As the NBA season fast approaches, Right Down Euclid will be previewing all 30 NBA teams, breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of each franchise. This preview will focusing on the Portland Trail Blazers, who last year had a record of 33-49 and did not make the playoffs.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Terry Stotts
General Manager: Neil Olshey
2012-2013 Record: 33-49
Place in Conference: 11th in the West
Leading Scorer: LaMarcus Aldridge (21.1 PPG)
Key Acquisitions: Draft picks C.J. McCollum, EJ Singler, and Allen Crabbe, Thomas Robinson, Mo Williams, Robin Lopez
Key Losses: J.J. Hickson, Eric Maynor
No team was hurt more by the ineffectiveness of their bench than the Portland Trail Blazers. Their starting 5 was actually quite good; LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson all averaged at least 12.7 PPG last season. The bench was awful, however, averaging just 17.3 points a game, the lowest average in the league. The Trail Blazers immediately addressed the bench needs in the offseason, acquiring C.J. McCollum, EJ Singler and Allen Crabbe in the draft, Thomas Robinson via trade, and Mo Williams and Robin Lopez in free agency. With young draft picks from last year Meyers Leonard and Will Barton developing, the Trail Blazers seem to be turning their biggest weakness into a strength. On a team that already has a strong starting 5, the Trail Blazers look to compete for a playoff spot in a strong Western Conference.
As aforementioned, the Trail Blazers boast a strong starting 5; reigning rookie of the year Lillard has established himself as one of the elite players in the league, and should only improve. Aldridge remains one of the elite players in the league, and should benefit from not having to play as many minutes with Meyers Leonard improving. He and Will Barton should look to improve on solid rookie campaigns, and the aforementioned bench got a large boost in their draft picks, Robinson, and Williams. These additions should add much-needed punch to a very weak bench. In addition, the guards that were picked up should help to boost a team that ranked 20th in 3-point shooting a year ago. The The Trail Blazers have effective scorers on both the inside and the outside and if the pieces they acquired are effective, they could be competitive for a playoff spot in the West.
The loss of Hickson could prove to be a big loss, as he averaged over 10 rebounds a game for a team that ranked 24th overall in total rebounds, and that replaced him with the somewhat weak Lopez. While the point guards that will be in the rotation (Lillard, McCollum, Williams) are all good scorers, all are shoot-first guards; this may cause a problem if all the guys in the rotation aren’t getting enough shots. The teams’ success is also heavily predicated on the progress of their young players and their ability to contribute from the bench; if they don’t progress or get injured, the Trail Blazers could be quickly headed toward a poor season.
2013-2014 Season Predictions
I think the Trail Blazers will surprise people this year, and sneak into the playoffs at the 8th seed. The starting 5 is very talented, and I don’t think the loss of Hickson will affect them greatly, particularly because I see Leonard stepping into a bigger role and being very effective. Despite McCollum’s health concerns, the bench still should take a huge step forward, and this large improvement is enough to make me believe that they are good enough to make the playoffs in a (slightly) down year in the West.