The Trail Blazers Signed Caremlo Anthony Because…???

All stats are current through Friday’s games and are via, ESPN and Basketball Reference.

Things were bad for the Portland Trail Blazers before this weekend.

On Thursday, they were 4-8 and sat in 13th place in the ever-so competitive Western Conference, a land where, despite such a new season, a slow start could be deadly.   Throw in the surprising Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, along with basketball’s most consistent and competitive franchise in the San Antonio Spurs who might very well sneak into the playoffs and Portland could already be facing long odds to be playing in late April.

To try and help with that, they signed Carmelo Anthony and then proceeded to blow a 23 point lead Saturday night against San Antonio before rallying to a 121-116 win, improving them to a still meek 5-8 record.

A lot of the numbers posted by Portland don’t support their immense struggle.  The Blazers are league-average offensively thus far, ranking 15th in offensive rating by putting up a 107.9 mark.  They’re 19th on the other end thanks to a 109.2 defensive  rating, good enough for a total net rating of -1.2.

Damian Lillard has been a top seven candidate in the way-too-early MVP race.  He’s putting up 30.5 points a game on 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 38.6 percent from three – a really good number considering he’s shooting from deep 9.5 times a game.

Lillard is fifth in PER (That’s a stat that, while telling, is also predicated on large sample size and doesn’t take defense into account), first in offensive and overall win shares all while leading the league in minutes played thus far, making the numbers he’s putting up even more impressive.

All of this – the below-average-to-average ratings and Lillard’s torrid start – shouldn’t equal 5-8.  It should be closer to .500, or even better because of Lillard’s performance.  But sitting at 12th in the conference among the likes of New Orleans and Memphis almost feels unfair, creating a haunting sense that the Blazers could be getting unlucky or just don’t have what it takes given the insane competition.

It’s likely a little bit of both.

In their losses this season, Portland is shooting 34.2 percent from three.  For the most part, they’ve been cold.  They shot 25 and 30 percent from deep against Denver and San Antonio, respectively.  They hit 55 percent of their threes against the Sixers, but still lost by just a point thanks to an insane Furkan Korkmaz buzzer-beater.  Two days later, they regressed back down to 32.5 percent against the Warriors and dropped that game thanks to Eric Paschall’s breakout; Portland’s injuries in the frontcourt really emerged there.  Things didn’t get better against the Clippers (Expectedly so) in the next game; the Blazers shot only 28 percent that night.

Portland is 1-3 since that Clippers game, and in their losses they’ve shot 36.7, 26.7 and 39.6 percent from three.  The poor outing came against Sacramento of all teams, a squad they likely had the best chance to get a win over after the other two losses came against Brooklyn and Toronto.

The opponents Portland has lost to are allowing their opponents to make 36.18% of their three pointers, so it’s not as if the Blazers are playing teams that are exceptional at defending the three point line.  When Portland doesn’t hit from beyond the arc, it hurts them, and subsequently results in losses.

Perhaps they aren’t taking the right shots.  Portland isn’t moving the ball at all offensively.  The Blazers rank last in the NBA in assists per game and second-to-last in total passes made this season.  They’re taking the most pull-up jumpshots out of any team in the league with 32.4 per game, and have the second highest isolation percentage in the league at 9.9 percent (Houston obviously sits in first place there, but they’re isolating a little less than TWICE as much as Portland is, sitting at 18 percent).

So it’s no surprise the shots aren’t falling.  The Blazers need to add efficiency to their offense to fix this.

Caremelo Anthony does not bring that.

Hold that thought for a second.  We should’t be acting like Melo’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness will have a profoundly negative or positive impact on the Blazers.  This is a trial run to see whether he can actually contribute anything at all.  That opportunity won’t come in terms of a starting role or crunch-time minutes.

Because of that, the Blazers have to figure out how they’re going to improve the roster they have without outside forces.  Trades aren’t going to fix a style of play problem.  If they’re considering that, then Portland’s issues are much deeper than we think and are a sign of serious institutional trouble there.  This team should be good enough and better than that.

Portland’s most-played lineup has a net rating of -4.7 this season, a brutally low number considering the small minutes sample size.  It consists of Lillard (Obviously not the issue; Portland is a -12.4 net with him off the court), CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, Anthony Tolliver and Hassan Whiteside.  Tolliver is the biggest issue.  He’s been horrific to start the year, shooting 24.4 percent from the field 24.2 percent from three.  It’s likely a sample size issue, but the 34-year-old saw his percentages drop substantially last year.  Another drop in those is something Portland can’t afford.

CJ McCollum has been cold too.  He’s only shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from deep.  This should absolutely change, unlike Tolliver.  McCollum is one of the 25 best guys in the league and is coming off a smoking hot playoff run.  It could be just some negative regression stretched over the course of the summer playing a major role.  McCollum isn’t just going to be bad – this isn’t baseball, and star players don’t fluctuate like that in their prime.

Rodney Hood has been really good, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 48.8 percent from three.  It’d be interesting to see Portland throw him out there alongside the two guards and Anferenee Simons, who has lived up to all the preseason hype so far.

Simons needs to play more.  His on/off court numbers are dreadful, but he’s shooting 47.3 percent on field goals and 38.2 percent from three.  Plus, he’s hitting shots like this.

This was the game that Simons showed what he was capable of.  He dropped 15 points in the fourth quarter, and was practically sealing the game until Kawhi Leonard happened.

Simons is unique because he can play on or off the ball and still be able to takeover in big moments.  He was the reason why Portland couldn’t be counted out of contention this year.  But as the slow start has shown, he alongside the two stars in the backcourt won’t be enough.

Injuries have obviously played their role.  Zach Collins’ dislocated shoulder is forcing Portland to play Tolliver so much.  Jursurf Nurkic is still working his way back from that horrific ankle injury suffered late last season and is probably still a ways away from returning.

Because of that, Portland should probably try and go small.  Simons and Hood among CJ and Dame might be the best bet for the Blazers to right the ship.  Whiteside hasn’t been detrimental but certainly hasn’t been great.  It doesn’t matter either way; they don’t have another option, and any smaller lineup is too small.  Whiteside has to play no matter how bad he is.  It’s simply a bodies issue.

The Blazers could also use their third-most played lineup of the season, which features Dame, CJ and Whiteside surrounded by Mario Hezonja and Kent Bazemore.  That lineup is a +26.8 in just 40 minutes.  Bazemore brings much needed defense, helping that rating improve to an impressive 95.2.  But the offensive numbers just don’t add up to the supreme 122 rating that the group is producing.  Hezonja’s been brutal, shooting just 31.9 percent on field goals and 32 percent from three.  Bazemore hasn’t been much better, though that’s somewhat expected as he flourishes more with the ball in hands rather than playing alongside two high-usage guards.

It’s likely that the offensive rating is being saved by Lillard, and that the four-time All-Star is accumulating most of his impeccable numbers with Hezonja and Bazemore on the court for some fluke reason.

Still, no option the Blazers have seems to be a good one.  That’s the best case for signing Melo.  What’s the risk?  What do the Blazers, in simple need of literally anyone who can play basketball, lose here?  Isn’t there only a route upwards by signing Melo?  He can’t make them worse since the negatives he brings to the table are already happening.  What if he turns into a potent scorer and doesn’t play as inefficiently?  Expecting that kind of turnaround is ridiculous, especially from someone whose been so stubborn about role in his past two NBA stops.  That stubbornness led us to believe Melo had received his last chance in the league.  Even the Lakers wouldn’t sign him.  The Blazers did, and Melo’s going to have to buy in and perform rather than just perform.

But at this point, even him just performing is questionable.  Melo was horrible in Houston to begin last year, shooting 40.5% from the floor 32.8% from three in those 10 games last year.  And those horrific numbers came in a situation where Anthony was used as a complimentary role player.  He was a classic off-ball wing.

But at times, Melo couldn’t resist reverting back to his old self.

What does one of the least efficient teams in basketball need?  Probably not someone who is going to be taking shots like those.

The Blazers do need bodies, sure.  Melo brings that to table.  But the root of Portland’s poor start doesn’t totally lie in their injuries.  They can make up for that by playing smart and letting their talent do their thing.  Portland’s lack of ball movement, McCollum’s early-season daze and Simons’ limited role doesn’t fit either of those parameters.  Neither does Carmelo Anthony.

CFP Rankings Review + Alabama-LSU Preview

It happens almost every year.

The College Football Playoff Committee gets together, assembles their ranking and leaves at least one team out.  Sometimes that’s their fault.  Sometimes it isn’t.

In 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, it was.  They shunned the Big 12’s two best representatives in TCU and Baylor for Florida State and Ohio State respectively.

In 2017 and ‘18, it wasn’t their fault.  Sure, there were legitimate cases for Ohio State and Georgia – in any other year they were Playoff teams.  But two losses wasn’t going to cut it.  Not with that crop of teams ahead of them.

This year slips in between the committee’s past.  The country’s top tier of teams consists of five.  Only four can make the playoff.  And there’s not a lot of separation between all of them.  The top three teams have a real case for No.1, and the gap between No.4 and No.5 is extremely close.

This season is reminiscent of last.  It’s just that Clemson’s (or Penn State’s) case is much, much better than Ohio State or Georgia’s.  And that makes things so much harder.

Support for Ohio State at No.1 overall makes sense.  The Buckeyes have looked and been absolutely unstoppable.  They’re No.1 in Football Outsiders’ overall FEI thanks to their No. 4 rank offensively and second defensively.  Justin Fields is among a crowded bunch for the Heisman Trophy, which also features his stud teammate Chase Young.  JK Dobbins is having another insanely productive season at running back; rounding out a deadly offense.

That pure dominance could be tied to their schedule.  They’ve played one good team (Michigan State was counted as the second, but they also lost to Arizona State at home, soooooo) in Wisconsin.

Sure, Ohio State should have blown out everyone they’ve played thus far.  But going out and actually making that happen when everyone is expecting that is much harder than it seems.  Ohio State is meeting and exceeding expectations.  Wisconsin’s revolutionary (For them, it’s revolutionary) passing attack should have given the Buckeyes a bit of trouble when dealing with Jonathan Taylor simultaneously.  It didn’t, and the Buckeyes romped them.

If Ohio State hasn’t played anyone, then Alabama really hasn’t played anyone, which is why they find themselves at No. 3 overall.  Their best win was over a ranked Texas A&M team that doesn’t even find themselves in the rankings anymore.  Any debate about the Tide being placed behind LSU is closed for now.

The LSU-Ohio State debate is a very real and fun one.  The committee selected Ohio State because of the case above.  It’s an interesting pivot from the AP Poll, and displays that strength of schedule may not matter as much as we think.

The committee seems to be relying on the eye test and even their gut.  The Tigers demolish the Buckeyes in SOS and likely tie them in the eye test – LSU’s offense the past two seasons has been the missing piece to making this program a Playoff contender.  Now it’s there, and it’s terrifying.

But doesn’t Ohio State seem scarier?  LSU being an explosive team with a downfield passing attack still seems too good to be true.  Is that what the committee rooted its decision in?  Or were they just trying to avoid the classic SEC bias?

Somehow, this isn’t the most controversial decision they made.

Penn State is undefeated.  That alone is impressive.  And their schedule has been better than Ohio State’s – they’ve actually played two decently tough conference opponents as opposed to just one.  Both have been tight wins, but that’s expected with true competition.  They’re ninth in overall FEI, with their defense ranking tenth and offense 20th.

And yet, them beating Clemson in any game seems completely inconceivable.

The difference is simple.  Clemson has Trevor Lawrence.  Penn State doesn’t.  Clemson has Travis Etienne.  Penn State doesn’t.  Clemson has Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.  Penn State doesn’t (KJ Hamler is really, really good).

They haven’t shown it, but Clemson is just a better team.  They’re more talented.  That’s why Clemson wins that football game.

That’s also why Penn State, despite the projection above, deserves to be ranked ahead of the Tigers for now.  Clemson has looked really bad despite being 8-0.  They’ve started slow in a couple games, almost lost to North Carolina and didn’t stomp on Texas A&M whatsoever, winning only 24-10.  Lawrence has thrown the 10th-most interceptions in the country with eight, and some of them have been really bad decisions (That despite the glorifying of him above).

Penn State over Clemson – for now – is the right decision.  But the committee gets a little hypocritical here.  If they’re choosing strength of schedule for Penn State, then why didn’t they do it for LSU when it comes to No.1?

Here are a couple other thoughts regarding the committee’s first rankings…

The Big 12 disrespect is real

The Big 12 and Pac-12 are becoming eerily similar of one another, and because of it, the committee could be punishing them.

As proven by Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State, the Big 12 is starting to become a conference in which anyone can lose to anyone, most of that rooted in the putrid defense and the explosive offenses that reside in the league.  In shootouts, it comes down to the last possession, and there’s a 50% chance that “x” team gets that chance.

The Pac-12 is similar.  Not necessarily in the strategy that it takes to get there, but in the results that the teams in the league produce.  The Pac-12 is trash because no one is that good, and that leads to anyone having a chance against anyone.  The Big-12 has at least one good team, but has their own reasons as to why.

Utah ranked above Oklahoma is a bit wild.  Each have a pretty bad loss (Utah’s being to USC).  They rank behind Oklahoma in overall FEI, don’t have nearly the offensive firepower or a Heisman contender and skirted past an unranked Washington just last weekend.  It’s hard to think that the Utes would have a chance at keeping up against the Sooners offense, but we did see what a good defense does to Lincoln Riley’s scheme last Playoff.

Baylor might deserve a little less credit.  Auburn and Florida, who’re ranked ahead of the Bears, were legitimate Playoff contenders at one point this season; a season which had eight Playoff teams after four games, which felt like quite a bit after that much of a sample size.  The Bears aren’t of that quality yet despite their 8-0 record.  It took them 2OTs to beat Texas Tech (A classic Big 12 game) and they barely got by West Virginia in their last contest.

The Minnesota disrespect is deserved

When you want to talk about not playing anyone, Minnesota might be the crown jewel of that statement this year.

The Gophers beat South Dakota State, a FCS school, by seven.  Then they went to double overtime with Fresno State.  Then they beat Georgia Southern by three.

That came in back-to-back-to-back weeks.  And they followed that up with wins against Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers – the Big Ten’s bottom of the shoe, and that might be an understatement.

So that’s how Minnesota got to 8-0.  No. 17 overall sounds about right.

Now for a look at No.3 Alabama vs. No.2 LSU…

Contrary to how it’s being marketed and talked about, this game is not nearly as big as we tend to think.

Perhaps the most important takeaway we’ll have from this game is the tape it produces, which would serve as a nice basis for a potential rematch in the future.

Whoever loses is in fine shape. Penn State, despite their case above and they’re No.4 ranking, likely won’t make the Playoff thanks to an upcoming date with Ohio State in another week. That opens up a spot for Clemson. Neither LSU or Alabama – with one loss and the ceiling they’ve showed – will drop from the top four with a loss Saturday.

It certainly affects the race for the No. 1 position. But how important is that really??

Plus, if Tua Tagovliola is not the quarterback Saturday, a loss for Alabama is perfectly excusable. They shouldn’t be expected to win at all if he doesn’t play.

Tua is the obvious and massive x-factor here. Tua not playing gives the Tide almost no chance. Tua playing makes them almost hard to bet against.

Tua is expected to play.

But the last clause of that second sentence is worth considering. What if he’s not Tua. What if he’s 80 percent? Is 90 even good enough?? This isn’t your normal LSU team. You might actually have to outscore them as opposed to grinding out a defensive-oriented game.

Tua not playing didn’t make a difference against Ole Miss. Mac Wilson was impeccable. But that was Ole Miss, a defense that was 47th in defensive FEI.

LSU ranks 23rd, which feels a bit low and offensive given the talent on that side of the ball.  Their pass defense is likely the cause for that drop; it’s what happens when you lose a guy like Greedy Williams.  But the Tigers are tough to run on; they rank 13th in rushing yards per attempt and rushing yards allowed per game at 3.0 and 97.9, respectively.

A defense that can be thrown on is scary against the Tide.  Their mercenary receiver group of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith is one of the best of all-time, and could negate a non-100% Tua.  This is the No. 1 ranked team in offensive FEI, and that’s not adjusted for Mac Wilson’s start.

Alabama is still very good in the defensive department despite their own drop statistically.  They rank ninth in defensive FEI – much higher than LSU.  The Tide have been lockdown through the air while their usually stout defensive front hasn’t been as good against the run.  Alabama ranks fourth in passing yards per attempt allowed and 13th in passing yards per game allowed at just a mere 180.1

If Bama can shut down the LSU passing game, then that reduces LSU to the type of team they were before Joe Burrow got to campus:  an old fashioned SEC team that doesn’t score a lot of points and has a grinding defense.  That’d be fine if the Tigers were dealing with a Tua-less Bama squad; it’d essentially be the same type of team squaring off against one another.  Unfortunately for the Tigers, Tua is going to play, and probably be just fine.

Prediction: Alabama-27  LSU-20