Portland Trail Blazers: Stat Projections for the Starting Unit
After a disappointing season for the Portland Trail Blazers in which the team struggled through insubordination, lost long-time coach Nate McMillan and ultimately fell far short of the playoffs, the Blazers are ready to get back on track with a revamped roster featuring two lottery picks and a healthy cluster of young players looking to make their mark.
With such a different roster from the start of the season a year ago, it's difficult to predict how well players will perform in the coming season. However, that is exactly what I will now attempt to do.
Due to the imprecise and tricky nature of predicting statistical production from human beings, I chose to use decimals only to a half-point degree, as the purpose of the article is more to predict general production than to accomplish the unlikely task of perfectly predicting a player's stats.
Furthermore, if a player produces at such a low rate in any statistical category that his average is likely to fall below 0.5 per game, I will not include the stat to spare you the pointless and tiring argument over whether Will Barton will average 0.2 or 0.4 blocks per game.
Point Guard: Damian Lillard
Projected 2012-13 Stats: 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 43% field goal, 39% three-point, 89% free throw in 34.0 minutes per game.
Of all the talented rookies in the deep 2012 draft class, no player poses as much of a challenge to Anthony Davis for Rookie of the Year as Damian Lillard.
Lillard carried some questions marks coming into the draft, mainly due to spending his college career at the not-so-well-known Weber State, but put any doubts to rest with a dominant summer league performance in which he averaged 26.5 points and took home MVP honors.
Lillard should start from day one for the Blazers, and this confident stud doesn't appear subject to too many growing pains. Lillard has drawn comparisons to Derrick Rose for both his physique and finishing ability, and it seems likely Lillard could produce at a similar level to how Rose did during his rookie season in 2009.
Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews
Projected 2012-13 Stats: 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 44% field goal, 41% three-point, 87% free throw in 33.5 MPG.
Wesley Matthews doesn't have a lot of upside, but what he lacks in potential he makes up for in athleticism, grit and sweet shooting.
Matthews bounced in and out of the starting lineup last season whilst competing for minutes with Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum. However, with the former now in Clipperland and the latter firmly entrenched in the small forward role, Matthews should once again reclaim his starting spot for the 2012-13 season.
Matthews' scoring won't increase by any huge margin next season, but his all around game will continue to develop while his three-pointers continue to drop in at a deadly clip. The addition of Lillard should open up even more space for Matthews as a shooter, as the athletic rookie's aggressive drives into the lane should free up Matthews for open threes off kick outs.
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
Projected 2012-13 Stats: 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 47% field goal, 38% three-point, 84% free throw in 35.5 minutes per game.
Through his first four NBA seasons, Nicolas Batum has been known for his potential. Scouts around the league raved about Batum's upside, and consequently his name was frequently present in trade rumors. But while Batum has progressed nicely since his rookie season in 2009, he still has yet to live up to his star potential, and a big reason for that may be the offense that had been run in Portland up until Nate McMillan's departure.
Fortunately, new coach Terry Stotts, known as an offensive guru, should bring a more fast-paced, free-flowing offense to Portland, and no player will benefit from this more than Batum. Batum scored at a decent clip in his first few seasons with Portland, but often had his offensive role limited to standing in the corner and waiting for an open three-pointer. Batum is undoubtedly a threat from long range, but where he truly thrives is in slashing to the hoop, where he can use his length to finish over taller defenders or pull up for an easy jump shot. Batum is also deadly in transition, and given the chance to run the fast break with Lillard and Matthews, he will become even more respected around the league.
Expect career highs from Batum in almost every category.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Projected 2012-13 Stats: 22.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals, 51% field goal, 21% three-point, 82% free throw in 37.0 minutes per game.
After earning his first All-Star appearance last season, Aldridge should continue to put up great numbers next season as the leader of the Blazers. Aldridge will benefit from Lillard's presence, as Lillard commands much greater attention than his predecessors Andre Miller and Raymond Felton, and Lillard's outside shooting ability should keep defenders from sagging down to the post to double team Aldridge.
Aldridge's rebounding numbers have been good but not great in past seasons, and expect him to put in more effort on the boards this season without board-eater Marcus Camby around to help him out.
Center: Joel Freeland
Projected 2012-13 Stats: 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.5 steals, 48% field goal, 24% three-point, 80% free throw in 21.0 minutes per game.
The center position is the most difficult one to predict for the Blazers, as there is no telling for sure which player will land the starting spot in the middle. With J.J. Hickson and rookies Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland all in the running, the Blazers certainly have options, but no clear player who stands out as best.
However, as I argued in a recent article, I expect the more experienced Freeland to get the starting nod at the beginning of the season, though Leonard looks like a potential stud down the line.
Even if he starts, though, Freeland likely won't get huge minutes right away. Freeland, Leonard and Hickson should split the minutes at center and backing up Aldridge fairly evenly, and it's hard to see any one of them putting up great numbers next season.
Freeland is a tough player who combines a banger mentality with a sweet mid-ranged stroke. He should score at a solid clip, while pulling down a good sum of rebounds and chipping in a rare three-pointer or two.