The Portland Trail Blazers finally tore it down at the trade deadline, sending out C.J. McCollum and three other impact veterans in a series of moves that placed the organization's focus firmly on next season. Don't tell that to Chauncey Billups and his team's new-look locker room, though.

Rejuvenated by the additive presence of Josh Hart and Justise Winslow, the Blazers tipped off on-the-fly tank mode by playing their best basketball of the season, entering the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak.

It's too early to say that Portland's recent play is the new normal. Many factors suggest their stunning success could be a flash in the pan, and the Blazers don't exactly have much incentive to push for the playoffs this season considering their 2022 first-round pick will go to the Chicago Bulls if it falls outside the lottery.

The best path forward in 2021-22 remains shutting down Damian Lillard and prioritizing individual growth over team-wide performance, entering the summer with ample draft assets and all-around team-building flexibility. A big-picture assessment of this team's present and future, though, neglects on-court developments that mark a budding long-term identity under Chauncey Billups.

Here are three reasons behind Portland's stunning post-deadline surge.

Much-improved defense

The Blazers are still 28th in defensive rating, allowing 113.7 points per 100 possessions. But that depressingly familiar league-wide standing is no indication of just how stingy they've been since adding Hart and Winslow to the fold, ably switching across several positions, providing reliable help behind the point of attack and playing with the type of sustained intensity on that of the ball that's long been lacking in Rip City.

Hart and Winslow switch between Kemba Walker and Julius Randle here, with the latter offering perfectly-timed doubles on Randle's initial catch and subsequent attack. The back-line and weak-side help provided by Jusuf Nurkic and Ben McLemore leaves Randle without a threatening outlet, too.

The Blazers' 108.8 defensive rating over the last four games ranks seventh in the league, per That's a small sample size, obviously, but a significant uptick in opponents' turnover and free throw rates point to effects of Portland's amped-up physicality and overall aggression.

Teams aren't shooting poorly from deep during this stretch, either, further evidence of the Blazers' substantial improvement on defense having at least some staying power.

Transition scoring

Portland ranks 16th in pace since the McCollum trade, barely above its season-long mark. But pace factor can be misleading in terms of a team's transition productivity, and that's exactly the case with the revamped Blazers.

A league-high 15.3% of their points are coming in transition, according to Portland is also getting 16.8% of its points off turnovers over the last four games, the third-highest share in basketball. Don't mistake this team's newfound transition prowess for relying solely on opponent's miscues, though.

Billups has spoken multiple times of the value provided by additional ball handlers like Hart and Winslow in the open floor. The former is a transition engine unto himself, routinely racing the ball up the floor after defensive rebounds and when the Blazers take the ball out of their own basket. A league-leading 36.3% of Hart's offense with the New Orleans Pelicans this season came in the open floor, per

Clearly, those pointed efforts to push the pace are rubbing off on his new teammates.

Anfernee Simons is playing like a superstar

Hart has thrived as a play finisher, second-side creator and backup point guard in Portland. Winslow's influence as a halfcourt connector and ancillary ball handler has loomed larger than even his most ardent believers could've anticipated. McLemore's ability to sprint around screens and launch on the move poses an imminent threat to defenses, and Jusuf Nurkic's improved patience and touch as a low-block scorer gives the Blazers a much-needed additional hub of scoring and playmaking.

Portland is assisting on 63.5% of its scores over the last four games, according to, ninth in the league and nearly five points higher than its bottom-10 season-long number. But a more egalitarian approach to offense, one championed by Billups since training camp, hasn't stopped Anfernee Simons from further cementing himself as a star right now—and maybe even a brighter one going forward.

Those numbers speak for themselves, yet still don't quite do the eye-popping nature of his recent performances justice.

Simons was unstoppable against the New York Knicks after intermission, spearheading Portland's massive second-half run. He outplayed LeBron James in crunch-time of the Blazers' win against the Los Angeles Lakers, then roasted Jrue Holiday—arguably the best one-on-one defender in basketball—multiple times during a rousing victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Simons went toe-to-toe with Ja Morant two days later, sending Portland to a win versus the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies with a dagger step-back three late.

This level of play from Simons is almost certainly unsustainable. The more experience he gains as the Blazers' undisputed lead playmaker, though, the more foolish putting a ceiling on Simons' ultimate potential becomes.