By Jeremy Rucker @JeremyR327 on July 23, 2014
After a surprising playoff run last year, the Portland Trail Blazers are looking to build upon their success. The Western Conference is still very competitive and the Blazers can ill-afford to regress in any way if they desire another strong playoff push. Here are five ways in which Portland should look to improve.
Last season, the Blazers attempted nearly 40 percent of their shots within 10 seconds or less of possession, one of the highest percentages in the league. While a fast pace contributed to Portland’s impressive offense, the tendency for Damian Lillard and other wing players to shoot a quick perimeter shot before settling into the offense sometimes resulted in critical wasted possessions. These young players will need to learn when to slow it down.
Nicholas Batum and Wes Matthews were key contributors to the Blazers' overall success, but their inconsistent play offensively placed a heavy burden on Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Despite Matthews’ exceptional three-point shooting and Batum’s overall improvement offensively, the two wing players had many inefficient outings during the second half of the season. More consistent performances will be necessary for the team to continue to succeed.
Slow starts were something that the Blazers had to deal with somewhat often last year. Although watching the explosive, young team chip away at large deficits is entertaining television, climbing mountains of points is not a sustainable practice. Such a lack of focus is not uncommon for young teams, but Portland will need to curb that habit to keep up in such a competitive conference.
Despite occasional episodes of energy and cohesion on the defensive end, Portland’s overall team defense left much to be desired last year. While Batum and Matthews are terrific individual perimeter defenders, the team’s shortcomings in regards to rotations and containment were easily exploited by well-coached offenses. Coach Terry Stotts should make defensive improvement a top priority for next season.
The Trail Blazers had the 30th ranked bench last season and a short list of viable substitutes caused problems. Much of last season’s success could be attributed to the starters’ exceptional health throughout the season, limiting the the need to integrate bench players. However, regardless of health, coach Stotts will need a deeper arsenal of trustworthy role players in order for Portland to navigate the treacherous Western Conference.
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