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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 4. Portland Trailblazers

Overall Win/Loss Record :  54-28 , second place Northwest Division

2014/2015 Projection: 50-32, first place Northwest Division, fourth place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 106.7 (4th)
  • Points Allowed: 102.4(22nd)
  • Team FG%: .450 (15th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .451 (11th)
  • Team FT%: .815 (1st)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .372 (10th)
  • Rebounds per game: 46.4 (1st)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.5 (22nd)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.3 (7th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 11.6 (30th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): LaMarcus Aldridge (23.2)
  • Rebounds per game:   LaMarcus Aldridge (11.1)
  • Minutes per game:   LaMarcus Aldridge (36.2)
  • Assists per game:   Damian Lillard (5.6)
  • Field Goal Percentage:  Robin Lopez (.489)
  • Free Throw Percentage Damian Lillard (.870)
  • Three Point FG Percentage:  Damian Lillard (.394)
  • Steals per game: Wesley Matthews (0.9)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Robin Lopez (1.7)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

  • Damian Lillard (PG)
  • Wesley Johnson (SG)
  • Nicolas Batum (SF)
  • LaMarcus Aldridge (PF)
  • Robin Lopez (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

It has been more than twenty years since fans of Rip City have witnessed their beloved team reach as far as the NBA Finals; however, since then they have had to settle with mediocrity for the next two decades or so.  There would be periods where the Blazers would reach the playoffs, but their post season stay would be short lived as they would often be quickly eliminated early leaving Blazer fans once again disillusioned that they would ever see championship glory ever.  In fact, since 1992, the Blazers would only advance past the first round of the playoffs just three times--twice they made the Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000 and just last season when they reached the Conference Semi-Finals only to be eliminated by the +San Antonio Spurs.  Now after all the heartbreak and disappointment, Blazer fans can now finally feel a sense of hope and excitement as now they finally have a team with the potential to not only return to the NBA Finals, but may also possibly win its first NBA Title since  they won its first and only in 1977.  And that was thanks to not only an impressive post season performance which saw Portland pass the first round for the first time in fourteen years, but also a splendid off season where the team's front office added the necessary pieces to turn the turn from a mere playoff contender to potential championship spoiler in the Western Conference.

The Blazers already had one of the most solid starting fives in the league consisting of two NBA All Stars and a trio of talented and athletic complementary players to not only enhanced their teammates' strengths, but also compensated for their weaknesses.  Robin Lopez, who came over in a trade with the one time New Orleans Hornets provided much needed defensive presence in the paint along with rebounding to pair alongside Lamarcus Aldrdge's already impressive offensive production. All Star and 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard's partner in the backcourt, Wesley Matthews gave the team a third scoring option who could be counted on hitting clutch shots, especially from beyond the arc.  Last but certainly not the least, there was Nicolas Batum--a virtual "Jack of all Trades" that provided the team with strong defense on the perimeter as well as a second ball handler on the offensive end to help take the pressure off Lillard in facilitating ball movement.  Unfortunately, save for the team's starting five there was not much else as their bench consisted of inconsistent and unreliable players who forced coach Terry Stotts to overplay his starters resulting in them wearing down late in the season; however, that all changed when the team's front office set out to fill in those gaps that had hampered the team last season.

Their first acquisition was an eleven year veteran big man who earned two All Star selections, but whose problems with injuries over the last four years have rendered him no longer as a viable starting center, but can certainly be an excellent supporting role play in this stage of his NBA career.  Chris Kaman's career as a professional basketball players can be considered as quite rocky playing phenomenally one season while following it up with a less than impressive offering the next season as his numbers would bounce up and down from one season to the next.  Nevertheless, he does provide the Blazers with a rather skilled center to back up both LaMarcus and Lopez providing both scoring, rebounding and a strong physical presence on both ends of the floor. Kaman not only brings the team a career average of 12.0 points, 8 rebounds, and one block per game, but provides their developing core of young bigs--Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland--the perfect mentor to learn from.  Altogether a tandem of Aldridge, Lopez, Kaman, Robinson, Leonard and Freeland quite possibly the deepest, biggest, strongest, and most talented front court in the league coming into this season.

To go along with significantly strengthening their front court with enough beef to clog the paint and pulverize their opponents, the Blazers' front office also went about shoring up its back court by signing a familiar face whose wealth of knowledge and experience will definitely enhance the already dominant superstar presence that Lillard provides at the point.  For the past eleven years, Steve Blake has provided a solid presence coming off the bench as not only an excellent passer and facilitator, but also as a clutch scorer coming through late in games for the seven teams he has played for.  Blake can arguably be considered as one of the league's best backup point guards with career averages of seven points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal per game in just under 25 minutes of playing time; however, at 34 years old, he probably will no longer able to log up a significant amount of minutes and that will be just fine for this Blazers team.  With an All Star in Lillard and a talented young up and comer in CJ McCollum, Blake can not only provide stability on the court while Lillard rests for a spell, but provide the Blazers with a consistent producer to allow McCollum to develop at his own pace.  Put him, Kaman, and all the returning second unit players, the Portland Trailblazers will certainly have not only the deepest and most talent roster, but also the most balanced as the Blazers are essentially two players deep in all five positions.

A roster such as this one will certainly catapult Portland to the upper echelon of the Western Conference despite it being not only the toughest, but also the tightest of the two with it only having essentially two available playoff spots not spoken for; however, Portland does not have to worry about that since they will be among the top three or four teams in the West anyways. Unfortunately, despite the upgraded roster and the high projections, the Blazers will not be going anywhere past the first round of the playoffs unless their shore up their defense which allowed their opponents to shoot a shade better than they did and finished last in the league in opponents' turnovers per game.  The addition of Kaman certainly will aid in bringing down those shooting numbers with his ability to protect the rim combined with that of Lopez's, but with such a wealth of quick and athletic wings such as Lillard, Batum, and Matthews, the Blazers need to step up and show that they can also put pressure on opposing ball handlers forcing them to lose possession of the ball.  Nonetheless, this will be a more interesting year for Blazer fans as they will finally have something to look forward to after all the past disappointing post season finishes they have had to endure for the past forty years.  Although there is no guarantee that they will reach the finals, at least this Blazers team will certainly give the top teams of the West a run for their money and no longer force their fans to watch them languish in mediocrity.  

It certainly has been a long time coming for Rip City hoops fans after watching their team flounder for the past twenty years as a mix of poor personnel choices, bad draft picks and just rotten luck simply kept it stuck spinning in its tires going nowhere.  Now the Blazers have finally pulled themselves out of that rut and look to finally take that next step from being simply an average team that would make the playoffs simply to be quickly eliminated the moment they step onto the court to the top tier team that they once were in the last eighties and early nineties. It seemed as if Portland fans have waited an eternity for this day to happen as most had probably already given up any hope that they would ever see their home team return to the NBA Finals; but now, with their team coming into the season with the best roster they had ever seen in recent memory, it is time to dust off the old banners and welcome back this new era in Portland basketball.  So enjoy the moment, Blazers fans, as your team finally has moved from being in the middle of the pack and returned to the top of the mountain because you deserve it after all those years of suffering.