Portland Trail Blazers: What to Look for in Preseason Finale Against Jazz

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Portland Trail Blazers: What to Look for in Preseason Finale Against Jazz
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Damian Lillard has provided the Blazers stability at the point-guard position heading into his rookie year.

The Portland Trail Blazers finish their preseason schedule on Thursday, when they visit the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena at 6 p.m. PT.

The Trail Blazers are 3-3 in the preseason after Monday's impressive 120-114 victory over the Jazz at the Rose Garden.

Portland didn't score 120 points in a game all of last season.

Blazer fans know the emergence of point guard Damian Lillard. All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge looks like he's in midseason form as he enters his second year as the franchise player.

There are, however, several other storylines to follow with the regular season fast approaching on Halloween night, when they host the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

Nicolas Batum's continued emergence

Batum had his breakout game Monday against Utah with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-8 from the three-point line.

The France native showed versatility in his game, shooting off the dribble, driving to the hoop and curling off screens to open up opportunities to score. Batum is averaging 14.2 points and 2.3 assists—each would be career-highs if he kept it up.

He got the big contract this past summer. His numbers have improved each season.

If he can average 15 points, six rebounds and four assists per game, that would go a long way toward the 23-year-old's development into a legit No. 3 option behind Aldridge and Lillard.

 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Coby Karl has played well the past couple games to earn a second look for a roster spot.

Who's the backup point guard?

Nolan Smith was a first-round pick a year ago, but he seems to be falling out of favor after logging zero minutes on Monday (via Joe Freeman of The Oregonian).

Ronnie Price was brought in as a free agent to provide stability, but he is dealing with an ankle injury.

The one surprise is training camp invitee Coby Karl, the son of head coach George Karl. Karl has logged the backup point guard minutes behind Lillard and has looked impressive in running the team the past couple games.

He has certainly deserved a second look, but with the Blazers' roster at 15, one player would need to be cut.

The one player in jeopardy could be Sasha Pavlovic.

 

Improvement offensively

Fans were heavily critical of former coach Nate McMillan's offense.

It was too stagnant. It was too predictable. It wasn't exciting.

We all heard those cries.

In came head coach Terry Stotts, who was known as an offensive guru (via Jason Quick of The Oregonian). I think fans would agree, the offense so far has improved dramatically compared to the last few years.

The Blazers shot 80 percent in the first quarter on Monday and about 70 percent in the first half. Players are allowed to free flow within the offense with movement off the ball, which was missed uner McMillan's more structured sets.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Terry Stotts has provided a more free-flowing offense to the Blazers.

While those shooting percentages won't last all season, a quicker tempo will yield some more exciting plays and games this year.

The Blazers have always been a great home team, with one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA, as they play with energy and enthusiasm.

The big question, like always, is if that can be translated on the road.

 

Backup bigs

The Blazers bench has been much maligned.

Do they even have any depth?

Jared Jeffries, Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland have provided quality minutes behind the starters Aldridge and J.J. Hickson.

Leonard and Freeland, first-year pros in the NBA, have shown flashes of brilliance.

Leonard is an athletic big man, who can run the floor and block shots, while Freeland is not afraid of contact down low and can even hit the outside jumper.

Their development to provide depth along the frontline will be huge toward the team's success.

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