PACE: #30 90.6
OFFENSE: #10 105.6
DEFENSE: #14 104.2
With a good dose of health, the Portland Trailblazers would have been the “original” Oklahoma City Thunder: a contending team built almost exclusively via the draft. Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcel Webster and Travis Outlaw were all drafted by the Blazers and if everything went right, they would have been a formidable young core of players ready to make a serious run for the NBA title.
Unfortunately, we all know what happened to Brandon Roy and there are some serious doubts about the ability of Greg Oden to play basketball in the future, so the Blazers simply have to move on.
For the third consecutive season, Nate McMillan’s team were a solid regular season team, but they were knocked down in the first round of the playoffs against the eventual NBA Champs Dallas Mavericks. They had the series tied 2-2, but Dallas caught fire in the last two games and the Blazers were just one of the Mavs victims in their Championship run.
Portland has been a very methodic offensive team under coach McMillan: they are the perennial slowest team in the league (ranked #30), while at the same time they are a great offensive rebounding team (ranked #3) that commits few turnovers per game (ranked #8). In a potential game that has fewer ball possessions than average, a combination of a good offensive rebounding team that doesn’t turn the ball over will maximize your chances to win the game and that is what Portland has been doing over the last years.
However the Blazers offensive suffered a considerable drop off in two crucial areas: 3pts shooting and free throws. After being a top 10 team in 3pts%, the Blazers shot just 34.5% behind the arc and they were the 4th worst team in FT/rate with just 27.8%. I just can’t ignore the Brandon Roy factor on those drop offs because Roy’s FTA/game went from 6.8 to 2.9 last season, while his presence on the court opened up the floor for the Blazers.
Without Brandon Roy, the Blazers needed one reliable go-to player and they got LaMarcus Aldridge! He started the season with the “being the second best player of the team” mentality, but when he “decided” to be more aggressive and demand more the ball, he took his game to another level. In the months of January and February, Aldridge averaged more than 25 points and almost 10 rebounds per game – MVP-like numbers! We were used to see Aldridge being essentiality a mid range player, but last season Aldridge worked more near the basket: after averaging 3.9 FGA/game at the rim in the previous season, Aldridge boosted his numbers to 6.1 FGA/game! He is now the face of the franchise and the Blazers have in him one of the best frontcourt players of the league.
Midway the season, the Blazers traded for Gerald Wallace and he was an instant factor for the team. He is more known for his defense and terrific athletic ability, but with a Blazers uniform, Wallace averaged 15.8 points per game while shooting almost 50% from the field. The acquisition of Raymond Felton in this offseason for the Blazers will put Felton and Wallace together once again, like they were in Charlotte. We should not forget that the Bobcats were the ranked #1 defense in the league the last time they played together and both were in the top 15 in steals per game. A defensive improvement is likely going to happen by having Wallace for a full season and Felton running at the Point Guard position.
Portland has a lot of depth on the wings and they should be a tough team to beat on the perimeter. Nicolas Batum is still 23-years old and he is already considered one of the best defensive players of the league, while he keeps working on his offensive skills. They have in Wesley Matthews another versatile player that can play in both PG or SG positions because he has a strong body. To “replace” Brandon Roy, the Blazers signed Jamal Crawford in the free agency and Crawford will provide instant offense as he is the only Blazers player from their backcourt that can create a shot by himself. However he is coming from a down season last year in Atlanta, but playing near his hometown will be good for him.
Assuming that Oden may not play at all again this season, the Blazers have a thin frontcourt to complement Aldridge as Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are 37 and 39 years old. We can expect McMillan to be creative like he was last season by playing Aldridge as a center and put on the court Wallace and Batum at the same time. The Blazers have one of the most versatile rosters in the league and they will have to take advantage of that.
Portland isn’t a contender for this season, but they have been constantly underappreciated by the media after the departure of Brandon Roy. I expect them to be a playoff contending team and if Aldridge put similar numbers that he enjoyed in the second half of the season, I won’t be surprised if they battle for the home court advantage in the Western Conference.