Skip to content

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Portland Trail Blazers

Oct 10, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Hornets Trail Blazers Basketball AP

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.

Signature Highlight: It feels dirty not to have a Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge highlight here, but by golly gee, this dunk from J.J. Hickson was one of the best of the year.

Key Player Changes:

IN: Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Earl Watson

OUT: J.J. Hickson (Denver), Eric Maynor (Washington), Luke Babbitt, Jared Jeffries, Sasha Pavolvic, Ronnie Price

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Greg Oden’s drinking an issue during season, alleged domestic assault

    Sep 15, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT

    New details about incident in which he allegedly punched ex-girlfriend in the face

  2. Cavaliers work out Lou Amundson

    Sep 15, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Hornets Cleveland Cavaliers v New Orleans Hornets

    Amundson’s best days are behind him, but maybe he can find a niche in Cleveland

  3. Report: Wizards close to signing Damion James

    Sep 15, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

    New Jersey Nets v Washington Wizards New Jersey Nets v Washington Wizards

    Washington building up competition for open 15th spot

  4. Wizards sign shooting guard Xavier Silas

    Sep 15, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT

    Xavier Silas Xavier Silas

    Silas appears to have real chance of making the team

  5. PBT Extra: What players looked good at World Cup?

    Sep 15, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT

    Derrick Rose stayed healthy but never shook the rust fully off his shot.

  6. Time for FIBA/NBA to adopt soccer model: Only one major tournament every four years

    Sep 15, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT

    James Harden James Harden

    Soccer already has the right model, it’s just going to be hard to get FIBA on board.

  7. Tobias Harris, eligible for contract extension, wants to stay with Magic

    Sep 15, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT

    David Lee, Tobias Harris David Lee, Tobias Harris

    Harris unsure whether Orlando will let him hit restricted free agency

  8. Blake Griffin doing slam poetry about tearaway pants? We got that. (VIDEO)

    Sep 15, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT

    Take Flight Media Event 2013 Getty Images

    Blake Griffin has done some brilliant marketing campaigns.

  9. Mavericks sign Dominican guard Victor Liz

    Sep 15, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

    Victor Liz Victor Liz

    Liz shot 49 percent on 3-points in World Cup

  10. Knicks owner James Dolan insists he’s done meddling

    Sep 15, 2014, 12:08 PM EDT

    Phil Jackson, James Dolan Phil Jackson, James Dolan

    Dolan said he’s let Phil Jackson run the team, and Jackson affirms Dolan has so far

  11. Does anyone win from Team USA more than Mike Krzyzewski?

    Sep 15, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT

    Duke coach benefits big time in recruiting from World Cup, Olympic coaching

  12. Mario Chalmers: ‘We all just took too much of a back seat in the Finals’

    Sep 15, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    2014 NBA Finals - Game Three Getty Images

    Chalmers thought Heat wouldn’t re-sign him after disastrous NBA Finals

  13. Quote of the day: Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica says he won beard game with James Harden

    Sep 15, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica AP

    It’s close… well, not the shaves but the quality of beard.

  14. Five lessons learned from the FIBA World Cup

    Sep 15, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup - Day Nine Getty Images

    Anthony Davis is ready to make the next leap.

Featured video

What players stood out at World Cup?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (3348)
  2. D. Ferry (3193)
  3. L. James (2711)
  4. J. Valanciunas (2546)
  5. K. Bryant (2372)
  1. K. Irving (2224)
  2. P. George (2042)
  3. G. Monroe (1929)
  4. C. Billups (1768)
  5. C. Anthony (1718)