As the offseason continues, it’s time to assess the Portland Trail Blazers in terms of how they’ve changed since the end of the 2012-13 regular season. They’ve lost a few guys and picked up some new players, including a few promising picks from the 2013 NBA draft.
Last season, the Trail Blazers finished with a record of 33-49 and without a spot in the playoffs. How will they perform next season?
The Trail Blazers have definitely retained some huge assets from last season. Perhaps the most important of those is point guard Damian Lillard, who won the coveted Rookie of the Year title for his impressive 2012-13 season in Portland.
During the regular season, Lillard averaged 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 38.6 minutes of game play. His ability to both score and create opportunities for his teammates to convert is invaluable to the Trail Blazers squad.
The Trail Blazers have also held on to low-post man LaMarcus Aldridge—at least for now. Despite trade rumors, via Ric Bucher of CSNBayArea.com (h/t Sean Meagher of OregonLive.com), Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that Aldridge will likely remain in Portland next season.
During the 2012-13 season, Aldridge averaged 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists each game. The 6’11" star is a crucial veteran on Portland’s low post, especially since J.J. Hickson has signed a deal with the Denver Nuggets, according to Zach Harper of CBS Sports.
Why They're Better Than Last Year
With Lillard no longer a rookie, Portland has a star point guard with a solid year of experience under his belt. Shooting guard Will Barton will be there to team up with Lillard as the second guard. Barton played well during the Blazers’ final summer league game against the Phoenix Suns, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Moreover, the Trail Blazers now have C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, two promising young guards that will undoubtedly benefit from their time playing with Lillard and Barton. For Portland, the guard positions appear to be stronger than last season.
Nicolas Batum will hopefully return strong and healthy after missing time at last season’s end due to a shoulder injury. He’s a huge asset for Portland at the small forward position, having averaged 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game for 2012-13.
Assuming Batum will be fully recovered for the start of next season, Portland will be instantly stronger than at last season’s close.
What They're Missing
Portland has bid goodbye to its big man Hickson. Last season, Hickson averaged 12.7 points and an impressive 10.4 rebounds per 29.0 minutes of game play for the Trail Blazers.
However, the team has been busy acquiring other players to replace him. It grabbed center Robin Lopez from the New Orleans Pelicans and power forward Thomas Robinson from the Houston Rockets through trades.
Yet, it remains a question whether these players can replace Hickson. Lopez averaged 5.6 rebounds per game last season. Robinson? He averaged 4.5 rebounds. These numbers are OK but nothing like the 10.4 rebounds that Hickson delivered last season.
How They'll Stack Up
With strong returning players, solid acquisitions and promising fresh talent coming in, the Trail Blazers are in pretty good shape for the 2013-14 season. They didn’t completely dismantle their key core of players like the Boston Celtics, but they aren’t coming off a title win like the Miami Heat, either.
I see overall improvement for the Trail Blazers in the future. Last season, they finished well below .500. This season, I predict it’s closer to an even split between wins and losses.