Welcome to another day of NBA preview, as we talk about the NBA, counting down to the regular season start date on October 29th. Earlier today I did the Detroit Pistons, so make sure to check that out, along with the rest of the teams. Today we start out Western Conference run of playoff teams, and the first team had a very nice offseason. They have a franchise point guard and power forward on their hands, and are primed for another run into the playoffs as an upset team. Let’s take a look at the Portland Trail Blazers.
Key Departures: J.J. Hickson (Nuggets) Eric Maynor (Wizards) Nolan Smith (Left NBA)
Projected Starters: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wes Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Robin Lopez
The Blazer didn’t really do anything drastic, but that’s because they didn’t really have to. This is a team that was already built pretty well, and just missed out on the playoffs last year. They have the reigning rookie of the year in Damian Lillard who’s probably only going to continue to improve, and also have a star in LaMarcus Aldridge, so all they needed to do was just keep putting pieces around them. They added Robin Lopez after they lost Hickson to the Nuggets, which was an excellent replacement, for a much cheaper price, and actually gives them a legit center, where Hickson was playing out of position. Mo Williams will play backup to Lillard, and he is always capable of providing shooting from the bench. Dorell Wright has had a few down seasons, but is a really good shooter, and if that’s all he’s asked to do, then he should thrive. Thomas Robinson is a former top five pick from last year, but has already been on three teams in his NBA career, but he’s still very talented, and the only reason the Rockets dealt him was because they needed more cap room. CJ McCollum was an excellent draft pick, and will provide some great depth and scoring off the bench, and will eventually take Wes Matthews starting spot in a year or two. Just a very solid offseason from the Blazers, nothing too flashy, but everything will work well.
The starting lineup is once again very solid, and led by Lillard and Aldridge, should be very good. Lillard is on his way to be a all-star point guard, and he should continue to improve as his young career continues. The shooting guard spot is manned by the reliable Wes Matthews, but he’s rather unspectacular, and that’s why I expect McCollum to see a lot of time this season as the sixth man, and crunch time two man. He’s just more talented, and brings more explosive scoring that Matthews. At small foward we have the number three guy on this team, Nicolas Batum, who has been steadily improving every season, and was one of the most sought after players two years ago in free agency. But staying in Portland will help him continue to grow, as he he sit back, play great defense, shoot a high percentage and play great efficient basketball. Robin Lopez is an upgrade over JJ Hickson, even though he won’t be paid as much as Hickson in Denver. Lopez is the defensive presence that the Blazers were looking for at center, and most importantly, he’s the proper size for a center. Nothing against a very nice player like Hickson, but he was just too small to go up against the Duncans, Howards and Cousins of the Western Conference. Aldridge is once again the main cog, as he is a top three low post player in this league at power forward, and should continue to put up great stats. The Blazers have shown they are willing to build things around him, and Aldridge will continue to thrive.
The Blazers have another talented team, and while it may not have some of the press coverage like other teams in the West that made big moves, they’re still very efficient with the talent they have. They get the most out of every player on that team. Lillard and Aldridge are a very good tandem and will continue to play lights out, and the additions of guys like McCollum, Lopez and Williams are excellent pieces to add to this team. They will take the eighth slot in the west, where it is a dogfight just to get into the playoffs alone.
Final Prediction: 44-38, 8th Eastern Conference