NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 7: Damian Lillard of Portland Trail Blazers drives the ball against New York Knicks during an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2014 in New York, United States. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The 2017-18 NBA season is well underway, with the Portland Trail Blazers right where most thought they would be; in the western conference race to secure a playoff spot. Although these are still the early days, there is much to take away from the teams performance this season, which has varied between fantastic and forgettable. Certain individuals have stood out, while others are yet to show us their true colors. Let us dive into key points about the Blazers season thus far.

Key Notes For The Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard Doing More than Scoring

While Lillard is already known for his all-around ability on the floor, he has always been considered a score-first point guard. This season, though, his role has encompassed so much more, and is now evidently a more proficient passer and a better defender. His passing has evolved past pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, and he is able to knit through tougher and more piercing dimes. This was best seen in his 36 point, 13 assist outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder – his best game of the season.

In terms of defense, we are seeing a far more focused, determined and aggressive Lillard. He has now shed his previous unwillingness to foul, and is also pushing through screens as opposed to his previous habit of disappearing under them. If the Blazers see their franchise player finally recognize the need to play with more heart on defense, as he has started to do, they may finally be able to climb over the wall of becoming an average defensive team.

Youthful Frontcourt Rotation Still In The Air

The good news for the Blazers is that the start of the season has proven they are teeming with young, frontcourt bigs – most of whom have melting pots of athleticism and energy to replace their lack of experience. What this means, however, is that head coach Terry Stotts has his work cut out for him in that it will prove difficult to determine the premier power forward that should start alongside Jusuf Nurkic.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh and Caleb Swanigan have all had a shot at this role, but the Blazers have not found one player to be indistinguishably the best so far.

Per 36 minutes

Aminu – 11.2 PTS, 9.7 RBD

Vonleh – 6.8 PTS, 11.2 RBD

Swanigan – 11.0 PTS, 10.7 RBD

One of these men will have to step up and into a crucial starting position that will have playoff implications.

Fringe Players Now Solid Rotation Members

A season ago, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton were players that were hardly ever looked at by Stotts as game changers for the team, and they represented the backline of what most people thought was a weak Blazers bench. This year, however, both are playing with maturity and improving efficiency, shooting over 40% from behind the arc. While neither of the two are go-to players, Stotts uses them as little bursts of energy in the second and third quarters, when the starters run cold. They offer quickness and creativity off the bench. Both have some ways to go in terms of defense, but are improved from last year nonetheless.

Ed Davis: Rebounding Wiz

In terms of pure hustle, Davis is second to none in the league. He plays no more than 19.1 minutes a game, but still manages to average 5.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in that time. More than stats, however, is the raw dominance seen on show from him. It is rare that any player is as invested in crashing the glass, jumping on loose balls and going up for second chance points as Davis is.

He will never be a starting caliber player, and he will not reach the level of other rebounding giants in the league like DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside. Davis, however, represents the grit and grind that the Blazers would do well to have in order to enjoy continued success this season.

Main Photo

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 7: Damian Lillard of Portland Trail Blazers drives the ball against New York Knicks during an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2014 in New York, United States.
(Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


View the original article on Last Word On Pro Basketball: Key Notes For The Portland Trail Blazers