Power Rankings: Trail Blazers See Significant Improvements In Week Two

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

It's a bit tough to know what to make of the first two weeks of Portland's 2017-18 season. At 4-2, they sit in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, which is undoubtedly a good thing, though they've played beaten the Phoenix Suns twice and their other two victories came against teams whose best players were sidelined due to injury. Then again, Portland's two losses were of the last-second variety to teams with a combined 8-3 record, so there's no one way to look at Portland's performance thus far. But the fact that they're winning despite not really clicking yet on offense is probably the overarching takeaway.

That seems to be the opinion of the weekly Power Rankers, who all either moved the Trail Blazers up, some dramatically, or left them unchanged from last week. One ranking even has Portland as high as fourth, which is a good rebuttal the next time someone tells you Trail Blazers fans overrate their favorite team.

Onto the freshest batch of rankings...

• The panel of voters at ESPN has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, two spots better than last week...

If not for the heartbreaker against the Clippers on Thursday night, Rip City would've recorded a clean three-game sweep at home this week. Defense has long been the iffy variable in Portland during the Lillard-McCollum era, so the Blazers have to be thrilled about their early-season stinginess. They currently rank sixth in defensive efficiency, and are the NBA's top rebounding team.

The folks at ESPN have the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 9 and ahead of the Thunder at No. 11.

• John Schuhmann at NBA.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 6 this week, all the way up from No. 13 last week...

The only things keeping the Blazers from being undefeated are Giannis Antetokounmpo's last-minute defense nine days ago and Blake Griffin's game-winning three on Thursday. That shot came after C.J. McCollum missed one of two at the line and McCollum has already missed more clutch free throws this season (he's 4-for-7) than he did last season (when he was 36-for-38). Though they rank last in opponent free throw rate (37 attempts per 100 shots from the field), the Blazers have been the third most improved defensive team in the league thus far, having allowed almost 10 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. And that's with three of their six games having been against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.

There has been some reasonable skepticism regarding what looks like an improved Portland defense through six games, but the fact that they're putting up those numbers against some of the best offenses is great news even when considering sample size.

Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Spurs at No. 5 and ahead of the Wizards at No. 7.

• David Aldridge, also of NBA.com, has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, one spot better than last week...

Won 17th straight home opener by beating New Orleans at Moda Center on Tuesday.

I was going to call out DA for having the Cavaliers and Raptors, Eastern Conference teams with 1-2 records, ranked above Portland, but he linked to Forward/Center in his rankings, so I'll save it for another day. You the man David.

Aldridge has the Trail Blazers behind the Thunder at No. 12 and ahead of the Magic at No. 14.

• Kenny Ducey of SI.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 13 this week, unchanged from last week. He doesn't have anything to say about the team, so I'm not going to bother posting his "analysis." He has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 12 and ahead of the Pelicans at No. 14.

• Chris Barnewall, who is apparently taking over Power Rankings duties for Matt Moore over at CBSSports.com, has the Trail Blazers all the way up at No. 4 this week, 13 spots better than last week...

Portland is trying to avoid its usual early-season slump. The Blazers are scoring in bunches and their losses have come against good teams in close games. C.J. McCollum is playing out of his mind right now and Portland looks good.

Kind as it may be, I bet McCollum would disagree with that assessment.

Barnewall has the Trail Blazers behind the Clippers at No. 3 and ahead of the Pistons at No. 5.

• Sean Deveney at The Sporting News has the Trail Blazers at No. 6 this week...

The good: Only two losses, and those came by three total points. In a stretch with 10 of 11 at home.

The bad: Damian Lillard struggling at 22.3 points and 37.4 percent shooting.

One could easy argue the Trail Blazers sitting at 4-2 despite Lillard's struggles shooting from the field thus far is actually a good thing.

Deveney has the Trail Blazers behind the Celtics at No. 5 and ahead of the Warriors at No. 7.

• Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week, one spot better than last week...

The Portland Trail Blazers got their upcoming home stretch started right with a win over the Pelicans, earning Rip City its 17th straight home season-opening win — the most in NBA history.

A Blake Griffin game-winning 3 soured the week a bit, but Portland bounced back with a win over the new and improved Suns to pick the momentum back up again. It’s too early to start panicking over Damian Lillard‘s 37 percent shooting, so for now it’s a good sign the Blazers have weathered the early storm.

Bourguet has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 10 and ahead of the Magic at No 12.

• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings posted on October 27, has the Trail Blazers at No. 11, three spots better than last week...

CJ McCollum has been exceptionally efficient, and his 16 fourth-quarter points helped beat the Pelicans to preserve a remarkable 17-year home-opener winning streak.

With Pat Connaughton more than replacing Allen Crabbe's three-point shooting so far, Portland's offense should, as usual, wind up in the top 10. Whether it can hang in the upper half of the league defensively is another question, but by allowing the lowest opponent's offensive rebound rate through their first four games, the Blazers are at least doing some of the right things to get there.

Huges has the Trail Blazers behind the Bucks at No. 10 and ahead of the Nuggets at No. 12.

• AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today, in rankings posted on October 24, has the Trail Blazers at No. 11 this week (though technically, this is from last week), four spots better than their preseason ranking...

What better way to start a season than with the largest opening-night victory in NBA history? With a 48-point rout of Phoenix, followed by an 18-point win over Indiana and a last-minute loss to Milwaukee, early (like, really early) signs indicate that the Blazers could surprise some folks this season.

Just post your Power Rankings on Monday guys.

Neuharth-Keusch has the Trail Blazers behind the Clippers at No. 10 and ahead of the Timberwolves at No. 12.

• Kurt Helin at NBC Sports also posts his Power Rankings on Tuesday for some reason, so as of last week he had the Trail Blazers at No. 8, five spots better than their last ranking...

They had a strong start to the season but this is where context matters — they blew out a very bad Suns team, then got the Pacers without Myles Turner. The Blazers offense has been a force early, but that is to be expected, the question is can they keep up the strong defensive play as the schedule gets tougher (Clippers, Raptors ahead in the next week)?

Helin has the Trail Blazers behind the Cavaliers at No. 7 and ahead of the Bucks at No. 9.

• Brad Rowland at UPROXX, in rankings posted on October 24, has the Trail Blazers at No. 12, three spots better than their last ranking...

Portland navigated a three-game opening road trip with two victories and a near-win in Milwaukee. That is fairly impressive and, somehow, it feels like the backcourt pairing of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum remains underrated.

Rowland has the Trail Blazers behind the Clippers at No. 11 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 13.