What’s in store for Rip City?
Deep in a rebuild, the Portland Trail Blazers don’t know what to expect from their 2012 season.
It’s hard to imagine a team that’s worse than last years 28-38 season. But this is still a young team with plenty of room to grow, and anything is possible.
All-in-all it should be a season with plenty of ups and downs. Here’s some of the top reasons that Portland can over, or under, achieve in the upcoming NBA season.
Damian Lillard wins ROY
To say that Rip City has high expectations for Damian Lillard is an understatement.
There’s many a fan riding the Lillard bus. And why not? He was excellent in the summer league, and just as good in the preseason—leading Portland in points and assists per game.
Lillard represents one of Portland’s most important building blocks for the future. If he can come out of the gate and compete at a high level, the Blazers should have no problem exceeding expectations.
The best way to achieve that high level? Win the Rookie of the Year award, plain and simple.
A Working Rotation at Center
Even with the drafting of Meyers Leonard, Portland is not set at center.
Unlike Lillard, Leonard is considered to be very raw. His impressive size and athleticism makes him a wrecking ball on defense, but he’s still learning his way through the NBA. His biggest need is learning to control fouls.
Because of the uncertainty around Leonard, Portland enters the season with a rotation at center.
On paper, this looks like it’s got potential. Hickson was great for Portland down the 2011 stretch, and should add some offensive punch in the post. When Portland needs to go big on defense, they can bring in Leonard and Freeland.
If the rotation works, Portland should have no problems putting up a fight in the paint.
Will Barton comes into his own
Even though he was drafted No. 40 overall in the 2012 NBA draft, a lot of hype has surrounded Will Barton.
For two years in a row, Barton led the Memphis Tigers in points per game before entering the draft. He’s seen as a defensive specialist at the wing who can be very aggressive on the boards.
His mid-range game is pretty solid, but he lacks the open court explosiveness of must NBA shooting guards.
Like most of Portland’s bench players, Barton should be reliable on defense. But if he gets his shot working, he could be one of Portland’s most productive players off the bench.
Nicolas Batum doesn’t step up
Nicolas Batum was one of the most sought after players this summer, but was inevitably brought back to Portland when they matched his 4-year offer sheet.
After posting career highs in practically every stat category in 2011-12, many are expecting Batum to finally breakout into NBA super stardom.
Right now, Batum is going to be Portland’s primary scorer behind LaMarcus Aldridge. Ideally, he’ll be scoring anywhere from 18-20 points per game, while shoring up the defense.
But if Batum can’t step up, Portland is going to struggle to put points on the board.
Many will argue that Lillard is more important than Batum. But when comparing a 5-year vet to a rookie, you have to expect Portland to be leaning on experience.
It’s simple: if Batum falters, so does the team.
Center is a disaster
Portland will live-and-die at the center spot this season.
With players like Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins, defending the paint in the West has become increasingly important. If Portland’s rotation fails, they’re going to have a heck of a time competing against other bigs.
This is the only instance on this list where overachieving mirrors underachieving.
If the Blazers rotation at center works, they should have no trouble defending the paint. But if they struggle—whether that means fouling out or becoming a defensive liability—Portland is sure to lose a lot of games.
The bench doesn’t hold
Despite all their shuffling, the Portland bench has a chance at being pretty solid.
Defensively they have some big contributors in Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland and Will Barton. If they need some shots or electricity, they can fall back on Luke Babbit and Nolan Smith—both of who played well down the stretch last season.
But this bench is still young and unproven. If they can’t hold their own, the Blazers are going to get mowed over when their starters are off the court.
The Blazers have been plagued by bad bench play in this past, most recently with the Rudy Fernandez years. And we all know how those went.
Without any kind of solid bench play, the Blazers are bound to underachieve.