The 2013-14 NBA season was one to remember for the Portland Trail Blazers. Not only did the team make the postseason for the first time since 2011, but it reached the second round for the first time since 2000.
That’s a 14-year drought down the drain; one we never, ever have to talk about again.
While the always-entertaining Blazers managed to take down the Houston Rockets in Round 1 of the playoffs, the always-dominant San Antonio Spurs got the best of Rip City’s revived organization. With the Finals around the corner and the offseason ahead, it’s time to reflect on the year that was for Portland.
Most Improved: LaMarcus Aldridge
How can a player who was the best on the team the year before be the most improved? By taking his game to another level.
LaMarcus Aldridge was the team’s MVP in 2012-13, and he has been since the departure of Brandon Roy. His game has always been strong, but this season, he stepped up as a leader and dominated the floor from the start of the year.
In 2013-14, L.A. posted career highs in points and rebounds with 23.2 and 11.1, respectively. That’s an increase of two per game in both categories, and he also raised his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) to 21.84 from 20.45.
You could make a case for numerous guys across the roster in this category, including Robin Lopez, who finally began to make a name for himself in the NBA. But while making a name for yourself is great, Aldridge cemented himself as the best power forward in the game in the eyes of many, and that’s no small feat when you’re up against the likes of Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
Sixth Man: Mo Williams
With the moves Portland made this past offseason, the consensus was that the bench was going to be drastically improved. While that was only the case to a certain extent, it was still dead last in multiple categories across the league, including points.
Where the Blazers were able to find offense off the bench was Mo Williams. The point guard-turned-combo guard played well most of the year, and while inconsistency was certainly a problem at times, he always seemed to make up for it with big plays late — something that was a rarity when it came to the team’s second unit.
Rookie of the Year: CJ McCollum
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Part of the reason Portland’s bench suffered throughout the season was because of the injury CJ McCollum encountered in training camp. The rookie broke a bone in his foot before the year even began, stunting his growth drastically in his first season.
Luckily for McCollum, the Blazers didn’t have any other rookies on the roster vying for his spot, so he earns the nod for what little production he showed.
Looking forward, expect McCollum to be a much more integral part of this rotation. Assuming Williams opts out of his current deal, as he’s stated he will, there’s a chance Portland chooses not to retain the veteran for financial purposes. In that case, McCollum becomes the man in the backcourt, assuming Neil Olshey can’t find a shrewd pickup in free agency.
On the year, McCollum posted 5.3 points per game while participating in 38 contests.
MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
Can a player really be named both the Most Improved Player and the MVP in the same season? Absolutely.
The season Aldridge had was a special one. His numbers showed his growth in a statistical sense, but his ability to lead a team is something we hadn’t seen up to this point in his career.
The other name to throw in here is Damian Lillard. The reigning Rookie of the Year stepped up his game to another level as well, and he proved that there isn’t a moment on the court that he’s afraid to face.
But while Lillard is quickly becoming the future of the franchise, Aldridge is the one who has paid his dues throughout his career in Rip City. We’ve seen now two years in a row what happens when he goes down with an injury, and if that’s not the definition of “most valuable,” I don’t know what is.
Best Newcomer: Robin Lopez
This one’s easy.
In his first season in Portland, Robin Lopez instantly became a fan favorite. His hair, his social media presence and his love for comic books makes him easy to root for, and his willingness to play physically is what fans have been craving since the days of Joel Przybilla.
Sticking with that theme, Lopez proved he’s a blue-collar player. He set the franchise record for offensive rebounds, he recorded a career-high 29 double-doubles and he made life easier on Aldridge than it’s been his entire career.
Lopez is a true 7-footer and a true center, which Portland has needed for as long as most fans can remember. Williams deserves consideration here as well, but without Lopez, this team would have had a completely different identity.
Best Moment: Damian Lillard
When the Blazers entered the 2013-14 season, expectations were far from lofty. This team had lost its final 13 games to close out 2012-13, and simply making the playoffs would have been an accomplishment considering the current postseason drought.
As it turned out, a 24-5 start changed expectations, and nothing less than a series win would suffice in the eyes of fans and media members alike.
In the Round-1 series against Houston, Aldridge was best player. He dominated the mid-range game all the way through, and his double-double numbers led to him topping the postseason MVP rankings throughout the conference quarterfinals.
All that said, it’s Lillard’s shot that most people remember, and rightfully so.