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.
Jun 30, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
His brother said so in a radio interview.
Report: Kings probing John Calipari about his interest in coaching and running the team’s front office
Jun 30, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Ownership in Sacramento continues to be a disaster.
Jun 30, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT
And he could be traded again before his contract becomes guaranteed on July 11.
Gregg Popovich won’t be recruiting free agents at midnight, doesn’t want them if that factors into their decision
Jun 30, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Pop being Pop.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT
Hawks are facing a lot of uncertainty with their roster.
Jun 30, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that Aldridge returns to the Blazers.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This could be decided quickly.
Jun 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
This was expected, there is no drama here.
Report: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker part of Spurs pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge (and they may be favorites)
Jun 30, 2015, 1:01 AM EDT
The Spurs are right at the front of the line with the Lakers to win Aldridge over.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
We knew Korver would need ankle surgery, but this is a bit of a surprise.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Aldridge is expected to leave Portland, and the most recent report has the Lakers as the frontrunners to retain his services.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Clippers remain frontrunners to retain Jordan’s services; Lakers, Mavericks also in the mix.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Antic was with the Hawks the last two seasons.
Jun 29, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Davis is looking for a multi-year deal.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
The bottom line is this: Butler is going to be a Bull next season.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
The first rule of trading a player is to not look like you want to trade that player.
Jun 29, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Kind of hard to picture him going to the Raptors considering the other options on the table.
Jun 29, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
The real question for Wade and his effort to leverage the Heat: Who is going to give him more money than Miami?
Jun 29, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
The report says $12 million a year for Afflalo, that price seems steep.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:18 PM EDT
They are trying to keep those two while dealing Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
- Report: Kings probing John Calipari about his interest in coaching and running the team’s front office 9
- Report: Chicago Bulls give Jimmy Butler max qualifying offer 18
- Report: Dwyane Wade will not opt-in with Heat, to become free agent (as expected) 29
- Report: Knicks front runner to land Arron Afflalo (and Greg Monroe, too) 27
- Report: Luol Deng surprises Miami, opts in for 2015-16 season 31
- Report: Sense around league is Kevin Love will re-sign with Cavaliers 31
- Report: As deadline nears, signs still point to Dwyane Wade opting out, becoming free agent 42
- Report: Dallas most likely team to lure DeAndre Jordan from Clippers, Chandler Parsons already recruiting 24