Blazers are a Better Team
ESPN recently projected the Portland Trail Blazers as the No. 10 team in the West in their summer forecast. They believe Portland will finish with a 38-44 record, which is just five more wins than a year ago. They also listed division rival Minnesota Timberwolves as the No. 8 seed with a 40-42 record.
The Blazers lost a nightmare on the defensive end in J.J. Hickson and a few bench players that didn’t contribute. They added Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe.
Yeah, that much added depth is only worth a five-game improvement. That makes sense.
This is a team that sat just a few games out of the playoffs before ending the season on a 13-game losing streak. A lack of depth caused their starters to break down and sit out numerous games down the stretch. Some say they were tanking — those said people are right.
They ended up getting a No. 10 pick instead of possibly losing their pick entirely (the pick was potentially Charlotte’s, but was top-12 protected).
Now for some predictions:
Portland Will Make Playoffs
Portland went from having the league’s worst bench to having one of the deepest teams in the West. It has added a whole new second unit with Mo, C.J., Wright and Robinson. The team also has Leonard coming into his second year as a backup to Lopez.
The Blazers still have Victor Claver, Joel Freeland and Will Barton as well. All three of whom played major minutes down the stretch last season for Portland. They should be ready to go if they’re numbers are called upon.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, they also added veteran guard Earl Watson to the bunch.
The added depth will take stress off of the starters, as they all broke down towards the end of the 2012-13 season. That is less likely to happen this year, as head coach Terry Stotts should have no issue giving the new bench players quality minutes.
I see Portland winning 10 more games this season. They will go 43-39 which will earn them a seven or eight seed.
Portland will shoot a lot of 3’s
The Blazers will lead the league in three-point attempts. Stotts’ system opens up a lot of three-point shots. Last year they shot the fourth-most 3’s in the league.
This offseason they added more fire power from long range.
Allen Crabbe was a solid shooter in college, as he led the Pac-12 in scoring — he also has NBA range as well. C.J. has shown his long range in summer league, during which he even knocked down a game-tying 3 to force Chicago into overtime.
Wright loves to shoot 3’s — that was a big reason why he came here.
There was one thing that I was reminded of in the NBA finals: you can NEVER have enough shooters, ever. This is why I love the additions, maybe a little more than most people. I can’t wait to see how they fare against some of the best three-point shooting teams this year.
Some of the best teams at shooting 3’s just so happen to be the best teams in the NBA: the Heat, Knicks, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder and Warriors are great three-point shooting teams.
Better Team Defensively
It’s hard to take a step back from last year. It’s safe to say that Portland can’t help but be better defensively than they were a year ago.
Under ESPN’s 2012-13 Hollinger team statistics, Portland ranked 26th in defensive efficiency. The rating is calculated by points allowed per 100 possessions in which Portland allowed an average of 106.9 points per.
New Orleans, Sacramento, and Charlotte were the only teams to allow more points per 100 possessions. Cleveland was tied at 106.9.
The addition of Lopez will help their interior defense. He is a big body, a solid shot blocker and he will alter way more shots in any game this season than Hickson could in a pick-up basketball game.
In that aspect, they’ve upgraded at center. Hickson was a good rebounder for his size, but so is Robinson. Lopez and Robinson will both help fill the rebounding role while leaving more shots for others.
Last year’s rookies Damian Lillard and Leonard taking the initiative and wanting to work on their defense this off-season will strengthen their defense as well.
Portland will send 2 All-Stars
I know that this is a long shot, but it’s possible. This is assuming that LaMarcus Aldridge does not get traded. I have him locked in as an All-Star. Who can join Aldridge on the Blazers?
Lillard has a legitimate chance to make it this year. It will be tough, especially with Jrue Holiday coming over from the east coast as he joins the newly renamed New Orleans Pelicans.
Lillard is one of the bright young point guards in the game. Coming off a unanimous Rookie of the Year campaign, he will have some added publicity that can help him during the voting process. If Lillard doesn’t make it in 2013-14, I’m sure it won’t be long before he does.
Nicolas Batum is another guy that has a chance to make it. I really liked how he was playing early in the year last season. A few injuries hindered his performance the rest of the season. The key for him is to remain healthy. I can see it happening now that he has a quality back-up in Dorell Wright.
Batum has steadily increased his stat line through the years. His points, rebounds, blocks and steals have all gradually increased.
The stat that impresses me the most was how much his assists went up last year while playing under Stotts (1.4 in 2011-12 and 4.9 in 2012-13). Batum was been put in position to be more of a play-maker.
A position he seemed to be more comfortable with. He tallied his first two career triple-doubles in the process. A healthy Batum is an all-star candidate.
Portland will be a better team this year. It will be a team that competes for a playoff spot. The next question is whether itcan win in the playoffs.
I believe that it can. The Blazers should surprise some people. Depending on who they play, they could win a round or two. I don’t see them beating the Clippers or Thunder, but they have a chance to beat anyone else.