Oct 10, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last Season: The Blazers spent the first half of the season threatening for a playoff spot, but one of the worst benches in NBA history ultimately sunk the team’s chances. Damian Lillard‘s scoring prowess made him the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year winner in NBA history, and it simulatenously provided hope that Portland’s current core can contend in the near future.
Key Player Changes:
General manager Neil Olshey pulled off some sneaky tanking last year by cobbling together an awful bench with multiple players who won’t even play in the league this season. After hitting on Lillard in the draft, it looked like the Trail Blazers might have stolen another underrated small school grad to slot in as a scoring sixth man. Unfortunately, though, C.J. McCollum’s foot injury will keep him out of action indefinitely.
Adding Thomas Robinson was an incredibly low-risk, high-reward move, as his energy and rebounding should be a welcome sight coming off the bench. Robinson will likely never be a star, but he could carve out a solid role.
If Dorell Wright’s outside shooting returns to form, he could be a steal as a versatile 3 and D guy. Mo Williams is an extremely good shooter and a decent point guard to boot, but he needs to be hidden defensively at all times.
Robin Lopez might be the addition with the biggest impact, as his pure size should help the Blazers control the paint defensively much better than last season.
Losing J.J. Hickson doesn’t hurt nearly as much as his overall numbers would indicate. Hickson was defensive poison as a center last season, and it’s telling that the Blazers were unable to flip him for any asset while he was putting up grossly inflated stats.
Keys to Portland’s Season:
1) Can an improved bench make that much of a difference?
After running his starters into the ground by necessity last season, Terry Stotts can ease off the reins a bit and trust what should be a very capable bench. The on/off ratings for Aldridge (+9.4 points per 100 possessions) and Lillard (+9.1 points per 100 possessions) illustrate just how bad Portland’s reserve unit was last year, and the heavy minutes took a toll late in the season when the defense completely collapsed.
2) Will the defense improve?
Although he’s a plodder, Robin Lopez should plug a few more gaps in this leaky defense. Matthews is still the team’s best defender despite Batum’s reputation, but a lot of the responsibility boils down to Lillard and Aldridge, who need to stop reserving so much energy for offense and start defending pick-and-roll action better.
The Blazers finished 26th in defensive efficiency last season, so there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement here. The starting unit should be explosive, but below-average defensive teams traditionally have a much harder time making the playoffs than below-average offensive teams. The Blazers have to get better here in order to fight for the 8-seed.
3) Which unexpected source can provide the lift?
It’s time for Nic Batum to live up to his potential, as he’s the player who needs to make the biggest leap on both ends for the Blazers to truly be competitive. We know what we’re getting from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews at this point, and it’s hard to imagine Lillard being significantly better (at least offensively) in his second year.
Perhaps Lopez or Robinson can surprise and add big contributions as well, but Batum is paid too much money to simply be a very good complementary player. The additions of an improved bench and a defensive-minded center can put the Blazers in the playoff conversation alone, but Batum’s continued development as a secondary creator (his assists shot up to 4.9 a game last year) and locked-in defender has to be there.
Why You Should Watch: Damian Lillard is the definition of smooth. Robin Lopez’s hair is the best in the business. LaMarcus Aldridge has three moves he just pairs over and over again, and no one can stop it. Nic Batum in transition is an adventure. J.J. Hickson and his defense won’t make your eyes bleed anymore.
Prediction: 41-41 and the 9th seed. The Blazers should be able to beat out the other hapless defensive teams vying for the final playoff spot (Mavericks, Lakers), and the talent meshes better in Portland than it likely will in New Orleans. A healthy Minnesota team (oxy-moron?) is my choice for the 8th spot however, as they were much better defensively last year despite massive injuries. I need to see Portland’s defense improve drastically before I can fully believe they are a playoff team.
Aug 23, 2014, 1:20 AM EDT
Team USA kept four centers on the roster. That’s a bit of a surprise.
Aug 23, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
The players who got DNP-CDs in this one may be the ones who stay home.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:50 PM EDT
Playing time decisions will be interesting with four legitimate options competing for minutes.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Timberwolves will stick with Andrew Wiggins
Aug 22, 2014, 7:50 PM EDT
Monty Williams gives Drummond some excellent instruction.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:21 PM EDT
DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver all possibilities for chopping block
Aug 22, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
A fine choice, even if he isn’t the best current NBA player from Spain.
Aug 22, 2014, 4:02 PM EDT
Hairston’s guarantee will total $2 million over two seasons.
Aug 22, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
Curry, seen on video discussing it, still seems upset by the situation.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
If true, Thompson needs a much thicker skin.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
Watching Smith and his gunner, ball-stopping tendencies try to fit in the move-the-ball, read and react triangle offense is going to be interesting. To put it kindly.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT
His critics don’t get it, but Jeremy Lin is a solid NBA guard now.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Krzyzewski – surprise, surprise – also reportedly likes Mason Plumlee, who played at Duke
Bulls’ Doug McDermott’s can’t sing, tries to lead Cubs’ fans in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” anyway
Aug 22, 2014, 11:08 AM EDT
Doug McDermott can’t sing. We know that now.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:35 AM EDT
The Greek freak is going to be so much fun to watch at the world Cup.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
The hopes of the Finnish nation are crushed…. if they even noticed.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT
Stiviano claims Sterling paid her to act as his beard
Aug 22, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Energy is a skill.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
James, on one-year minimum-salary contract, will have right to veto trades
Aug 22, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
This had been expected.
- USA Basketball announces 12 man roster for World Cup; Parsons, Hayward, Lillard, Korver cut 0
- USA Basketball cruises to exhibition win over Puerto Rico with final roster cuts looming 1
- Report: Timberwolves to end up with Thad Young, Anthony Bennett as part of Kevin Love trade 79
- Adam Silver: NBA stars playing in international competition face ‘a big risk’ 13
- Derrick Rose says he’ll play Friday vs. Puerto Rico 16
- Report: Don’t be so sure on Anthony Bennett to Philadelphia rumors 54
- Report: Nike gets chance to match 10-year, $265 million offer to Kevin Durant from Under Armour 18
- Should NBA coaches get NFL style challenge flags? 20