Last season, the Portland Trail Blazers featured one of the league's top starting fives. However, they also featured without question the worst bench of the past five to ten years.
Heading into this season, the Blazers addressed a number of weaknesses, in particular they improved their bench at every position.
There is finally some reason for optimism surrounding this team.
That being said, the Blazers do still have some unanswered questions and some outright mysteries heading into training camp.
What will be C.J. McCollum's role?
The Blazers have been fortunate to have a solid shooting guard the past few seasons in Wesley Matthews. They have been even more fortunate to feature Matthews on such a value-based salary (about $7 million each of the next two seasons).
But Matthews is not an elite 2. He can score in a number of ways, and he is a solid defender, but he isn't an elite athlete and his ceiling as a player has likely already been reached.
Matthews is basically a solid third or fourth option on offense and is a nice bailout option for point guard Damian Lillard at the end of the shot clock.
So the Blazers decided to take a chance on one of the most dynamic scorers in this past draft.
C.J. McCollum did it all at Lehigh. He essentially created all of the offense for his squad, at times running the point as well as playing off the ball.
McCollum is an excellent spot-up shooter, moves well without the ball and has fantastic ball-handling skills.
In an ideal world, McCollum would immediately jump into the starting lineup and become the Blazers' biggest improvement to that unit.
But, there are also a number of questions surrounding McCollum. He lacks ideal size for a 2, standing around 6'3". This likely will lead to mismatches defensively against bigger shooting guards and could lead to problems getting his own shot off in traffic.
Additionally, Matthews hasn't really done anything to merit a demotion, so he likely will keep the starting job for now.
So just what exactly will be McCollum's role? Who exactly will he be backing up?
Given McCollum's ability to handle the ball and his size, it would seem likely that he will spend time backing up both Lillard and Matthews at both guard spots.
However, the Blazers brought in Mo Williams to be Lillard's primary backup at the point. Given Williams' resume, and the fact that he is coming off of a very successful season in Utah, would he be able to stomach losing minutes to a rookie?
The ideal spot for McCollum would appear to be a jack-of-all-trades sixth man. Essentially, the Blazers could let McCollum do it all off the bench. In theory, he could be a poor man's Allen Iverson with the second unit.
But will McCollum and Lillard play well together? McCollum was a good player even without the ball in his hands in college, but he was most effective handling the rock.
Can Meyers Leonard beat out Robin Lopez?
The only spot in the staring lineup that is definitely up for grabs is the 5. Last season's center J.J. Hickson was not retained, and with good reason.
Hickson had a fine season rebounding and scoring, but his defense was terrible. He offered very little resistance down low which forced LaMarcus Aldridge to take on way too large of a burden on that end of the floor.
It also led to the Blazers being one of the worst shot-blocking teams in the league (just over four per game).
To address this issue, the Blazers brought in Robin Lopez.
He is a willing defender down low and can score around the hoop, but he is a subpar rebounder for his size and will never be confused with his brother Brook on the court.
However, the only other option at the position is Meyers Leonard, who was lost for most of last season on both ends of the court.
Leonard has excellent athleticism and size, and should develop into a good scorer around the hoop.
But where the Blazers really need to see improvement from Leonard is on the defensive side of the ball. He needs to develop better instincts as a shot-blocker and at least give opponents some reason to fear getting to the hoop.
The Blazers desperately need to have a player down low that can protect the rim, especially given Lillard's struggles defensively last year.
If Leonard can show that he has improved drastically on the defensive side of the ball, he has a shot to beat out Lopez for the starting gig.
Who will round out the bench?
Last year the Blazers had an absolutely abhorrent bench. Until a midseason trade that brought Eric Maynor over from the Thunder, the Blazers had literally zero viable options in the second unit.
This forced the Blazers to rely too heavily on their starting lineup, and as a result the team folded down the stretch.
The Blazers addressed every position in the second unit, making huge strides up front and in the backcourt alike.
But very few teams run with more than eight or nine guys on any particular night.
The starting five have essentially been lined up and Mo Williams, Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum likely will be the first four guys off the bench for coach Terry Stotts.
That leaves a huge battle for the last spot in the rotation if the Blazers are thinking about running 10 players.
The player most likely to steal minutes away from the above players seems to be Dorell Wright.
Wright has excellent size and can shoot the lights out. He has good athleticism, and can run the floor effectively.
He figures to be Nic Batum's primary backup at small forward.
However, Will Barton and Victor Claver both looked good towards the end of last season, and both should be looking to make a name for themselves in training camp.
Both bring excellent qualities to the mix.
Barton finished last season off with a bang, averaging over 15 points per game over his final five games. He showed the ability to play above the rim, rebound exceptionally well for his size and knock down the occasional three.
Claver also showed flashes last year. He is a very good shooter, can rebound and has a high level of basketball intelligence.
But neither of these guys has yet exhibited the type of consistent play that the Blazers can expect from Wright.
Add to this mix Earl Watson and Joel Freeland, and you suddenly have a fierce battle for the last remaining active roster spots, let alone rotation spots.
This figures to be a fierce training camp in the Rose City.
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