2013-14 record: 54-28
Key Additions: Steve Blake, Chris Kaman
Key Departures: Mo Williams
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Damian Lillard SG Wesley Matthews SF Nicolas Batum PF LaMarcus Aldridge C Robin Lopez
The Blazers had a relatively tame offseason, but that makes a lot of sense considering they won 54 games and a playoff series. Not too shabby when the year before they were 33-49. Even with the success, there are quite a few who think this will be the team to drop out of the West’s playoff picture. And the main reason why is how ridiculously well this team played last year, especially in close games.
Including the post-season, they won 70% of their overtime games. Quality teams are going to do that, but it stands to reason that if a game reaches overtime, it’s been a pretty even one up to that point. As a team they were fourth in points scored, had the fourth least turnovers given up, and the best rebounding team in the league. There are an array of other statistics where they were top 10, but that should give you enough of a picture of how complete this team was. They also went on an 11-game win streak early on, which greatly helps the overall record.
The stat I love is the fact that they were best in the league in free throw percentage. That isn’t something that happens by chance. That’s the result of a well-coached team doing the little things that it takes to be successful. It baffles me when players are abysmal at free throw shooting, but for an entire team to be dreadful,1 that’s the result of either poor coaching or a major disconnect. Knocking down 81% of their shots from the charity stripe is a big reason why they won so many close games.
There are two superstars on this team, which I think is more than enough to contend for a title. Aldridge played out of his mind last year, averaging a double double, and pending healthy, there’s no reason why there won’t be more of the same through 2015. He’s the exception to the shooting efficiency rules that statheads love so much. He’s such an effective mid-range shooter, that there’s no reason he should do anything other than shoot mid-range shots. It’s like watching a more athletic Carlos Boozer who isn’t afraid of defense.
At the point you have Damian Lillard, a budding superstar who may shine brighter than any other point guards his age. At a mere 24 years old, he’s already got career averages of 19.9 points and 6.0 assists. He’s also shot 43% for his career, which is a solid figure when you consider his style of play. He can score, he can pass, and he can defend. That’s the only big three that this Portland team needs.
Even though he’s nowhere near the league of the superstars on the wing, he’s one of the most complete players at that position. He can do it all. He actually lead this team in effective field goal percentage last year at 55.4%. On top of that, he had a 20.9 assist percentage and gobbled up 7.5 rebounds per game. He had a solid summer of FIBA playing for France, and that extra international experience should only help him coming into his seventh season.
What worries me is the bench. This team relied on their starters more than any other last year, averaging all five starters over 30 minutes per game. Four of them played all 82 (Aldridge 69), and they only used two different lineups all season. Two. If they have any form of injuries this year and have to deviate from that consistency, they could be in trouble. But here’s to faith in the Portland training staff!
I’d say being together for another year is enough to offset the fact that they’re not likely to have every player shoot the lights out every single night for another year. Hopefully more of their wins come in the second half of the season, and they’re able to carry that momentum deep into the playoffs.
X-Factor: Chris Kaman
Inside defense was missing from this team last year, and while Kaman isn’t the league’s best stopper, he’s certain an improvement over Meyers Leonard. The problem is, Kaman hasn’t been healthy since the 2010 season. That season was great though, as he made his only all-star game. I’m not expecting him to get back to all-star levels, but if he’s able to stay on the court, his 3.7 career block percentage is something that will be very useful for stretches with the reserves. He also shot over 60% in the preseason. I doubt he’s going to be able to keep that rate up, but even if it drops three or four ticks, that’s still efficient scoring on the inside.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Thomas Robinson
Speaking of reserve bigs, the Blazers happen to have one of the league’s most athletic in Thomas Robinson.
See Example A below:
Still, the Blazers are his third team in two years, and he hasn’t gotten solid minutes anywhere. There’s something holding him back, and it’s mostly his inconsistency. Had he been playing 36 minutes last year, his numbers would have come out to something like 14 points and 12 rebounds, which is obviously a stellar number. I think he’s going to have a bit bigger role this year, but he’s going to have to prove he belongs.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
Well you’ve got Lillard and Aldridge, two of the best in the league at their positions, so that alone captures my interest. But this is a really likable team. They’ve got a solid core of players who all know their role and fill it will. They’re going to keep getting better as they develop, so this seasons should be a really good one for them.
Best Case: They shoot at relatively the same clip as last year, Lillard continues to improve on defense, and Kaman’s presence off the bench provides some major inside scoring. 57 wins.
Worst Case: The shooting falls off, Aldridge gets hurt, and the lack of depth is exploited. 48 wins.
Projected Record: 54-28
I’m looking at you Detroit ↩