Portland Trail Blazers' Top Training Camp Storylines
The Portland Trail Blazers are entering a new and exciting chapter in this proud franchise's history.
No longer will this team tie it's future to the health of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Instead, they will enter this next step with a new point guard, a new center and a new sense of optimism.
Whether there is reason for that optimism relies on a few unsettled questions.
With less than a week left until the season opener against the Lakers, it is important to take a look at a few of those questions and what is known about their answers.
Obviously it will take time before all of the answers are known, but here are the top training camp storylines.
Can Damian Lillard Run This Team?
When last year's draft was approaching, Portland Trail Blazers' fans kept hearing the name Damian Lillard. The experts were saying how important it was for the team to draft Lillard, who was widely regarded as the best point guard in the class.
Casual fans responded to the clamor the way they should, with skepticism. Could this guy that nobody has heard of, from the school that nobody has heard of really lead this team?
Not much was known about Lillard other than the fact that he was an excellent shooter in college and that he was a scoring point guard that could get to the hoop.
A lot of folks wondered aloud whether or not Lillard's success at such a small school would translate to the next level.
Through the first five games of the preseason, Lillard has put those doubts to rest. He is in the top 10 in the league in scoring at 17 points per game and is averaging six assists and shooting nearly 41 percent from three-point range.
He looks comfortable running the team and has provided the club with the dimension of having a scoring threat from the point guard position, something they haven't had since Andre Miller left town.
That being said, there are still some points of concern. His turnover rate is pretty high (3.6 per game), and he will need some work on the defensive end, but overall the fans have got to be happy with what they are seeing from Lillard.
Can J.J. Hickson Effectively Start at Center?
Those fans that just picked up the newspaper and read that the team had decided to start J.J. Hickson at center to open the season might be thinking that coach Terry Stotts has taken leave of his senses.
Can a 6'9" traditional power forward really tangle down low with the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and the Lopez brothers?
When Portland brought in Hickson last year, he was somewhat damaged goods. A player that was viewed by most as the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he had an underwhelming career in the midwest and there were plenty of people that wondered if Hickson might be just another overrated prospect.
But once in Portland, Hickson flourished and averaged nearly a double-double while providing excellent interior scoring and rebounding.
With a rookie center that is certainly not ready for a starting role, Hickson seems like a natural fit for the center spot right now. He is physical, can rebound and score down low and gives the Blazers their first scoring center since the last decade.
He probably will get overpowered from time to time, but given the fact that the NBA no longer has an abundance of traditional centers, he likely will be okay on most nights and might provide the Blazers with an advantage.
Can Meyers Leonard Contribute This Year?
When Portland drafted Meyers Leonard this year in the lottery, the unanimous opinion was that it would take the big man some time to adapt to the big leagues.
No one imagined that Leonard would be this ill-equipped to hold his own on the big stage.
Sure, his scoring and rebounding numbers aren't bad. But he is committing over four fouls per game and is noticeably getting pushed around by bigger players.
True, it was a given that Leonard would take some time to develop. But thus far, he appears to be a long ways away from helping this team out on a regular basis.
Who Will Be the Primary Backup at Small Forward?
Portland had themselves a scare this past summer when Nic Batum flirted with leaving the team and signing with Minnesota.
Now while Batum is far from a superstar in this league, his departure would have been a disaster for Portland. This is a team that has been nurturing Batum for years with the hope that he would develop into a latter-day Scottie Pippen.
Obviously Batum still has a lot of development to do before his game reaches those kinds of heights, but the absence of him would have left this team in a terrible predicament at the small forward spot.
Luckily Batum stayed, so fans will never know just how bad it could have gotten. But Batum can't play all 48 minutes, so he is sure to have a backup at his position.
There are two guys on the roster that figure to take a stab at the backup job. Luke Babbitt is showing why Portland drafted him a few years ago, displaying the excellent range and length that the team was hoping for. But he still can't guard anyone and is perhaps the slowest guy on the team.
The "Draft the Stache" campaign may have fizzled a number of years ago, but the Blazers finally have Adam Morrison and are poised to give him a job. But he hasn't shown the ability to shoot so far this fall, and probably isn't going to get the gig.
Babbitt likely gets the job, but he really needs to start playing defense.
Is This Finally the Year That Nic Batum Becomes a Stud?
For years, the Blazers have waited for Nic Batum to become the next big thing at the small forward spot, and for good reason. Batum is long, athletic and can shoot and score in a number of ways.
So what's the problem?
For one thing, Batum has never shown the desire to consistently become a primary scorer. He was content to play in the shadow of Brandon Roy, Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldrdige.
But now that only Aldridge remains and the team has gotten younger, it is time for Batum to get going.
Batum will have plenty of opportunities to take the next step. Lillard will be looking to set up his teammates, Wesley Matthews will be focusing on defense and perimeter shooting and the front court will be solid. Batum could easily become the wildcard on this team, providing scoring on the perimeter.
Furthermore, Batum will be looking to justify his new contract. He is basically getting paid over $10 million per season despite not ever playing close to that monetary level.
Batum needs to get close to 18 points per game this year while still providing good defense.