Eighth-year veteran LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard headline this promising Portland Trail Blazers squad going into the 2013-14 campaign. Lillard played with the best of them last year, willingly taking and making game-winning shots in his rookie season. Although Portland remains just a middle-of-the-pack team, it can be very exciting to watch with it’s clutch plays and athleticism. Let’s see how much noise the Blazers are expected to make in the West this year:
Guards (B+): Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Mo Williams, Barton/Crabbe, Earl Watson, C.J. McCollum (IR)
We know one thing from last year: Lillard doesn’t care how experienced he is. The young baller isn’t shy. He even received a compliment from Kobe Bryant last year. Trust me; that’s saying a lot. The way Lillard can score the ball, he reminds me of the old Gilbert Arenas. He loves to shoot the ball, especially when he gets hot. Not only does he have a pretty good outside jumper, but he’s explosive getting to the basket and can consistently finish. The future is really bright for this young point guard. I really like Wes Matthews. He’s a big threat from deep range and he loves to spot up on the perimeter. Mo Williams provides Portland with a good veteran leader, on and off the court. Rookie C.J. McCollum is injured to start the season but he’s a gifted combo guard many are looking forward to watching.
Forwards (A-): Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver
LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum quietly make up one of the most dangerous forward duos in the league. Aldridge sometimes seems to be too unselfish on offense as he is very difficult to stop from scoring. His length makes him a very efficient post player and he’ll gladly knock down the midrange jumper if the defense gives him space. Batum’s game has become a thing of beauty. He’s one of the most gifted defenders in the game and his offense has come along nicely. Not initially known as a shooter, Batum torched opponents from beyond the arc at times last season. Thomas Robinson has not yet proved his worth as 5th pick of the 2012 draft as this is already his third team in just over a year. However, I still believe he has what it takes to be a useful sixth man someday, at the very least. Dorell Wright has also bounced around in his career. Wright brings veteranship, more outside shooting, and improved defense to this team.
Centers (B): Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland
It’s funny that Robin Lopez’s playing style is the exact opposite of his brother Brook’s. While Brook is a standout offensive talent, Robin is a limited offensive player who scores garbage points and off offensive rebounds. While Brook sometimes shies away on defense, Robin is a fearless post defender with a pretty good shot blocking ability. Lopez emerged last season as more than just a decent role player, averaging 17.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes. I really like the identity he brings to this Blazer team who was in desperate need of post defense last season, giving up the most points in the paint to competitors. Meyers Leonard could someday develop into a decent starter. However, for now he provides good size and energy off the bench.
Defense (B-): Coach Terry Stotts stressed defense as the number one priority in Blazers training camp. I think it’s likely we see an all-around improvement on that side of the ball. While the guards don’t make the best defensive unit, the flexibility at the other three positions should make this defense much more respectable than it was last season.
Shooting (A-): On paper, Portland might be a top three shooting team in the league. As I mentioned in a few other team previews, confidence is key when shooting the ball. Most of these guys shoot the ball with ultimate confidence (Lillard, Mo Williams, Batum, etc.) Outside shooting will likely be a big factor in Portland winning some games this season.
Experience (B-): LaMarcus Aldridge is already 28 years old. He’s been around long enough to mentor the young bigs on this team. Lillard and Matthews make a young backcourt but Mo Williams has been a starter in this league for long enough to help them out.
Standing – 11th West: Overall, the Blazers are still on their way up and shouldn’t be stopping anytime soon. It’s likely 12 teams in the West will be highly competitive in the playoff race for most of the season. Don’t count the Blazers out.