Projected Record: 50-32 (4th in West)
Head coach: Terry Stotts
2013-14 record: 54-28
2013-14 ORtg: 108.3 (5th)
2013-14 DRtg: 104.7 (16th)
Players in: Steve Blake, Chris Kaman, James Southerland, Diante Garrett
Players out: Mo Williams, Earl Watson
Projected Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez
In one storybook season, the Portland Trail Blazers went from bottom-dwellers in the Western Conference to a championship contender. Although they fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Trail Blazers had officially arrived. Sure, it helps having two stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard at the forefront, but a supporting cast that can perform specific roles on a nightly basis is just as important too.
Wesley Matthews, rising scorer, Nicolas Batum, versatile wing, and Robin Lopez, inside man, play good basketball together and developed good chemistry alongside Lillard and Aldridge. Their starting five finished the season with a winning percentage of .667 and a plus/minus of 211. With the recent offseason acquisitions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, Portland’s production from the bench should improve. Last season, Portland’s bench averaged 23.6 points per game, the lowest in the league.
Much of the Trail Blazers’ success last season relied on their ability to execute their offense at an efficient rate. Head coach Terry Stotts, an apprentice of veteran head coaches George Karl and Rick Carlisle, implemented the ‘flow’ offense, a steady motion of off-ball screens that leads to cuts and open shots. It is a component of team basketball and the philosophy helped the Dallas Mavericks win a championship in 2011, in which Stotts served as an assistant coach under Carlisle.
Just as Dirk Nowitzki flourished under the system, so has LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge had a breakout season in 2014, finishing as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. The development of his mid-range jump shot, especially from the left and right block, helped elevate his game to another level. Double-team coverage from opponents often resulted in perimeter opportunities for Matthews and Batum. Matthews connected on 37 field goals assisted by Aldridge and Batum connected on 58 field goals from Aldridge.
Entering his third season in the league, Damian Lillard is set for a breakout year. During his first playoff run, Lillard stunned the Houston Rockets with a game-winning, series-clinching, three point shot that electrified the city of Portland and put his name into the mix as one of the best point guards in the league. His ability to attack the rim and mix up the defense with his ball handling, passing, and shooting make him a constant threat on offense.
It will take more than the ‘one-two-punch’ of Aldridge and Lillard for Portland to climb the standings and finish as the number one seed in the West. Portland finished the season with a defensive rating of 107.4 and gave up 102.8 points per game which ranked 22nd in the league.
Last season, no one saw the Trail Blazers coming, and that’s what made their run special. This season, expectations will be high as they look to remain one of the most elite teams in the West.
Expect the Trail Blazers to finish among the top five teams in the Western Conference as they aspire for a championship.