There was some good and some bad news for the Portland Trail Blazers last season. The good news was that Damian Lillard won the Rookie of the Year Award and LaMarcus Aldridge made his second straight All-Star team. The bad news was that the Blazers only won 33 games, and ended the season on a 13 game losing streak. However, the Blazers have made some interesting additions this summer, and they feel they are ready to compete for a playoff spot.
Here is my projection for the Blazers’ final 15 man roster:
Point Guard: Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Earl Watson
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum, Dorrell Wright, Victor Claver
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge, Thomas Robinson
Center: Robin Lopez, Myers Leonard, Joel Freeland
Lillard enters his second season as one of the most promising young players in the NBA, and the Blazers are expecting him to take a giant leap forward in his second season. Lillard has a lot of work to defensively and needs some polishing as a passer, but the Blazers hit a home run when they drafted him. Williams will provide some three point shooting off the bench, and he is very capable of running the offense.
The Blazers surprised some when they drafted another scoring point guard in McCollum, but the plan is to play him and Lillard together quite a bit. The NBA is moving away from strictly defined positions, and the two players should work well together. Watson is essentially a coach in uniform, and his teachings will be very helpful to Lillard and McCollum.
At the two guard, Matthews is a well rounded, solid NBA player. He’s good at everything and great at nothing, but you could do a whole lot worse. His defensive presence is particularly important due to the lack of quality defenders Portland has a point guard. Barton is a high energy reserve who is solid at both ends, but he doesn’t have starting potential. Second round pick Crabbe is a three point marksman, and the team will certainly make sure he gets on the floor.
At small forward, Batum is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Batum ranked among the top 10 small forwards in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks last season, and his development as the third member of Portland’s big 3 is crucial to their success. Expect him to continue building on his well rounded game, and he could make a case for the All-Star team.
Backing up Batum, Wright is a defense and threes type who brings some explosive athleticism to a team that has less of it than most. Claver wasn’t impressive in his rookie season, but European players often need a couple years to adjust, so there is certainly still hope.
At power forward, Aldridge is the best player on the team and in my opinion one of the three or four best power forwards in the NBA. Aldridge has an excellent post game and is a very good midrange shooter, and he averaged 21.1 PPG last season. He is also a very good defender and a strong rebounder. There have been trade rumors surrounding him, but that would be a mistake from Portland.
Next to him, Lopez is a defensive minded center who will protect the rim and rebound. The Blazers got him simply for facilitating the Tyreke Evans trade, and he is a very good fit next to Aldridge. The Blazers’ other big offseason move was their addition of Robinson. The Houston Rockets needed to dump salary for their pursuit of Dwight Howard, and the Blazers got Robinson essentially for free.
Robinson is entering his second season and is already on his third team. He hasn’t gotten a fair shot yet, but the Blazers will give him one. Robinson is a monster rebounder and physical defender, although he needs a lot of work offensively. The other backup big man, Leonard, is the exact opposite, so the two should compliment each other well. Behind them, Freeland simply provides depth.
The Blazers have an interesting young group of players, but they have the misfortune of playing in the loaded Western Conference. It will be tough for them to get to the playoffs this season, but the future in Rip City is very bright.