Portland Trail Blazers: Why the Blazers Have the Most Balanced Starting Lineup
The Portland Trail Blazers are sitting at a modest 20-17 record, but that doesn't prevent them from having one of the best, most balanced starting lineups in the NBA. Although the team has a rather average bench, each member of the starting five are versatile and have skill sets that complement each other more than any other first-team unit in the NBA.
This slideshow will break down each member of the Blazers' starting lineup and illustrate how they combine to form the most balanced mix of players in the league.
PG: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is the undisputed favorite for Rookie of the Year thus far and already one of the best point guards in the NBA. It's not just his impressive stat line that catches everyone's attention, but in his first year as a pro, he has demonstrated that he is also one of the most complete point guards.
Lillard is the rare point guard that can pass, shoot, explode to the rim and play solid defense. The only other point guards that has as complete a skill set as Lillard is Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and arguably Russell Westbrook. That's definitely a nice group of players to be considered with.
He still has some flaws to amend such as making better decisions with the ball and improving his defensive rotations, but that's expected as a rookie point guard thrown into the starting lineup because of the Blazers' lack of options.
Lillard is already one of the most versatile point guards in the NBA, and as he improves through experience, he will be a top-five facilitator in the next few seasons.
SG: Wesley Matthews
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Wesley Matthews is one of the most underrated shooting guards in the league. At 6'5" 220 pounds, Matthews can defend, shoot and create off the dribble, three of the most important aspects that every shooting guard must have to be successful in the league.
His two best qualities are his shooting ability and his defense. He is certainly not as explosive as Kobe Bryant or James Harden, but he is arguably a better shooter than either of them—and on a team like the Blazers that lacks prominent floor-spreaders, Matthews is a perfect fit.
Matthews has been hitting his threes at an astounding 39.6 percent for his career, and nearly 41 percent this season. Besides his shooting ability, he is also one of the best defenders at his position and proved it the other day with his remarkable individual effort on LeBron James.
He's not like a Tony Allen or Thabo Sefolosha type of player who is primarily on the court to just do one thing, which is to defend the opposing team's best wing player—nor is he like a Kyle Korver or Steve Novak, whose main purpose is to shoot and spread the floor. He combines both of those attributes into one body.
Matthews has all the skills that every team would love to have at the 2, from his shooting touch to his defense to his hustle. Make no mistake, he is a top ten shooting guard in this league and probably the best team player at the position. Pretty good for an undrafted player wouldn't you say?
SF: Nicolas Batum
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Other than point guard, small forward is probably the most important position in the league to play right now. Some of the top players in the league such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony primarily play this position (although they do spend time at both forward spots).
Nicolas Batum is as versatile as any player in the league. He can shoot, pass, get to the rim, rebound, register steals, block shots and defend multiple positions.
Batum is the living model of the prototypical small forward in the league today. At 6'8" 200 pounds with long arms and high mobility, he presents mismatches on both ends of the floor.
He stuffs the stat sheet on a nightly basis, recording averages of 16.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks. Earlier in the season, he recorded the first 5x5 since 2006, which demonstrated his versatility at its finest.
He's not the type of player that a team would build their franchise around, but he is the player that every team needs to push themselves to the next level.
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
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LaMarcus Aldridge is the lone All-Star and undisputed best player on this talented Blazers' starting lineup. On top of that, he is a top three power forward in the league, but gets much less recognition for some reason.
Aldridge can post up as well as Tim Duncan and stretch the floor as well as Kevin Love. He has a great mid-range game and is a good passer out of the double team, all while being a decent rebounder and solid post-defender.
Although he faced criticism earlier in the season for his over abundance of jump shots, he has taken the ball down to the post more often and is creating more plays for his teammates out of the low post.
He's shooting only 46.3 percent from the field, which is far from desirable for a 6'11" power forward, but it's most likely due to his average play in the beginning of the season. It's expected he will choose his spots better as the year progresses and take more comfortable, higher percentage shots.
Aldridge is in his prime and is already considered one of the best power forwards in the league. If there's anybody that can get a shot anytime he wants and bail out the team, LaMarcus is the guy to give the ball to.
C: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson is possibly the most valuable player in the league in terms of production and contract salary. Earning a modest $4 million this year, Hickson is averaging a double-double (12.0 PPG, 10.9 RPG) on 53 percent shooting in just 29 minutes of action per game.
Playing as an undersized center, Hickson knows his role on this team and fills in the rest of the gaps of the Blazers' starting lineup. His toughness, athleticism, defense and hustle in the paint complements Aldridge's skilled post-up ability and shooting quite nicely.
Out of every player in the league who has played more than 20 games this season so far, Hickson is third in rebounding rate behind Anderson Varejao and Reggie Evans. He has a knack for the ball, and his sheer effort he gives every night makes up for his lack of size.