The time has come
Fans in Rip City are approaching the 2013-14 season with a cautious optimism. The talent is there to surprise some people, but the team is hardly considered a contender at this juncture.
At this point in the process, look for improvement across the board. Portland is still young, and turning potential into production must be the goal entering the new year.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as training camp commences.
During the 2012-13 season, head coach Terry Stotts had a relatively simple scheme when it came to setting a rotation. The starters played as many minutes as they could possibly handle, and the bench saw as few minutes as humanly possible.
Now, with a real-life set of reserves on board, the team has a tougher task when it comes to establishing a rotation.
If there’s any knock on Neil Olshey’s execution this offseason, it’s that the backcourt is borderline crowded. That’s a good problem to have considering the depth issues that took place last year, but finding time for three scoring point guards will be difficult to say the least.
The hope is that Damian Lillard, Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum will be able to split time between the 1 and the 2, but then there’s the question of how integral does Wesley Matthews remain in the attack.
Luckily for Stotts, the bigger positions should be more straight forward. Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard will split time (with Robin Lopez earning the slight edge in minutes), and Thomas Robinson will slowly be integrated into the game plan behind LaMarcus Aldridge.
This team is deeper than it was last season by a long shot, and while that should give fans hope, it also gives the coaching staff a tough task ahead.
Basketball is a physical game, but there’s a mental aspect to it that you simply can’t ignore.
Entering training camp, fans want to see players with sky-high confidence. This team has looked dejected at times throughout its recent struggles, but with new faces on board, turning the frowns upside down is a must.
Damian Lillard’s Growth
As the reigning Rookie of the Year, all eyes will be on Lillard during the early season. Very rarely do we see stars cap out following their first years, which means the development of the point guard should be a vital part of the team’s immediate success.
Because of the depth in the backcourt, expect Lillard to play fewer minutes in 2013-14. On the surface, that may sound like an instant drop in production, but what you have to remember is that the 23-year-old was playing on tired legs much of his rookie season.
More rest should equate to good things, especially on the defensive side of the floor.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) August 21, 2013
On the offensive end—a spot where fans would like to believe Lillard plays a flawless game—there are a few areas where he can improve. First and foremost, fewer three-pointers would benefit both him and his teammates. The youngster took more than six shots per game from long distance, and while he made good on 36.8 percent, he now has scorers to help take off the pressure.
Also, adjusting to double teams will be crucial if he wants to remain a star. The kid has the potential to be among the league’s top floor generals; now he just has to stay hungry in his pursuit toward greatness.
The NBA is back in full swing, which means trade talks are sure to begin—at least when it comes to the fans and the media.
We all know about LaMarcus Aldridge’s wild summer, and the question was once again brought up during Media Day about his long-term future with the team. At this point, expect the big man to be in Portland. He’s the best player on a rebuilt roster, and if the organization truly wants to make the playoffs, he’s going to be the one to lead the way.
That said, don’t expect people to ignore the issue at hand. Aldridge has an opportunity to walk in 2015 if he’s not traded beforehand, and you’d better believe that will be on the minds of both fans and team personnel throughout the year.
Defense, Defense, Defense
The Trail Blazers struggled defensively during the 2012-13 campaign, and that’s going to be a point of emphasis this season.
With Lopez on board, the whole team should benefit from his ability to clog the middle. He’s never been known as a true dominant defender, but his 1.6 blocks in just 26 minutes per contest shows what he’s capable of.
More importantly, the center’s presence allows Aldridge to play the power forward position, which has been his goal in Portland since his arrival in 2006.
The Blazers aren’t going to become a top-tier defensive ball club overnight, but they have the potential to be much better than they were a year ago.
The NBA’s best teams are all defensive juggernauts, and that’s a mentality Rip City must adopt in 2014.