How do they rank?
When you look at the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers, there shouldn’t be any surprises at the top of the rotation. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the best players on the team, and there’s little debating that fact.
What is worth debating is who comes next, and where do they rank among the team’s best options? The summer never saw a full-fledged star make his way to Rip City, but it did see a slew of new faces add depth and production to a team that badly needed both off the bench.
On any given night, an NBA team can suit up 12 players. For the purpose of this article, we’ll rank the top 12 PDX players, giving a not-so honorable mention to the rest on the roster.
*Players on the roster are accurate as of Sept. 22, 2013 and provided by ESPN.com.
At this point in the process, Terrel Harris is hardly worth mentioning. The 26-year-old recorded 0.8 points and a -3.79 PER in 2012-13, proving that he was acquired with a “you can never have too many point guards” mentality.
Earl Watson was signed with a similar mentality as Harris, but the 34-year-old will provide excellent court vision and a ton of experience throughout the year.
Coming out of college, Allen Crabbe was supposed to be a steal in the second round. His summer league performance showed that he’ll take time adjusting to the NBA game, but his deep-range shot will keep him relevant if he knocks it down consistently.
12. Will Barton
2012-13 Statistics: 4.0 PPG, 0.8 AST, 2.0 RPG, 9.12 PER
For Will Barton to be successful in the pros, he must do a few things: bulk up, improve his shot and make better decisions.
Time in the weight room will happen, but you have to wonder if his genetics will let him get where he needs to be. When it comes to making better decisions, that will lead to a higher field-goal percentage, and more time on the floor is what he needs at just 22 years old.
11. Victor Claver
2012-13 Statistics: 3.8 PPG, 0.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 7.05 PER
Maybe it’s the reputation that comes with being a European player, but everybody wants Victor Claver to turn into a lights-out three-point shooter. Don’t count on that ever being his primary role, but he did show at times that you can’t leave him alone if you’re a defense.
At 6’9”, 224 pounds, Claver plays with an intensity that will help him in his progress. He doesn’t have the physical attributes of a dominant small forward, but he’s also not afraid to attack the rim, which will benefit the whole team when his shot isn’t falling.
10. Meyers Leonard
2012-13 Statistics: 5.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 12.14 PER
When it comes to Meyers Leonard, fans simply want to see him become a dominant big man. The 7’1” center has shown the ability to hit shots from the mid-to-long range, but if he can defend the rim and keep defenses honest down low, he’ll become a lock for the starting spot down the road.
9. Thomas Robinson
2012-13 Statistics: 4.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 10.97 PER
Thomas Robinson was selected one spot ahead of Damian Lillard in the 2012 draft, but he’s yet to prove he was worthy of such high praise. The truth is that he was drafted into one of the worst organizations in The Association and then traded to a team that had no purpose for him other than becoming a bargaining chip (for Dwight Howard).
Now with Portland, Robinson has a chance to prove he’s worthy of the hype that was once bestowed upon him. The problem is that he’s stuck behind LaMarcus Aldridge, and unless the big man is traded, his minutes will be limited and his role will be that of a hustler and solid rebounder.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) July 30, 2013
8. Dorell Wright
2012-13 Statistics: 9.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 37.4 3PT%, 16.07 PER
With Claver and Barton still coming into their own, expect Dorell Wright to be a quality producer off the bench. On a team that struggled mightily from long range last season, he’ll be one of the top three-point threats to be found all year.
7. Mo Williams
2012-13 Statistics: 12.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, 38.3 3PT%, 14.47 PER
Mo Williams is the most surprising signing of the offseason. He spent the early part of the summer convinced he would only sign a deal if he were named a starter, yet here he is in Portland ready to back up Damian Lillard on a rebuilding roster.
It’s true that nobody was willing to name him a starter, but that means he’ll be one of the most productive reserves in the Trail Blazers’ rotation. He has a deadly three-point shot when he’s feeling it, and his ability to rack up assists makes him a valuable floor general when Lillard is on the bench.
6. Robin Lopez
2012-13 Statistics: 11.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 18.98 PER
Here’s what we know about Robin Lopez: The big man isn’t great at scoring down low, he’s not a spectacular rebounder and despite his blocks-per-game numbers, he’s not going to dominate the rim on the defensive end.
All that said, he’s good in each of those categories—despite not being great—and he’s one of the most valuable pickups of the summer, even if only for the fact that Leonard now has time to grow behind someone who can take the starting spot for another year.
5. C.J. McCollum
2012-13 Statistics: N/A
C.J. McCollum may not be in the starting lineup to begin the 2013-14 season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a top-five Blazer when the year is all said and done.
At this point, we may not know what to expect out of McCollum, but we do know that he comes from the same mold as Lillard. He’s a score-first guard with even better size, and while his athleticism isn’t quite on the same level, he showed during summer league that his long-range shot and overall poise should translate nicely to the professional game.
Ford: Blazers G CJ McCollum Is No. 3 Candidate For 2014 Rookie Of The Year http://t.co/Lm0sZOS8RP
— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) August 14, 2013
4. Wesley Matthews
2012-13 Statistics: 14.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 39.5 3PT%, 14.10 PER
Following the departure of Brandon Roy, Wesley Matthews has been placed in an impossible position. Replacing the one-time great simply wasn’t going to happen, yet the 2-guard has done a solid job of becoming the vocal leader and utilizing his skill set to the best of his abilities.
Is Matthews the most skilled shooting guard in the league? Not by a long shot. But he’s arguably the best perimeter defender on the roster, and he has the ability to impact a game with his long-range shot and deadly step-back jumper.
3. Nicolas Batum
2012-13 Statistics: 14.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.6 RPG, 37.2 3PT%, 15.76 PER
Nicolas Batum is confusing to most avid fans. He has the potential to be one of the best small forwards in the league, and while he’s getting paid as such, he’s yet to produce up to his abilities on a consistent basis.
Fans in Portland aren’t giving up, but they need to see more. He’s earned a massive contract at this point, and staying healthy is the first step toward stardom. From there, getting better on defense and knocking down his jumper with more consistency will lead him toward becoming one of the most recognized players around the league at his position.
2. Damian Lillard
2012-13 Statistics: 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.1 RPG, 36.8 3PT%, 16.45 PER
Here’s where it gets a bit muddled amongst fans. Lillard is hands-down the future of the organization, yet LaMarcus Aldridge is the most accomplished player up to this point.
The two will go back and forth as the team’s No. 1 option, but at this juncture, Aldridge earns the edge.
Up until now, Lillard has shown he can get it done on the offensive end. He played the most minutes of any NBA player as a rookie, and he scored at a high rate while finding his teammates on a regular basis.
In his sophomore season, Lillard must prove he can be just as productive while playing fewer minutes. Improving on defense wouldn’t hurt, either, and if he can do that, he’ll be pushing for an all-star appearance sooner rather than later.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2012-13 Statistics: 21.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 48.4 FG% 20.45 PER
Entering the 2013-14 season, Aldridge is arguably the best power forward in the game. Kevin Love is coming off of an injury-riddled year, Blake Griffin is raw on both ends and nobody at the position has the jumper Aldridge has at this point in his career (minus Dirk Nowitzki).
Simply put, the big man is atop the league at the 4-spot, and he’s the most reliable option on the Blazers moving forward.
The problem here is that we don’t know what is to come for the power forward. Aldridge has had a wild summer, to say the least, and his long-term picture is fuzzy at this point in the process.
Aldridge may or may not be a part of the picture down the road, but entering the new year, he’s the best player on a roster looking to make a push toward the postseason.