Portland Trail Blazers: 5 Reasons They Can Make the NBA Playoffs This Season
Not much is expected from the Trail Blazers. The once projected Big 3 of the franchise that included Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge is history, leaving fans with several thoughts of what-could-have-been.
A Bleacher Report column cited the five reasons the Blazers will not make the playoffs, but there is still cause for optimism for the upcoming year. Even in an always competitive Western Conference, it's not far-fetched to think the Blazers can still make the postseason.
Here are five reasons the Blazers can, indeed, qualify for the Top 8 in the West.
Centerpiece: LaMarcus Aldridge
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The NBA is a league revolved around superstars. If you don't have one, you're not going to win, and you become the Charlotte Bobcats with a 7-59 record.
The Trail Blazers have their building block with LaMarcus Aldridge. Of the 12 All-Stars on the West squad last season, only two missed the playoffs—Aldridge and Kevin Love.
Aldridge has cemented himself as one of the top players in the league. He averaged career-highs in field-goal percentage (51.2), free-throw percentage (81.4) and assists (2.4) this past season. The University of Texas product also was near his career highs in points (21.7) and rebounds (8.0).
"Man LaMarcus Aldridge aka LA got so much game!! Smooth out there."
Teams need a building block, and Aldridge certainly is one in the NBA.
Rookie of the Year Candidate: Damian Lillard
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There hasn't been as much buzz around a rookie guard in Portland since probably Brandon Roy. Damian Lillard is already a fan favorite and an early Rookie of the Year candidate.
The point guard out of Weber State couldn't have began his career any better, being named co-MVP of the NBA summer league in Las Vegas with Memphis' Josh Selby. He averaged 26.5 points and 5.3 assists, and more impressively, showed an ability to take over late in games and the ability to create his own shot.
Having a scoring point guard in the league is a must-have with the rules today, similar to needing a dominant center in the '80s and '90s.
Lillard is much more mature than the average rookie, having played at Weber State for three seasons. At 22 years old, he has shown he's definitely ready to start in the NBA.
In an interview with Derek Page of Hoopsworld, Lillard already seems confident in the playoffs:
"It gives you a lot to look forward to just because Portland is a playoff team. The year before this past year, they were in the playoffs and had a good chance against Dallas. Had a down year due to injuries [in 2012] and was fortunate enough to get two lottery picks, and I believe this is a playoff team. Me and Meyers is coming in to pick it back up."
Solid Role Players
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The Trail Blazers' core surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard may be young, but there is talent, and they could surprise a lot people.
Here are the role players the Blazers will depend on.
Nicolas Batum: Normally, a player who signed for $46 million for over four years is not considered a role player, but Batum is poised to have a breakout season and show why he can be a solid No. 3 player on a playoff team. He has shown that capability with nine 3-pointers and 33 points against Denver in early February. He is also regarded as the team's best defender and one of the best in the league. The Blazers' success will largely hinge on his development.
J.J. Hickson: Hickson had a poor season in Sacramento, but emerged as a huge surprise when he was picked up by Portland off waivers. He averaged 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his stint with the Blazers. As a backup power forward to Aldridge, Hickson is as solid as as they come.
Wesley Matthews: Matthews can run hot or cold, but he is a very underrated worker. He can defend and score in bunches, and is a legitimate NBA starter.
Meyers Leonard: The rookie will have to grow up fast and could already be the team's best big man. He's athletic, can rebound and can block shots. Scoring won't be a top priority, but he may already be better than most NBA centers.
The wild cards are Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland. They have the talent and will receive every opportunity to succeed.
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The hiring of Terry Stotts was met with a huge "Huh?"
But looking further into the former Dallas assistant coach's resume, Blazers fans should be more and more excited about what he can bring.
One of the biggest complaints of former coach Nate McMillan's system was his lack of creativity offensively. Stotts, known to specialize in offense, will bring in varied schemes of scoring opportunities.
It will be a big storyline to watch for the Blazers. Stotts was instrumental in building Dallas' offense designed around Dirk Nowitzki, which eventually led to an NBA championship. Stotts has a big guy (LaMarcus Aldridge) to build the offense around, a point guard (Damian Lillard) and two wings (Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews).
No longer will the Blazers be a team that stands at the 3-point line around Aldridge and watch. The combination of Lillard and Aldridge in pick-and-rolls, and utilizing Batum as well as Matthews could bring a totally different dynamic on the court—one that could leave fans optimistic about a potential postseason berth.
2 Spots Available in the West
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Those last two playoff berths last season went to Dallas and Utah—two teams that could legitimately lose their spot in the postseason.
Dallas was reeling this offseason after watching Jason Kidd and Jason Terry bolt while its plan of signing Deron Williams failed. The Mavericks added Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo, but there are still questions whether those pieces will fit. They brought in talent but lost a ton of leadership.
Add in the Blazers' hiring of Terry Stotts—a coach who knows the ins and outs of Dallas—and it will be very interesting when these two teams match up.
Utah added Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye. However, the Jazz are not necessarily a lock to make the playoffs.
It's realistic to believe the Blazers can slip into one of those last two spots, but they will definitely need breakout seasons from a couple of role players and their young squad to mature quickly.