What will 2013 hold?
The New Year is upon us, and it’s time for the obligatory resolutions that will help us all turn over a new leaf. Everybody can make changes in their lives to help better themselves, and the Portland Trail Blazers are no exception.
When the Blazers entered the 2012-13 season, nobody quite knew what to expect. While there are a still a number of questions surrounding this organization, we now have a much better idea of where the team must improve moving forward.
Most resolutions are gone and forgotten by February, but if the Blazers are serious about getting the most out of themselves—now and in the future— they’ll take self-reflections to heart and do what’s necessary as the year progresses.
Improve Bench Play
The Trail Blazers have a number of things they need to work on, but bench play has been as bad as it gets.
The team’s second unit doesn’t score, they don’t rebound and they have been outplayed in almost every game this season. It’s not completely their fault, as the organization opted to save money for next summer instead of adding depth; but it’s to the point where we’re legitimately surprised when a reserve has a good game.
The problem with the bench isn’t necessarily a lack of talent—although they could use help in that department too. It’s a lack of experience. They’re not going to become seasoned veterans over the next six months, but more time on the court is going to help.
Conserve Starters’ Minutes
With the bench being awful this season, it’s easy to see why the Blazers have played their starters ridiculous minutes.
Portland has three players—Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge—who are in the top 15 in minutes played this season, and as good as they’ve been, you can’t wear them into the ground.
First and foremost, this is a team who has been hit with the injury bug more than practically any other team the past few seasons. Playing your go-to players as much as Portland does is asking for injuries.
Secondly, how is the bench ever going to improve without seeing the floor? It’s tempting to play the starters all game long, as they’re the No. 1 scoring group in the league, but a rotation has to be balanced, and that’s the furthest adjective from what Portland is at this point.
Keep Establishing Two-Man Game
These two players can make each other better. Lillard can create opportunities for Aldridge while taking pressure off him to score, and Aldridge can help spread the floor with his shot, giving the point guard more real estate to work with.
Portland has the potential for a deadly combo here, but Terry Stotts needs to recognize it and diagram sets that are just for them as they continue to jell.
Win the Winnable Games
The Western Conference is more top-heavy this year than we’ve seen in a while, which means that the bottom seeds are open for grabs, and likely will be through the rest of the regular season.
There have been stretches already this year where Portland has played to their competition. They’ve played up to the teams with better records and down to the teams with worse records, and as a result, they’ve dropped a handful of winnable games.
For a team looking to sneak into the postseason, that is no recipe for success.
If Portland wants to compete in the 2013 playoffs, there can be no more losing to the teams stuck in the basement of the league.
Choose a Direction
Neil Olshey and the Trail Blazers organization started planning for the future this past offseason when they declined options on Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams. Now, it’s time to choose again, as the team appears stuck in the dreaded “neutral zone.”
You always want to see a team push for the playoffs, but sometimes pushing without enough talent lands you a less-than desirable lottery pick. If Portland truly wants to make a move at the playoffs, Olshey has to consider a mid-season move.
There are a number of players on the free-agent market who would take a one-year deal to help Portland reach the postseason. Nobody out there is going to instantly save this franchise, but another presence would help bolster a team that already has energy and potential.
Olshey has stated that he doesn’t want to build through trades, and that he prefers the draft. If this is the case, he must commit to testing the bench, and if they can’t improve, you know you have a better lottery pick waiting for you on the other side of the 2012-13 season.