The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the most intriguing teams heading into the 2013-14 NBA season. They have made a few roster moves this off-season that could pay off, and have two younger star players as well. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard had big seasons last year, and have sparked excitement into the fans in Portland coming off of two back-to-back rough seasons.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been the go-to guy in Portland for the last six seasons, and is coming off a big year in which he averaged 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He’s the complete package with a great low-post game as well as the ability to step out and consistently knock down the mid-range jumper. There were rumors swirling this past off-season that he was unhappy with Portland and had demanded a trade, but he shot those rumors down himself. There is reason to believe that he would have been happy had the Blazers stood pat and not made moves to improve their roster this past off-season, but that certainly was not the case.
One of the most exciting young point guards in the NBA right now is Damian Lillard. There are high expectations for him heading into his second NBA season, and rightfully so. He’s coming off of a rookie campaign in which he registered averages of 19.0 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game, and showed the Trail Blazers that he has serious “star” potential. He’s explosive to the rim and has incredible athleticism. He has drawn comparisons to both Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, and the hype surrounding him is at a similar level that the other two had heading into their second seasons as well. Only time will tell, but Lillard has all the makings of a future superstar.
There are other talented players that the Blazers will be depending on this season as well. One player that will have to step up alongside of Aldridge and Lillard, is Nicolas Batum. Batum is coming off of a fairly solid season, averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game last year. The main area of concern for Batum is his consistency. He’ll have a major role this season, and is my pick to be their X-Factor.
Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum are two guards who will both have roles this year in Portland. Williams was signed following a good year last season with the Utah Jazz. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists per game last year, despite missing a large chunk of the season due to injury. McCollum was the Blazers’ 10th overall draft pick in this years NBA Draft, and is expected to come in and add to Portland’s bench scoring. He averaged 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game during his Senior year with Lehigh last season.
The rest of the Portland roster has talent mixed into it, including players like Meyers Leonard, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Thomas Robinson, and Dorell Wright. Lopez was acquired from New Orleans this past off-season, and is expected to compete for the starting center job. He’s a great rebounder and an aggressive defender, and can score from the low-post as well. Matthews and Wright will be primarily outside shooters to help spread the floor, and should get multiple good looks per night. Thomas Robinson is the addition that is the most intriguing by far. He was drafted 5th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, but hasn’t been able to stick with an NBA team so far. He was acquired by the Rockets at the trade deadline last year, and they shipped him to Portland this off-season. Playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge might be exactly what he needs to improve his craft and become the player that the Sacramento Kings saw when they drafted him with the 5th overall pick.
The question of whether or not Aldridge and Lillard can lead the Blazers to the Playoffs is a difficult question to answer. They have all the talent to make a run, but there are a lot of talented teams in the Western Conference as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what ends up happening, but there is absolutely no question that the one-two punch of Aldridge and Lillard is capable of leading Portland to the post-season.