The way the Portland Trail Blazers ended their season was disappointing, to say the least. They put up a valiant effort, without a doubt, but you could tell that Brandon Roy was far from 100 percent and that there were missing pieces in the roster.
With the Blazers anticipating a healthy Greg Oden for the first time in over a year, and new pieces being added to the roster in Raymond Felton, Nolan Smith, and Jon Diebler, the Portland Trail Blazers will finally be able to make the push for Western Conference supremacy.
What? You expected Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams to come in and change everything in one season?
The Minnesota Timberwolves won't be relevant in the NBA until they draft the next Kobe Bryant. Don't get me wrong, Williams is a great pick at No. 2, and has an incredible upside, but I just think Minnesota still has a way to go before they actually put it all together.
They're looking at a starting lineup of Rubio, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams, Kevin Love and Darko Milicic, with Michael Beasley coming off the bench. It might look okay on paper, but it's not enough to get more than 35 wins next season.
After losing Deron Williams and Coach Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz entered a phase of disarray. With no designated scorer, the Jazz are forced to play team basketball and dump the ball down low to Al Jefferson.
They made some great draft choices, picking up Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, but the Utah Jazz are not a complete team just yet. They have still got to develop the chemistry that every team needs to succeed, and with so many new pieces put into place, I don’t see them winning more than 41 games this season. As we all know, 41 games is never enough to make the playoffs in the West.
Let’s face it; if Greg Oden had played a full four seasons, his name would be tossed around in All-Star discussions. He’s a 10-point, 10-rebound, three-block, and four-foul kind of guy, and his presence is dearly missed in the center of the Portland defense.
The Blazers did a great job of going out and snagging Marcus Camby a couple years back, but he’s 37-years-old, and is definitely on his last leg. The Blazers offered Oden an $8.8 million qualifying offer with the anticipation of a full, productive, healthy season from the paint protector and it looks as though his rehabilitation is going well.
We've seen Blake Griffin make a full recovery from a knee injury and take the NBA by storm. Is it Greg Oden’s turn?
As of the end of the regular season, the Denver Nuggets have lost four players to the free agency. Nene opted out of the final year of his contract, Kenyon Martin has yet to be given a new contract, J.R. Smith was essentially ousted from the Nuggets, and Melvin Ely was not really a big part of the team anyway.
With so many pieces being moved, Denver will definitely see a decrease in production. Smith, as inconsistent as he was, definitely shot the Nuggets into some games, and there’s no matching K-Mart’s energy level. Chris Anderson still has not demonstrated the ability to finish down low, aside from alley-oops, and Ely was a great teammate.
Out of all the Nuggets, Nene and his high impact dunks will be missed. They did draft Kenneth Faried, the electrifying, but undersized forward out of Morehead State, but for Denver to return to supremacy, they’ll need to hit the free agency hard. Until then, they won’t be a 50+ win team.
With two young, phenomenal stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be a powerhouse in the NBA for years to come. They have added Kendrick Perkins to the core, who gives them sort of a tough-guy identity, and they have an explosive scorer in James Harden coming off the bench.
However, aside from Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the scoring options for the Thunder are rather limited. Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are more highly regarded for playing defense and doing the dirty work, and Eric Maynor and Nate Robinson are not really high-octane scorers in their own right.
The Trail Blazers have six legitimate scorers on the team—LaMarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and Nicolas Batum if you were wondering—and move the ball around enough to get everyone good looks at the basket.
Last season, Portland’s designated shooter, Rudy Fernandez, was everything but the designated shooter. He shot a miserable 32 percent from downtown, directly contributing to the Blazers ranking 21st in the NBA in three-point percentage at 34.5 percent.
In drafting Jon Diebler, Portland immediately extends the floor with Ohio State’s all-time leading three-point shooter. In addition to Diebler, Portland also made a draft day trade for Raymond Felton.
Felton might not be considered a sharpshooter, but it should be noted that he shot 45 percent from downtown after being traded to the Denver Nuggets. Andre Miller, the Blazers’ former point guard, shot a horrid 10.8 percent from deep.
I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of someone shooting so poorly from three?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all that Andre Miller brought to Portland, but shooting three's was far from his forte.
Wesley Matthews was the Blazers’ leading three-point shooter last season at just over 40 percent from downtown. Behind him was Patty Mills at 35.3 percent and Nicolas Batum at 34.5 percent, but after them it was a free-for-all. Adding two knock-down shooters to the lineup will keep defenses honest and force them away from playing zone.
It will also spread the floor out for LaMarcus Aldridge who is a proven post scorer.
As deep as the Portland Trailblazers roster is, they’re still missing one thing. Before I spoil it, let me give you a chance to figure it out.
Take a look at the Portland Trailblazers 2011-2012 Depth Chart:
PG: Raymond Felton, Nolan Smith, Patty Mills
SG: Wesley Matthews. Brandon Roy, Jon Diebler
SF: Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Earl Barron
C: Greg Oden, Marcus Camby
Did you find the error?
Who in the world is Earl Barron?
The Trailblazers still lack an adequate backup for LaMarcus Aldridge, who played 39.6 minutes per game last season—third highest in the NBA. As he started talking about being tired in the home stretch of the season, his production slowly started to drop just a bit.
In order to keep L.A. in tip-top condition throughout the season, the Trailblazers should hit the free agency and find a power forward who does not mind getting dirty down low. The player I had in mind was Kenyon Martin, a high energy, high intensity forward, but there are other options around the league as well.
Once they get a solid second string PF, the Portland Trailblazers will be making a championship run and stirring up conversations around the league.