Damian Lillard Is Back And The Blazers Are Undefeated, Are We Overlooking Them?

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Portland Trail Blazers have won their first four games of the 2022-23 NBA season. Six-time All-NBA guard Damian Lillard is averaging 33 points per game on 59 eFG% and 66 TS% efficiency splits. The Blazers’ win total was set at 39.5 by Las Vegas odds makers. Have we forgotten how good Lillard is and underestimated the Blazers?

The NBA is a what have you done for me lately league. Lillard missed the majority of last season with an abdominal injury and the Blazers were awful. They finished 27-55 with the league’s worst defense and third=worst offense.

Then there was the saga of the past two years of Lillard’s camp leaking that he would request a trade if things didn’t change in Portland.

The team also traded CJ McCollum.

It’s easy to see why oddsmakers weren’t high on the Blazers to start the season. We don’t crown champions after four games, but Lillard has been good and the supporting cast around him is performing well.

“When Dame is making shots, it gives everyone confidence,” coach Chauncey Billups said after a recent game. “For our team, and our building.”

It’s a small sample size but through these first four games the Blazers rank sixth in aORTG and 13th in aDRTG. In the last four years they never ranked higher than 16th, and they were usually 27th or lower.

Justise Winslow, Josh Hart, and Jerami Grant have added a level of competitiveness on defense that didn’t exist before. Gary Payton II, whom the team signed in free agency, has yet to play and he is their best defender.

“(Defense) is part of everything we talk about, and I think we will be better defensively because of it,” Billups said. “But are we going to be a top-five defense in the league? No. No. It just doesn’t happen that way. But I think we will be much better. We talk about it pretty much every day.”

It’s only four games, but if that defense can be top 15 and Lillard and the offense produces at their normal levels, this Blazers team will win a lot of regular-season games.

Fifth year pro Anfernee Simons has taken over the McCollum role, and while he’s not the player CJ is, he’s shown flashes of what he could be. This includes an out-of body experience on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets when he made his first eight shots, including six threes.

If players like Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and Nasir Little continue to develop, and newcomers Grant and Hart learn how to play around Lillard, the Blazers could surprise the league this season.

“We definitely have the makeup to be a really good team,” Lillard said. “There’s a lot of versatility on the wing. We shoot the ball well. We have good depth. Experience, mixed with youth — really talented youth. Athleticism … that’s why I’m so optimistic, but you just don’t know.”

Lillard expressing optimism is really important, and his early season play is showing he’s still that dude. But it’s easy to be this positive early in the season when you’re rolling. Let’s check back in a quarter of the way through the season and see where things stand.