Portland Trail Blazers: 10 Realistic Expectations for 2012-13
Injuries, an unexpected retirement and underperformance derailed the Portland Trail Blazers' 2011-12 season.
The Blazers hope to get back on track and force themselves into the playoff picture in 2012-13 with the help of two lottery picks. Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard will certainly be integral parts of any major success the Blazers hope to achieve in the upcoming NBA season.
This campaign looks to be an uphill battle for Portland, but the team is not completely devoid of talent. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and Damian Lillard could be the beginning to a very talented core, one capable of making multiple deep playoff runs.
Here are 10 realistic expectations you should have for the Trail Blazers this season.
Sorry, Rip City fans, but I have to start this slideshow on a negative note.
Portland's depth, or lack thereof, concerns me greatly.
A starting five of Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge and whomever Portland starts at the post opposite Aldridge is a reasonable and even good lineup. But a quick perusal of the bench reveals what essentially amounts to a bunch of warm bodies.
Luke Babbitt has shown some promise, but his ceiling seems relatively low. Victor Claver is a new addition to the team this year, but he hasn't even logged a single NBA minute as of yet. And do the names Nolan Smith, Ronnie Price, Jared Jeffries or Will Barton get you excited? Me neither.
Expect Portland's depth to come back to haunt them when the injury bug bites and when starters need rest.
Teams Calling for LaMarcus Aldridge
Relax, Portland fans. I'm not saying Portland is going to deal LaMarcus Aldridge for 75 cents on the dollar.
However, I think if Portland struggles and Aldridge voices anything that even remotely resembles negativity about his current situation, it would cause a chain reaction that would lead to the phone in Portland's front office getting more rings than Sonic the Hedgehog.
The Utah Jazz were in a similar situation with Deron Williams, in that a small-market star was somewhat unhappy, and Utah got the biggest haul for its star player arguably because they traded him so suddenly and without any media types catching wind of it first.
This logic could lead Portland to shop Aldridge quietly if the Blazers start out poorly.
Damian Lillard Will Be a Rookie of the Year Contender
Judging by the way Damian Lillard looked in NBA Summer League competition this year and how easily he carved up my alma mater, Idaho State University, when he was at Weber State, I would be quite shocked if Lillard didn't finish within the top three in NBA Rookie of the Year Award voting.
While top pick Anthony Davis may be the preseason favorite for the award, I think Lillard has a better skill set and more opportunity.
Lillard also has a few things going for him, namely opportunity and statistics.
It wouldn't be considered a bad season for Davis at all if he averaged somewhere around 12 points and 10 rebounds a game as a rookie. But if Lillard shoots the lights out, as he's fully capable of doing, and averages 18 points and eight assists per game, he'd probably be the favorite over Davis for ROY honors.
6-8 Game Win Increase
You have to at least admire my effort to put a positive spin on things.
Rather than saying Portland will again be about 10 games under .500 at the close of the season, I'm instead pointing out that Portland should win six-to-eight more games than it did last year.
Sure, it's because last year was a shortened season, but still...more wins! Yay!
Of course, this could all change if Portland swings a deal and acquires a legitimate center and/or significantly improves its depth, but unfortunately those scenarios can't be realistically expected.
A Return to the Lottery
I'm not going to sugarcoat this, Blazers fans.
I don't see any scenario in which the Trail Blazers make the playoffs. I'm sorry.
It's not you; it's mainly due to a stacked Western Conference that will have very talented teams fighting tooth and nail even to get in. There will most likely be at least two playoff-caliber teams that miss out on the postseason altogether.
But hey, that's why they play the game, right?
Plus, if the Trail Blazers do significantly better than I'm predicting and cruise easily into the playoffs, you can bookmark this article and tell me what an idiot I am. So you at least have that!
Bounce-Back Season for Wesley Matthews
It's not news to Trail Blazers fans that Wesley Matthews was a bit of a disappointment last season.
Matthews' shooting percentage from the field was a career low (41 percent), and he was often criticized for settling for outside shots instead of being aggressive and taking it to the hole.
He has proven himself to be resilient in the past. An undrafted free agent out of Marquette, Matthews ended up going from not even being selected in the 2009 NBA draft to the starting lineup for the Utah Jazz in a very short period of time.
The Blazers then lured him away from Utah by offering Matthews a fairly risky contract, which Utah chose not to match.
Maybe it was the increased expectations or maybe Matthews struggled with his confidence, but I feel confident that Matthews' track record of dealing with adversity exceptionally well will get him back on track and position him for a career year in 2012-13.
Joel Przybilla Will Be Missed
Joel Przybilla isn't exactly a franchise center in the NBA, but he will certainly be missed by the Trail Blazers, especially early on in the season.
Przybilla's departure to Milwaukee leaves Portland with only Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland and Jared Jeffries to play the center position.
Leonard certainly has a lot of promise, as he was a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA draft, but the projected starter at center is certain to have plenty of growing pains as he gets his feet wet.
Joel Freeland is an import from Great Britain that has plenty of upside but has yet to log a single minute in the NBA. Freeland showed plenty of promise representing his home country in the London 2012 Olympics, but it's very hard to know if that will translate to NBA production.
Finally, Jared Jeffries will provide some depth at the position, but he's still Jared Jeffries.
Terry Stotts Will Prove to Be a Good Hire
Terry Stotts definitely has an uphill battle to dramatically improve the Trail Blazers in a short period of time.
With that said, I think he'll do a more-than-adequate job of at least getting the Trail Blazers pointed in the right direction, even if it doesn't equate to a trip to the postseason in 2013.
Stotts should be able to reach his players and extract the most talent, effort and production out of them on a nightly basis. Stotts' job is made easier by the fact that the days of the Jail Blazers have long since concluded and that he has no personalities on the roster that are too difficult to deal with, with the possible exception of the sometimes-sulky and occasionally arm-swinging forward Nicolas Batum.
J.J. Hickson Will Prove to Have Been a Steal
The Sacramento Kings' head-scratching decision to waive J.J. Hickson last season will continue to bear fruit for a Portland team smart enough to claim him off waivers.
In 19 games for Portland last season, Hickson averaged 15 points and eight rebounds and shot 54 percent from the field. Hickson also played significant minutes (31 a game) and started in 10 of the 19 games for which he was with the Trail Blazers last season.
With Portland's post depth significantly lacking, Hickson will prove to be a much more valuable commodity than what can normally be plucked from the scrap heap.
Luke Babbitt Will Improve His Shooting Numbers
The most interesting statistic I came across while researching the Trail Blazers was that Luke Babbitt shot a higher percentage from behind the arc (43 percent) than from the field (41 percent) last year.
In addition to the impressive three-point percentage, Babbitt is a great free-throw shooter, making 85 percent of his freebies.
His proficiency from the charity stripe and from downtown makes his low field-goal percentage somewhat puzzling.
Logic seems to dictate that his shooting numbers from the field should only increase. As Babbitt logs more NBA playing time, his shot selection should improve, which could go a very long way to boosting Babbitt's shooting numbers.
Don't be surprised if Babbitt shoots much closer to 50 percent than 40 percent from the field in 2012-13.