The Portland Trail Blazers are a team with a bright future in the Western Conference. With veteran power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and young point guard Damian Lillard as building blocks, the franchise is in good hands for the foreseeable future. Last season started out relatively well, going 20-15 throughout the first 35 games. However, they wore down over the remaining part of year, losing the final thirteen games to finish a disappointing 33-49. The biggest reason for this collapse was the terrible play from the bench. The second unit averaged a historically poor 18.5 points per game, leading to the five starters being overplayed and tired. This off-season the front office went to work, adding players that could turn this team around. Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Allen Crabbe, and Thomas Robinson were brought in to complement the very good starting five, and it looks on paper that general manager Neil Olshey found the players needed to push for a playoff berth.
The additions of Williams, McCollum, Wright, and Crabbe look to round out the back-court very well. Lillard was overused last year, even with his great play. He just couldn’t last throughout the entire 82 game season playing 38 minutes per game. There was no proven point guard behind him that the coaches could trust to take some of the pressure off of him. With the veteran presence of Mo Williams, the Blazers have exactly what they needed. He can run a team, despite his problem with turnovers, and has a proven track record as a scorer. C.J. McCollum is an interesting rookie scorer for the Blazers. While in college at Lehigh he showed that he can put points up against quality opponents like Duke and lead his team to a victory. He is another player with great turnover difficulties, but with Lillard and Williams handling the vast majority of the ball handling duties, he will be able to score and not worry about being a distributor during his rookie season. Eventually he could transition into being a point guard, but that will take some time. Dorell Wright gives them an athlete that can also shoot the three with some defensive abilities as well. Crabbe is another rookie the team brought in to shoot the three, something that he has shown at a high collegiate level.
With those talented players filling in the holes the team had on the perimeter last season, a player like Thomas Robinson will need to step up and help the team in the front-court to take some of the pressure off of LaMarcus Aldridge. Offensively, Robinson has some work to do to be a consistent scorer at the professional level. At Kansas he was able to bully his way to the block and use his strength and great athleticism to put the ball in the basket. He is not the type of player that will be able to do that in the NBA however. He needs to round out his game in the post to be the player the Blazers need him to be on this end of the floor. At Kansas he found a right handed hook that was effective for him, but he needs to work on varying his moves and becoming more comfortable on the block. His work ethic leaves little doubt that he will be able to do just that. During his final season at Kansas, Robinson had a well documented tough time in his personal life. His mother, grandmother, and grandfather all passed away in a three week period, and Robinson battled through his emotions and played very well the rest of the season, leading to the Big 12 Player of the Year award. A person with that kind of mental fortitude is someone that cannot be denied what he wants.
Even though he may not be the polished offensive post player that the Blazers could really use, his effort helps to make up for his lack of polish. He battles for rebounds and put-backs, and his aggression leads to plenty of free throws. Despite not having that well rounded post game he can shoot the ball relatively well. The Blazers have relied on LaMarcus Aldridge to be the one and only option from the post for them for way too long. The time has come to find a counter to his mid to high post game, and Robinson has a great chance to be that player.
Defensively, he is potentially a great player. His aggression, athleticism, and strength make for a great combination when it comes to rebounding, and a great wingspan at 7’ 1’’ gives him the ability to grab misses out of his area. With the loss of J.J. Hickson to the Denver Nuggets, the Blazers will be looking to Robinson and fellow new addition Robin Lopez to carry a large part of the rebounding load. His length also helps when it comes to keeping opposing players in front of him. With all positions on the floor getting quicker, Robinson will be able to keep up with the new breed of power forwards in the league. He is not afraid to wrestle and bang with bigs on the block as well, and does a great job of keeping them off their spot. While he may not be a rim protector, he is capable blocking shots and making opposing guards think twice when driving into the paint when he is on the floor. The loss of Hickson may not seem like a huge one, but he was the best defensive post player the Blazers had. Robinson will need to put his incredible physical talents to use and replace his production. LaMarcus Aldridge may be a great offensive player, but he is not an intimidating presence on the defensive end.
Thanks to some of the playoff teams in the Western Conference from last season falling back towards the main pack, at least on paper, the Blazers have a chance to challenge for one of the eight Playoff spots this year. With a solid starting five and the attention the bench saw this off-season, there is legitimate reason for optimism in the City of Roses. If Thomas Robinson can overcome whatever reasons two other teams saw to trade him, they have a potential All-Star caliber player on their bench and someone that could help push this team into the post-season for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.