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.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Well played Rick Carlisle. Well played.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:34 AM EDT
Love being out could be an issue in the next round as the Cavs take on the Bulls.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:38 AM EDT
The question is can Dallas replicate all they did right on the road?
Apr 26, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT
The Boston Celtics fans got a show.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT
Another stellar performance from John Wall buries Toronto’s season.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
The Clippers needed their big stars to step up Sunday or they were going to be in a very deep hole. They got it.
Apr 26, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Blake Griffin grabbed 19 rebounds, and Austin Rivers (!) chipped in 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Apr 26, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
With the new salary cap, Davis’ deal could approach $140 million.
Apr 26, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Kevin Love gets hurt, Cleveland gets revenge, and Boston gets swept
Apr 26, 2015, 4:58 PM EDT
Conley suffered the injury in Memphis’ Game 3 win in Portland.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
It sounds like he’s taking a victory lap.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Smith could face suspension.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
He will not return Sunday.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Apr 26, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
“He’s the guy they want,” the report says.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Players were given the option by the team’s GM, but Aldridge — who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer — was the only one who chose to leave.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He was getting his buckets at the rim or on the right side of the floor.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:37 AM EDT
Memphis’ offense was the best it has looked this series.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:24 AM EDT
There is no update on the severity of his injury yet.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:07 AM EDT
Jared Dudley’s pass was fantastic.
- Rumor: Kevin Love out minimum of two weeks, will likely miss most or all of series vs. Bulls 14
- Monta Ellis, J.J. Barea pairing ignites Mavericks offense, gets Dallas Game 4 win over Houston 2
- Wizards blow out Raptors to complete first-round sweep 17
- Chris Paul scores 34 points, Clippers win Game 4 to even series with Spurs 6
- Cavaliers advance to second round – but but maybe lose Kevin Love and moral high ground in process 54
- Mike Conley out for Game 4 with “serious” facial injury, no timetable for return 6
- Grizzlies start fast, hang on to beat Portland, take 3-0 series lead 2
- Bucks outwork Bulls, stay alive on Jerryd Bayless game-winner 6