Biggest Needs for Portland Trail Blazers During 2014 Offseason
The duo helped craft the Blazers into a top-five offense, one that scored 111.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference, and helped the team finish with its first 50-plus win season since 2009-10.
Although the San Antonio Spurs wound up dismissing the Blazers from the postseason in five games in the second round, Portland advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2000.
So now that the Blazers are officially on the map, how can they keep the good times rolling?
In the following slides we've broken down the team's most pressing needs entering this summer, several of which are personnel-related, although a few are tactical in nature.
Robin Lopez's play during his first year with the Portland Trail Blazers was revelatory.
The Sideshow Bob doppelgänger averaged 11.1 points and a career-high 8.5 rebounds, nearly three boards better than his previous career best.
In addition, the previously forgotten Lopez twin raked in 326 offensive rebounds, which ranked third behind only Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan. Not only that, but the physically imposing presence appeared and started in all 82 games.
And while Lopez blew away expectations, the Blazers have to be cautious and move forward with a better backup plan.
Neither Joel Freeland nor Meyers Leonard is equipped to play significant minutes should Lopez fall victim to an injury down the line. It's also concerning that Freeland and Leonard have both dealt with ailments of their own during brief NBA stints.
Factor in that the Blazers ranked No. 28 overall in opponent's points in the paint per game (46.0) during the regular season, according to TeamRankings, and the Blazers clearly have holes to fill behind Lopez.
Another Three-and-D Weapon
On the surface, the Portland Trail Blazers look set on the perimeter.
They have competent three-and-D weapons in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, each of whom shot better than 36 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Not only that, but the Blazers ranked No. 11 overall in opponent's three-point percentage (35.5) and No. 4 overall in opponent's points from three-pointers per game (20.1) behind only the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs, per TeamRankings.
But in a league that's shifting out toward the perimeter, the Blazers can't have enough capable shooters and defenders on the wing.
Yes, Terry Stotts' group allowed the lowest percentage (19.3) of opponent's points via the three, according to TeamRankings, but the Blazers will need as many committed bodies as possible to rise up to the level of elite contenders like the San Antonio Spurs.
In fact, entering Monday's Game 4, the Spurs were shooting a mind-blowing 45.6 percent from beyond the arc against the Blazers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Consider this observation from Blazers Edge's Chris Lucia:
Playing straight-up, single-coverage defense hasn't worked for Portland. Sending double-teams or too much help on defense against the Spurs practically gift-wraps them an open shot, as their token ball movement almost always delivers the ball to the open man for a good look.
Batum and Matthews can carry Portland through the regular season without a hitch, but if the Blazers want to advance beyond the second round next season, added depth on the perimeter is a must.
A Developed C.J. McCollum
After the Portland Trail Blazers selected C.J. McCollum with the No. 10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, buzz started to build about the future of the team's backcourt.
The good news? That buzz can ramp up again this summer as McCollum seeks to evolve into a key component of Terry Stotts' second unit.
After McCollum's debut was delayed due to a fractured bone in his foot, the Lehigh University product was limited to just 38 appearances, during which he averaged a meager 12.5 minutes.
Although he was deprived of a chance to create chemistry with potential running mate Damian Lillard this year, the future's looking bright for McCollum if he can embrace the role of off-ball sidekick.
With Lillard and Mo Williams managing the bulk of the team's point guard responsibilities—Williams has a player option worth $2.7 million for next season, per ShamSports—McCollum will need to learn how to operate without the ball in his hands and play off of his floor general's strengths.
A second trip to the Las Vegas Summer League would be a nice start for the former lottery pick and could even help accelerate his development as a key rotational member entering a pivotal sophomore campaign.
Defensive Improvement from Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard's second professional season was simply sensational.
From improved three-point efficiency (39.4 percent) to an All-Star selection, from a higher player efficiency rating (18.6) to countless clutch moments, Lillard displayed the maturity and leadership necessary to be deemed a franchise point guard.
However, his play on defense left plenty to be desired, as evidenced by his personal defensive rating of 110, according to Basketball-Reference.
Not only that, but according to NBA.com, the Blazers were 1.3 points better per 100 possessions on defense with Lillard off the floor. In his 1,034 regular-season minutes on the bench, the Blazers posted a defensive rating of 103.8 compared to a rating of 105.1 in his nearly 3,000 minutes on the floor.
What's been particularly concerning is Lillard's pick-and-roll defense, which was exposed by Tony Parker early and often during the Western Conference Semifinals.
"Lillard’s struggles as a defender are vast," according to Hardwood Paroxysm's Jack Winter. "He’s just as likely to fall asleep lurking on the weak-side as he is guarding a primary action, an unfortunate catch-22 that puts Terry Stotts in a tough position."
And boy are the statistics ugly.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Lillard was exposed repeatedly in the pick-and-roll this season, allowing 0.87 points per possession to pick-and-roll ball-handlers. That mark ranked No. 180 among all players.
Consider that Lillard spent a shade under 50 percent of his defensive possessions guarding such play types, and he clearly needs to become a more alert and committed defender.
That's not all, though, because Lillard also surrendered 0.91 points per possession in isolation situations, which ranked No. 196 among all players, per Synergy.
The offensive tools are all in place. But in order to become a dominant two-way presence, Lillard needs to shed his lazy defensive tendencies and start resembling peers like John Wall and Russell Westbrook.
A Focus on More Efficient Shot Selection
What made the Portland Trail Blazers such a captivating story at the beginning of the season was their tremendous success behind the mid-range stylings of LaMarcus Aldridge.
And while Aldridge was terrific during the regular season, averaging a career-high 23.2 points, he did so on a career-worst 45.8 percent shooting.
But if you're familiar with Aldridge's preferred shot selection, that second number shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
While several franchises transition to attacking styles that stress more three-point shots and looks at the rim, the Blazers trended the opposite direction, shooting a grand total of 2,166 shots from mid-range, which NBA.com defines as shots between 16 and 24 feet.
Get this: That's more shots than the Blazers attempted in the restricted area (2,021).
The Blazers also shot a steady amount of threes (1,521) from above the break (Damian Lillard excelled there, in particular) while attempting a combined 542 threes from the corners.
With the corner three firmly established as the game's most efficient shot, the Blazers would do well to take some of their mid-range looks and distribute them along the three-point arc and in the paint.
It sounds a bit counter-intuitive given the offensive success Portland experienced this season (No. 4 overall in scoring average), but a reliance on the mid-range jump shot is a risky proposition in today's day and age.