 545 minutes together so the sample size is small, but this three-man combination outscored opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s more than three points more than the next best combo of Al-Farouq Aminu, Damian Lillard, and Jusuf Nurkic.
I’ll concede that there are a lot of things breaking in the right direction for this group. First off, they’re typically playing against opposing second- or third-units, which is going to skew the numbers in general. Secondly, there are still two other players on the floor with this three-man combination at all times, which was more often than not two of McCollum, Lillard, and Shabazz Napier.
I say all of that to say this: Can stats be manipulated to create a narrative? Certainly, but it’s that what we’re here for? To connect the dots so that we can impress our friends with obscure lines of thinking? I certainly think we are.
There’s a new big three in the league and I’m coining the name for them right here and now. The Pat Connaughton, Ed Davis, Zach Collins trio shall forever be known, from this point forward, as “PEZ.”
Signed, sealed, delivered.
The “Wait, that guy gets paid how much?” Award: Meyers Leonard
This was an incredibly tight race between Meyers Leonard and Mo Harkless, but in the end, Leonard swooped in for the win thanks to playing in 33 games this season, only five of which were due to injury.
Let’s go through a little by the numbers here:
Meyers Leonard made $9.9 million this season. That equates to:
- $300,000 per game played
- $38,976 per minute played
- $88,393 per point scored
- $141,428 per rebound
- $582,353 per assist
- $1,414,285 per steal
- AND Drumroll please………… An Infinite Amount per block
Yes, you read that right. Meyers Leonard, who is listed at 7’1, failed to get even one block over the entire season. If that’s not worth nearly $10 million, then I don’t know what is.
But in all seriousness, congratulations are in order for Leonard, he’s the only player on the team to play in multiple games and not get blocked all season! That $10 mil looks really good on you Meyers!