Oct 10, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
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.
Jan 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
He hd 26 points and 9 boards. That brace worked out pretty well.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:01 AM EST
Can we just get through the rest of this season without any more major NBA injuries, please?
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
Brad Stevens reportedly likes Prince, so a buyout may not be in the cards.
Derek Fisher didn’t realize motivating his players would be such a big part of being an NBA head coach
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Fisher played 18 years, and claims that his motivation always came from within.
After being fined for obscene gesture, Dwyane Wade asks NBA to improve on ways it protects players from fans
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Wade was fined for flipping off some fans who he believed crossed the line.
Jan 24, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
“He had his chance to reach out,” Waiters said.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Howard left the game after just eight minutes and did not return.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EST
Aldridge has a tear in his left thumb, and was originally set to be sidelined 6-8 weeks.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Drama in Dallas?
Jan 24, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
The inside access here makes this a must-watch.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 AM EST
Before recent trades, players believed the team would go no further than the second round of the playoffs.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Green was completely amazed, just like the rest of us.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
That is as good a step-back jumper as you will see.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 AM EST
There are $25 million Kobe will be back next season.
Jan 24, 2015, 1:45 AM EST
Somebody is making their All-Star case.
Jan 24, 2015, 12:16 AM EST
Lakers star could also above and beyond and chase Michael Jordan’s comeback
Mark Cuban says fan voting system for All-Stars is ‘broken,’ small number of total votes shows ‘nobody cares’
Jan 23, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
Cuban want to eliminate fans voting for the All-Star starters.
Jan 23, 2015, 10:15 PM EST
It’s a good thing, because he received fewer votes than Marcin Gortat.
Jan 23, 2015, 9:15 PM EST
Maybe, but the field is simply too crowded in the West for Ellis to have a reasonable shot.
Jan 23, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
I’m no expert in copyright law, but this strikes me as the kind of lawsuit that gets settled out of court.
- Brandon Jennings leaves game in wheelchair, may have torn Achilles 3
- LaMarcus Aldridge decides to delay surgery, will return for Blazers Saturday vs. Wizards 7
- WATCH: Kobe Bryant’s doctor explains diagnosis to him following exam of injured shoulder 9
- Report: Cavaliers players say they ‘had lost faith’ due to lack of depth and roster construction 44
- Kobe Bryant will be back next season, he can’t resist the challenge 20
- Klay Thompson sets NBA record with 37 point quarter (VIDEO) 36
- If injury is serious, it would go against history for Kobe to be productive again 16
- Sixers’ leading scorer Tony Wroten suffers partially torn ACL, likely done for season 12