Over a month into the NBA season, and a lot of surprises have manifested themselves throughout the league thus far. One of those surprises, being the great success of the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are off to a very hot start to begin December, and here’s why:

First off, the Trail Blazers have been an outstanding team so far this season, and it has been purely based off of player progression. A lot of teams get better in various ways, with all 30 teams trying to win championships. However, different teams have different ways of handling situations: some general managers decide to make many trades if their team is struggling, some make a few trades, and a few teams just work with what they already have.

Portland definitely belongs in the third category, as seven of their twelve players on their official roster have been on the Blazers for their entire careers. This goes to show how determined the coaching staff are, as well as the organization as a whole, to take the players that they drafted and turn them into stars.

The Trail Blazers have been led by none other than Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum for a very long time. The two were both drafted by Portland, and are now key pieces for the team. Lillard, who is 28 years of age was drafted as the sixth pick in 2012. McCollum, on the other hand is 27 years old, and was drafted as the tenth pick in 2013. The two have played very well together ever since McCollum was drafted, and the two have become perennial top backcourts in the league.

One player that the Trail Blazers didn’t draft that has become a great fit for the team is Evan Turner. Turner is 30 years of age, and averaged a career 10.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 2.0 APG. Those are pretty average numbers for a small forward, and that’s what the Blazers have needed from him. Turner isn’t really remembered from his time in Philadelphia, Indiana, or Boston, because he has been such a great fit for Portland ever since he was traded there.

Another surprising player for Portland is power forward, Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu signed with Portland in 2015 to begin his 2015-2016 campaign with the Trail Blazers. In that season, he was the only player for Portland who participated in all 82 games of the season, and he looked good doing it too: Aminu averaged 10.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 1.7 APG while shooting over 41% from the field. Aminu’s numbers have stayed around the same over the past 4 years, but this week he seems to be on a tear: The Atlanta-native has scored 20 points in 3 straight games, and is shooting the 3-pointer better than he ever has. He looked like an all-star in San Antonio, going 4/5 from deep. At the age of just 28, hopefully he can keep up the good play, as Aminu’s play can really help take some of the load off of Lillard and McCollum’s backs.

So, it’s quite obvious that the Portland Trail Blazers are not considered to be true NBA contenders, as they rely too much on their starting backcourt and are not a versatile/deep tam at all. It’s great that Portland has good personnel, and that the players are loyal to their team. But, if you take a look at past contenders (and current contenders), they are a deep team, and anyone can step up at any time to lead their team. Unfortunately for them, Portland doesn’t have that luxury: If there happens to be a rare occasion where Lillard and McCollum aren’t making shots, or if one of them gets injured, the team usually struggles. Also, the starting lineup is playing very heavy minutes because of Portland’s lack of depth.

Nevertheless, the Portland Trail Blazers are a playoff team: McCollum and Lillard are doing a great job getting Portland consistently in the postseason, but they have trouble when it comes to making a deep run. It would be a good idea for Portland to keep the core of McCollum and Lillard, but trade some bench players for some solid sidekicks. Some veteran talent could also be useful for this young team. But with that all said, the Trail Blazers are seventh in the Western Conference with a 13-11 record. It’ll be interesting to see what Blazers GM Neil Olshey does with this team in the future.