Pre-Training Camp Player Power Rankings for Portland Trail Blazers
Those looking to lump the Portland Trail Blazers in with the team that ended last season near the bottom of the Northwest standings should be prepared for a rude awakening.
But the anemic bench has been vastly improved, and the Blazers are poised to start realizing their potential.
So as training camp gets ready to commence, let's take a look at the individual power rankings for the Portland Trail Blazers.
11. (tie) Earl Watson, Allen Crabbe, Joel Freeland and Will Barton
The bulk of the bench minutes are going to be determined during training camp and throughout the beginning of the exhibition season. There are certainly jobs available in Portland.
However, these four have the most difficult journey in front of them.
Earl Watson is a nice guy to have around. He plays strong defense, can run the offense, and doesn't make a ton of mistakes. However, he isn't a dynamic scorer or distributor. He basically just eats up minutes. It will be tough for him to find playing time with Damian Lillard and Mo Williams around.
Allen Crabbe was a nice pickup in the draft. He is a good shooter who could easily have been selected much higher.
But his path to the show will also be blocked as Wesley Matthews and C.J. McCollum both figure to get the lion's share of minutes at the 2 guard.
This is also the case for Will Barton, who became a bit of a crowd favorite with his athleticism.
Joel Freeland probably has the best chance to claim minutes. Robin Lopez and Meyers Leonard figure to get more time, but they are far from perfect centers and Freeland could wrestle some time away from one of those two.
10. Dorell Wright
The Blazers were certainly busy this offseason, and their top priority was shoring up their awful bench.
Dorell Wright figures quite prominently in this plan.
The 6'9" wing stepped up for the Philadelphia 76ers, providing a nice catch-and-shoot option to open up space down low.
In Portland, he is going to be asked to sit in the corner and knock down triples, a job that Luke Babbitt failed to do in his short tenure with the Blazers.
Wright doesn't do much else well. He can run the court but isn't an elite finisher. He can shoot the ball but can't create his own shot. He has the length to become a solid defender but doesn't really thrive on that side of the ball.
The good news for Wright is that they already have their small forward of the future, and so he can concentrate on doing what he does best: shoot the ball.
9. Meyers Leonard
If Damian Lillard was a huge surprise from a production level, then Meyers Leonard was a huge disappointment.
Everyone knew that Leonard was going to be a project, but few expected him to be quite so raw.
Leonard seemed lost on both sides of the ball.
He has excellent athleticism and size and can jump out of the gym. But he lacks instincts on both sides of the court, which led to a very high foul rate (2.43 per game in just over 17 minutes).
If Leonard wants to avoid becoming a bust, he needs to add strength and become a defensive stopper.
If he could provide close to two blocks and eight boards in limited minutes, he could really help this team out.
In fact, he should take a look at Larry Sanders in Milwaukee and pattern his game after him.
8. Thomas Robinson
Outside of perhaps Chauncey Billups in the late 1990s, few lottery picks have had quite as precipitous of a fall as Thomas Robinson.
The Kansas product went from the darling of the college world to early lottery pick to castaway in just a few short months.
Part of the problem for Robinson was that he fell into a dysfunctional situation in Sacramento with the Kings, where guidance was difficult to come by.
Robinson also has the added problem of not being overly gifted offensively. Instead, he is an energy guy who can rebound and play tough near the hoop.
In Portland, the slate appears to be sufficiently clean. He won't be asked to do too much. His role is to back up LaMarcus Aldridge and provide rebounding and defense off the bench.
In a lot of ways, this should be the perfect situation for Robinson. His style of play will likely endear him to the Blazers faithful, and he should be able to rebuild his career.
7. Mo Williams
Last year, the Blazers' backup point guard situation, like most of their bench, was bleak.
They were relying on fringe NBA talent like Nolan Smith to take the reins once Lillard and others hit the pine. The result was disastrous, and the Blazers had perhaps the worst bench in history.
The Blazers did a ton to shore up this weakness, and Mo Williams figures greatly into that situation.
Williams is your classic shoot-first point guard. He has a ton of confidence and never fears launching his own shot.
The key for him will be setting up teammates. He can't just park on the three-point line and wait for his shot. He will need to run the offense when Lillard is on the bench.
Williams has never been a natural distributor, but he did have over six assists per game last year.
If the Blazers' second unit is going to prosper, Williams will have to lead it.
6. Robin Lopez
The Blazers were fortunate last year to buy low on J.J. Hickson. The free-agent big man responded with fantastic rebounding numbers and some solid scoring near the hoop.
But his awful defense turned the paint into an all-day buffet line with guards and forwards alike feasting on easy buckets.
So the Blazers brought in Robin Lopez to help shore up the interior defense.
Robin, the less talented of the Lopez twins, had a career year last season in New Orleans.
He averaged close to 12 points and six boards in 26 minutes of play.
Lopez is an effort guy. He is a willing defender and can score near the hoop. However, he isn't a strong rebounder, and he tends to be a step slow when going up against hybrid centers.
What the Blazers need from him are some solid minutes protecting the paint while taking up space. Lopez should be able to handle that.
5. C.J. McCollum
The selection of C.J. McCollum by the Blazers was a curious one. Most folks around the NBA had projected McCollum as a point guard at the next level, and Portland certainly is all set at that position.
However, they aren't nearly as secure at off-guard, which is where the Blazers envision playing the Lehigh product.
McCollum is a scorer, flat-out. He can shoot from anywhere on the court and can slash to the hoop.
He lacks prototypical size and athleticism for the position, but it's not as though he's the first player in history to be saddled with those traits.
McCollum, however, is a smart player who should instantly find his groove at the next level.
The key will be how well he and Lillard pair up. Are there enough basketballs around for both players to get their shots?
4. Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews came to Portland a few years ago and appeared to be an absolute steal.
He can shoot, score in a number of ways, and has the potential to be a good defender.
The one problem with Matthews is that he doesn't do much else but score. He doesn't rebound or pass particularly well for a guard.
And despite having solid size for a shooting guard, he really doesn't contribute fantastic athleticism.
While his three-point shooting is great (just under 40 percent last year), his shooting percentage from the field could stand to improve.
What will be interesting is how Matthews handles the addition of C.J. McCollum. Can the savvy veteran hold off the upstart?
The bet here is that Matthews will win the starting job before giving way to the rookie by January.
3. Nicolas Batum
Outside of perhaps fresh halibut cheeks, Nicolas Batum might be the Pacific Northwest's best kept secret.
The talented swingman combines athleticism, length and guard-like skill at the small forward position.
Blazers fans have been waiting for the young Batum to become the next Scottie Pippen for a few years now, and he finally seemed to make some real progress last year.
Batum had career-high numbers in most major categories, including some real improvement in assists, dropping off nearly five dimes per game, which shattered his previous high of just over one.
And while he may never reach the lofty heights of Pippen, it isn't outside the realm of possibility for Batum to become Andrei Kirilenko-like. He will, however, need to improve his shooting. Last season, his field-goal percentage was a meager 42 percent and his three-point percentage dropped to 37 percent.
But Batum certainly has begun to take steps in the right direction.
2. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard was an absolute revelation last season.
The No. 6 overall pick in last year's draft immediately set himself apart from his fellow rookies. On opening night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lillard torched the Kobe Bryant-led squad to the tune of 23 points and 11 assists.
From there, Lillard's season continued at an upward projection. He showed the potential to eventually become one of the league's elite point guards despite playing on a team that lacked cohesion and depth.
But this isn't to say that Lillard is already there. He still has plenty of aspects of his game that he will need to develop.
He shows excellent court vision, but he can still find ways to make life easier for his more offensively challenged teammates.
He showed excellent range, but he will need to improve on his 42.9 shooting percentage from the field.
The biggest aspect that he will need to improve upon is his defense. At times, Lillard looked lost going up against some of the league's top floor generals. Given that the Blazers lack elite interior defenders and rim-protectors, it will be on Lillard to keep opposing point guards out of the lane.
He certainly has the size and quickness to improve this area; the real key will be his desire. Does he want to be an all-around stud?
LaMarcus Aldridge is on the cusp of becoming the elite power forward in the game.
His combination of power inside and finesse on the perimeter makes him a latter-day version of Rasheed Wallace.
His ability to stretch the floor and pick-and-roll with Lillard could be the key to the offense this season. In fact, if they execute it properly, the Blazers could have a poor man's version of John Stockton and Karl Malone in Portland.
The next step for Aldridge will be developing a killer instinct when the game is on the line. He needs to demand the ball and lead the team.
A major development this past season for Aldridge was his interior defense. Sure, plenty of this was out of necessity as J.J. Hickson was perhaps the worst interior defender in the league.
It will be interesting to see if the addition of Robin Lopez has any effect on Aldridge's game defensively.
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