Portland Trail Blazers: Top 5 Contributors for 2012-13 NBA Season
With the Portland Trail Blazers roster looking pretty much like it will at the start of training camp, now seems like a good time to take a look at which players will be having the greatest impact next season.
On a team like this, with so many new faces and young players, they will stumble and have their fair share of ups and downs.
To achieve something more than what people expect of them, they will need some surprising contributions from unlikely sources, as well as increased production from established veterans.
Here's a quick look at who the top five contributors for this team will be over the course of the upcoming season.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Of course, this is no surprise. LaMarcus Aldridge is the unquestioned leader of these Blazers now, and much of the success they do or don't achieve this season rests squarely on his shoulders.
With him at his peak, the may still contend for a playoff spot. As we saw at the end of last season, they are near the bottom of the conference without him.
This year looks like the year when Aldridge can finally earn the recognition he deserves while achieving his full potential along the way. If he leads the team into contention again, he could be in the discussion as a possible MVP candidate.
2. Nicolas Batum
The Blazers' newly-minted $45 million man now needs to make good on the promise he has shown us all in glimpses over the past few seasons.
With Brandon Roy and Greg Oden long gone and Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford all playing elsewhere, Batum will now be the clear second option on a team that sorely lacked one for much of last season.
The reality is that Batum's most important qualities in the past, his floor spacing and his occasionally stellar defense, will continue to be needed. In addition, he needs to become a true lockdown defender that is so valuable to a team and should be counted on more as a cutter to the rim for easy buckets.
He could easily be in contention for an All-NBA Team, as well as a potential candidate for Most Improved Player, if he gives it his best this season.
3. Damian Lillard
Whatever happens with Damian Lillard this season, it seems safe to say that he will be an upgrade over what Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford gave them at the position last season. In fact, the easiest thing Lillard ever does in the NBA may be to fill those small shoes.
Lillard is going to be given the keys to the team from day one because, as the team's No. 6 pick in the lottery this year, he is expected to develop quickly into an All-Star caliber point guard. It probably won't happen right away.
However, he is going to have a significant impact on Portland's season, for good and, at times, for bad. It comes with being a rookie. Lillard has already shown himself to be a competent scorer, but it may be as a pick-and-roll partner with LaMarcus Aldridge where he really comes to stand out.
With the opportunities and playing time he will get this season, look for Lillard to be in contention late as a Rookie of the Year candidate.
4. Wesley Matthews
Yes, Wesley Matthews had a disappointing third year in the NBA, but I don't that is indicative of the way the rest of his career is going to play out.
Matthews has already shown himself to be a very good shooter, especially when he is playing alongside a competent point guard who knows what he's doing. Matthews' percentages might be lower as the season starts out, but I expect him to come on strong after the All Star break.
The one wrinkle here is that no one really knows if he will be the shooting guard of the future for Portland. Elliot Williams has tons of potential but is too injury-prone, while Will Barton also looks like he could compete for starters' minutes someday.
Matthews should get the bulk of the time this year, but if his regression from last season somehow continues, look for the others to get a shot the following year.
5. J J Hickson
This last spot might seem unlikely for a guy like Hickson, who hasn't really done anything relevant in the NBA over the past couple of seasons.
However, Hickson looks like the classic case of a guy stuck in a bad situation. It might be worth mentioning that Sacramento has been a bad destination for every player who has ended up there lately.
Once upon a time, he was supposed to be a building block with which the Cleveland Cavaliers were building a champion nucleus for LeBron James. A bad season sent him packing, and the Blazers were fortunate enough to grab him for very little off waivers last season.
He's not a starter, as some originally thought, but looks like the solid backup forward that the Blazers have been seeking for some time. Look for him to have a big impact playing primarily against the second units of other teams this year.