What to expect in Rip City.
The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, and with a young roster loaded with raw potential, the 2012-13 season could go a number of different ways.
Damian Lillard was brought in to be the point guard of the future, but if he transition smoothly to the NBA game, he could prove to be one of the league’s best floor generals sooner rather than later.
Can Lillard score the way he did at Weber State—and in the Las Vegas Summer League—against the NBA’s best competition? It’s a reasonable question, but if the answer is yes, he’s going to help take the pressure off of LaMarcus Aldridge in 2013.
Meyers Leonard has incredible athleticism and an NBA body. His defensive presence should be felt next year, but if he can make some noise with his offense, that will add a whole new dynamic to the Blazers’ attack.
Nicolas Batum is a player who seemingly has shown fans in Portland what he has through four seasons, but if his jump shot improves and he attacks the basket more regularly, the team will benefit big time from establishing a true second option on offense.
Baring any significant injuries—the kind to which Portland fans have become far too accustomed—the best-case scenario is the Trail Blazers make a five-seed in a wide-open Western Conference.
Even for the most avid Blazers fans, this should be considered a bit of a reach; but if absolutely everything clicks, this team should make a run next year.
Despite not picking up a Roy Hibbert-quality player in free agency this summer, this team has talent and if everything goes according to plan, they’ll be a team that can surprise some teams out West.
At this point, this team’s ceiling appears to be only as high as Damian Lillard will take them.
If Lillard turns out to be Jerryd Bayless 2.0 and he can’t get it to click his rookie season, this team is going nowhere very quickly.
We saw last year that LaMarcus Aldridge couldn’t carry the team on his own—even in his best individual season—and he’ll be relying heavily upon the scoring and passing abilities of the team’s newest point guard.
Batum is also a bit of a question mark following the signing of his big-time contract. If he remains passive and inconsistent in 2013, there will be major questions regarding not just the money he’s making, but how far the team can go with him locked up long-term.
Having two rookie centers on the roster in Leonard and Joel Freeland is a risky move that could very well prove to be disastrous. If both are bullied by the bigs of the NBA, the Blazers will lack an inside presence yet again next year.
Obviously, there are plenty of ways next season could go awry. If these circumstances take place, don’t expect the Blazers to be anywhere near the playoffs when the season comes to an end.
If none of the potential big-time players show they can get it done next year, even a healthy 2013 campaign will show ugly results for such a young team.
The near-playoff teams out West have almost all improved this summer, and they could all leap ahead of Portland, pushing them below the 11th place finish they had this past year.
Without sounding too cliché, the most realistic prediction has to come somewhere in-between the best and worst-case scenarios.
Regardless of how far this team goes, know one thing: they will be far more entertaining than the squad that took the floor at the end of last season.
Lillard is going to be fun to watch, Leonard will be a decent presence on both ends and Batum should begin to flourish if given the “offensive freedom” he was promised if he returned to Portland this summer.
Lillard may not be Derrick Rose, but don’t expect Jerryd Bayless, either.
Bayless fizzled out of Portland because he was a point guard who played selfishly and couldn’t run an offense. From what we’ve seen so far, neither of those unwanted descriptions match Lillard’s game.
He and Aldridge should establish a good two-man game, even if there are chemistry issues early on.
This team will certainly have its growing pains, as the roster is extremely young and, quite frankly, inexperienced.
That being said, there will be other times where you’ll see flashes of brilliance and they’ll look like they can compete night in and night out with any team in the NBA.
Expect this team to make the playoffs, but don’t expect them to truly challenge any teams atop the west next season.
To some, this may be a true worst-case scenario, as the team misses out on the lottery despite going nowhere in the playoffs. However, if this is how you feel, you’re extremely undervaluing the youth that this team already has on its roster.
There’s no need to add more youth to a team whose core involves Lillard, Batum and Aldridge, and whose role players have one so-called veteran in Wesley Matthews.
This team is going to grow together, and you should begin to see that throughout the 2012-13 season.