Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

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Most Important Player: Nicolas Batum
I’m lying. Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are the most important players on the Portland Trail Blazers, but I know what to expect from both of them. Nicolas Batum, however, is a wild card and essential to the success of the first team. If he can consistently play good defense and attack the basket, every other starter benefits. If he settles for contested three-pointers rather than penetrating, the whole team will suffer on both ends of the court. Nicolas Batum is an intelligent basketball player. He’s also got the physical gifts to create mismatches. Nevertheless, something has always been missing from his game. If he can finally break out, the Blazers will be surprisingly good.

X-Factor: Robin Lopez
Even if all he does is dunk and rebound on the offensive end, the Blazers will be in good shape. It’s Lopez’s defense that’s most important. If he can keep guards out of the paint and establish himself as a definitive presence inside, we’re coming up roses. If not (and I don’t think he’s as good of a defender as everyone thinks he is), the Blazers will give up easy hoops and be forced to slog through their half-court offense.

Rotations: Mo Williams, C.J, McCollum, Dorrell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and Meyers Leonard. Not so much of a rotation, but these are the bench players that will make an impact. A Williams, McCollum, Wright, Robinson, Batum/Aldridge combination intrigues me. However, can any one of those benchwarmers, aside from Robinson, play defense?

It’s Really bad If: The Blazers once again rank 29th in the league in field-goal percentage. A Terry Stotts team that can’t shoot will malfunction like ED-209 at the beginning of RoboCop.

Bold Prediction: The Blazers make the playoffs as the eighth seed. They dispose of the first-seed Golden State Warriors and then implode under their own momentum.


LaMarcus Aldridge, PF
Strengths: Stretching the floor, shooting, post game, rebounding.
Weaknesses: Settles for too many jump-shots, occasionally soft on the defensive end.
Season Prediction: Mr. Consistency will go for 20 and 9 once again. He’ll keep the Blazers in games, and he’ll surprise us with his rebounding and newfound ferocity underneath.

Will Barton, SG
Strengths: Penetrating, ball-handling.
Weaknesses: Shooting (not abysmal), sticking to defensive schemes and assignments.
Season Prediction: A pleasant surprise, better than McCollum off the bench.

Nicolas Batum, SF/SG
Strengths: Length, vision, anticipation, defense.
Weaknesses: Shot selection, prone to disappearing on defense though he’s the Blazers’ best defender.
Season Prediction: A breakout year for Batum. He improves his three-point percentage and plays great defense. He averages 18 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals/blocks a game

Victor Claver, SF
Strengths: Shooting?
Weaknesses: Might be a step slow for the American game.
Season Prediction: This will be his last year in Rip City. We won’t see much of him. D-League perhaps?

Allen Crabbe, SG
Strengths: Shooting, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Inexperience, inability to penetrate.
Season Prediction: He’ll be okay, but won’t take Barton’s newfound minutes away. He might be the new Luke Babbitt.

Joel Freeland, PF/C
Strengths: Vision (now that he’s got contacts), work rate.
Weaknesses: Slow, defensive rotation.
Season Prediction: With the addition of Thomas Robinson, Freeland won’t get the minutes prove himself in the NBA.

Meyers Leonard, C
Strengths: Dunking, free-throw shooting.
Weaknesses: Defense, staying out of foul trouble, court awareness.
Season Prediction: Eventually, he’ll make an impact as a bit player in 10-12 hustle minutes a night.

Damian Lillard, PG
Strengths: Everything.
Weaknesses: Shot selection, defense, passing.
Season Prediction: Lillard will excel again. His assist numbers will improve while the Blazers run more. Also, the pick-and-roll with Lopez should produce some easy baskets. He’ll log less minutes, but his numbers won’t suffer.

Robin Lopez, C
Strengths: Defense, easy shots, related to Brook Lopez.
Weaknesses: Tentative, outside shot, fouls.
Season Prediction: Robin Lopez will have an opportunity to establish himself as a primary NBA center. I see him putting up the same numbers as last year. However, he’ll reduce Aldridge’s workload, and that alone makes his acquisition worthwhile.

Wesley Matthews, SG
Strengths: Clutch shooting, professionalism, defense, consistency.
Weaknesses: I really don’t think Matthews has many weaknesses. Sometimes, he doesn’t match up well with bigger, faster guards. Besides that, he’s got an above average all-around game.
Season Prediction: Feeling a bit of pressure from McCollum and Barton, Matthews steps up his game and becomes a valuable weapon on offense. Batum screens, Lillard penetrates, Aldridge decoys and Matthews hits from the corner.

C.J. McCollum, PG/SG
Strengths: Confidence, shot-creation, scoring.
Weaknesses: Passing, defense, inexperience.
Season Prediction: While his Summer League was impressive, I don’t see him exploding off the bench this year. He’ll do well, and he’ll learn a lot, but ultimately he’ll only provide an occasional spark. However, if something happens to one of the starting five, look to McCollum to fill that void with poise and swagger.

Thomas Robinson, PF
Strengths: Defensive potential, rebounding, tenacity.
Weaknesses: Tends to disappear.
Season Prediction: Redemption for Robinson. He becomes the first big off the bench and lead all NBA bench players in offensive rebounding. A huge pickup for Rip City.

Earl Watson, PG
Strengths: Leadership, experience, intelligence, defense.
Weaknesses: Scoring.
Season Prediction: Watson will be great for the locker room, and he’ll be an important mentor. Don’t expect him to see too much of the floor.

Mo Williams, PG
Strengths: Offense.
Weaknesses: Defense.
Season Prediction: Sixth Man of the Year. Inspired by the raucous, small-market crowd, Mo makes an immediate impact. He can actually run the offense when Lillard’s on the bench, which will translate to less halftime deficits.

Dorell Wright, SF
Strengths: Shooting, shooting, shooting.
Weaknesses: Matching up with quicker players.
Season Prediction: Wright will rain corner threes. His shooting ability will become especially valuable as that second unit crashes the offensive boards.

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