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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.31: Dane Carbaugh: Blazers Approaching “Make-It or Break-It Offseason”

The Portland Trail Blazers’ prospects of advancing look grim, but the future is fairly bright, according to NBC Sports Pro Basketball Talk’s Dane Carbaugh, who also runs the popular YouTube channel, Dane Not Dan, where he breaks down the NBA in video form. Compared to the previous season, the relative strength of the 2016-17 Western Conference relegated the Blazers to the No. 8 seed where they had the misfortune of drawing the otherworldly Warriors in an all-but-impossible first-round series. With Golden State up 2-0 and prized trade acquisition Jusuf Nurkic nursing a leg injury, much of the conversation’s focus turns to how the Blazers can best solidify their roster and improve defensive performance. Importantly, Dane also explores the strengths and challenges that come with the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt pairing. Blazing hot excerpts can be found below:

3:26-4:14 While the typical Blazers fan would love to see Jusuf Nurkic grace the court against the Warriors, Dane advocates for a more cautious approach:

“The Nurkic trade, I think, really re-solidified his [GM Neil Olshey’s] position; the same thing for [head coach] Terry Stotts. So nobody’s going into this playoff series thinking, ‘We need to win a series or win a game, even, to save someone’s job.’ No one’s going to get fired because of that. And on the flip side, you have the guy that they believe is going to be the third guy for this team for years to come, and so I don’t see a reason to risk him [worsening his injury] in any way, shape or form. He’s got a non-displaced fracture in his leg, and he’s a 7-foot tall, 280-pound man, and it’s the Portland Trail Blazers; maybe just let him rest. So it’s possible he comes back for Game 3. If he comes back at all, that is the game he’s going to do it in. If they’re down 3-0, there’s no reason for him to play in Game 4, so it would have to be Game 3. I don’t think he should come back at all.”

8:35-9:17 Our guest details Golden State’s Game 2 defensive adjustments that so effectively combatted Portland’s explosive guards:

“I think what they really did was they figured out what points on the floor Damian and C.J. were attacking to and where on their drives. I saw a lot more drives that were ineffective as opposed to the first game in which both Damian and C.J. had the ability to hit floaters or runners from certain points on the floor where they were very clearly trying to avoid some of the shot-blocking that, say, Javale McGee or Draymond Green brings to the floor for the Warriors. And I think they really adjusted to that and saw, ‘Look, this is where a lot of their shots came from on the floor when they had those drives. This is where we’re going to try to concentrate. This is where we’re going to try to make them take an extra dribble or take a dribble away from those drives so they can’t get to that specific spot and make them uncomfortable.’ I think combined with locking down on 3-point land, that’s really what happened to them.”

18:51-21:22 Despite the defensive shortcomings of Lillard and McCollum, it’s premature to break up the talented duo, according to Dane:

“If the Blazers need to do something else, that trade is not coming until summer of 2018. They have to go through an entire season together with a fully built roster that they think is ready to compete with a starting center that works for them, and that would be Jusuf Nurkic, [Al-Farouq] Aminu at the 4, Mo Harkless at the 3. They have to go through a whole season with an actually complete roster with honestly guys defensively who can back them up. Remember this is a team that played with… Nic Batum, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez, three players that really from different positions helped eliminate some of the deficiencies for those guys…They had to get through this season, figure out what they were doing, they’re going to have to trade [Allen] Crabbe and somebody else, get their real roster together, play a whole other year with it, and even then if they win 50 games next year I’m not sure that they make a trade with C.J. either. I think they still stick with him. I think we might still be a couple years out from seeing whether or not this strategy of having two elite scoring guards in the NBA that can’t really play defense works if the rest of the roster around them is good enough to cover their defensive inequities.”

27:58-33:18 So, then, how should Neil Olshey’s team-building performance and vision be assessed? Dane?

“Allen Crabbe is still a relatively young guy. His main skill is 3-point shooting. That’s obviously useful in the NBA and obviously useful for a lot of teams that he could be traded to. So as soon as they matched him, I knew right away that’s a trade. Hands down, that’s a trade coming. Not even hard to see that. So I take that $75 million right off the books. I’m not even worried about that. Evan Turner’s performance and fit, I think, is more of a concern. Although if you think about it now, would you rather have Chandler Parsons who’s out for the season for the same amount of money or maybe more not doing anything, or would you rather have Evan Turner? I think the Blazers got sort of handcuffed as they do to the market…Where Olshey has really found his value is being able to trade players…Taking a look at it on the whole, I’m really not too concerned about Neil Olshey’s track record. I think he’s still done very well, and I don’t see him as really putting the Blazers in a bad position. But I do think he has to make his big trade this summer. He’s never going to have more assets than he has now. He has all three of those picks and all these guys to move on the roster and he has Nurkic so he needs to get that fourth guy. He has to make his move now. He can’t wait.”

39:28-39:51 Portland’s team defense continues to struggle, but Al-Farouq Aminu’s contributions on that end should not go unnoticed, argues our favorite Blazers guest:

“He’s also a great, not just a team defender, but a help defender. Honestly, he might have been Portland’s second-best rim defender after Mason Plumlee this year. I would say that’s probably very true. I’d have to look at statistics specifically, but anecdotally from watching every single one of their games, a great contester at least to be able to alter shots, if not necessarily block them. So Aminu really does make that difference.”

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Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod