Portland Trail Blazers Positions That Must Be Upgraded Before 2013-14 Season

Morgan ChalfantContributor IIIJune 4, 2013

Lillard had a great rookie season with the Blazers.
Lillard had a great rookie season with the Blazers.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard in charge, the Trail Blazers don’t need any upgrades at the power forward and point guard positions.

Aldridge is both a scorer and a rebounder, averaging 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in 37.7 minutes last season. He is the highest paid member of the Blazers squad for a reason; Aldridge is a strong force on the low post that Portland can count on.

Rookie Damian Lillard was also excellent as point guard for the Blazers last season. He averaged 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per 38.6 minutes of game play, making some amazing plays along the way. He even grabbed the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award for his stellar season.

That leaves, then, Portland’s center, small forward and shooting guard positions, all of which could use some help before the start of next season.

At center last season, the Blazers had J.J. Hickson. He demonstrated solid play, averaging 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in 29.0 minutes per game. However, Hickson becomes a free agent this summer, meaning the Blazers may lose him to another team or choose to shop for another center instead of trying to bring Hickson back.

The only other two centers that Portland has are Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland, both of whom are not ready to assume a starting position. Leonard averaged 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.5 minutes last season, and Freeland made even less of an impact with 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 9.4 minutes.

The Trail Blazers will be wise to either attempt to bring Hickson back or make moves to trade for another talented center.

At small forward, Portland currently has Nicolas Batum. Though the forward put up decent numbers—he averaged 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game—he was plagued by wrist and shoulder injuries that definitely affected the second half of his season.

Such injuries are causes for concern, especially because Batum is only 24. The Blazers may be wise to think about making a trade for another small forward who hasn’t suffered injuries like Batum.

In addition to Batum, the Blazers have Victor Claver and Will Barton playing small forward. Claver averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game last season, and Barton averaged 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds.

Neither of these backup small forwards are especially talented at the position. This means that, when Batum has to sit out because of injury, the Blazers are at a serious disadvantage at the small forward position. Portland definitely needs to consider upgrading either its starting small forward or its small forwards on the bench.

Finally, there’s shooting guard. This is a very important position because its occupant will team up with Damian Lillard and hopefully help run the offense. The Blazers have Wesley Matthews playing guard with Lillard. For the 2012-13 season, he played pretty well, averaging 14.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 34.8 minutes per game.

However, Matthews missed 13 games over the season, mostly because of ankle problems. He also sprained his ankle at the end of the season and reportedly received a platelet-rich plasma injection into his ankle over the offseason.

Hopefully Matthews will return next season healthy and healed, but if not, the Blazers only have Sasha Pavlovic to back him up. Pavlovic averaged only 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 13.5 minutes of game play last season. Their other shooting guard, Elliot Williams, becomes a free agent this summer.

It’s definitely time for the Blazers to make some changes at the shooting guard position. Even if they keep Matthews despite his injuries, they need to find him better backup so that if he does get injured, someone closer to his talent level will come off the bench to replace him.

The Trail Blazers will have opportunities to make these upgrades both through trades and the 2013 NBA draft on June 27. Portland currently has the 10th, 39th, 40th and 45th picks in this year’s draft.

Should Portland make some changes to ensure both talented starters and solid backups at these positions, the team will be ready to make a run for the 2014 playoffs with Damian Lillard leading them at guard.