2015-16 NBA Record: 44-38
Additions: Evan Turner (Boston Celtics), Festus Ezeli (Golden State Warriors), Shabazz Napier (traded from Orlando Magic), Tim Quarterman (LSU), Jake Layman (draft)
Subtractions: Gerald Henderson (Philadelphia 76ers), Brian Roberts (Charlotte Hornets)
Projected Starting Line-up:
PG – Damian Lillard
SG – CJ McCollum
SF – Evan Turner
PF – Al-Farouq Aminu
C – Mason Plumlee
The Trail Blazers surprised many last season by not only making the playoffs, but advancing to the 2nd round of the playoffs. Things looked gloomy a couple of years ago for Portland after LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicholas Batum and Robin Lopez all left in free agency, but Damian Lillard has emerged as the leader of this young squad that continues to defy the odds. The Blazers went out and signed Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli to a team that developed excellent chemistry last season and they’ll be looking to form a strong connection with the new additions.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum form one of the top 1-2 punches in the NBA, which is scary for defenses who have to form a game plan against this backcourt. If a team focuses on Lillard, McCollum can punish them and vice versa. Lillard is one of the most dynamic players in the league, with the ability to single-handedly take over a game at any time and hit the clutch shot when needed. He has an unlimited range and a plethora of offensive moves that are seemingly unstoppable. Dame is also an underrated floor general, as he’s able to read the game and create opportunities for teammates. Last season, Lillard averaged 25.1 points, 6.8 assists and 4 rebounds and will be looking to contend for the MVP trophy this year. His backcourt partner McCollum, who was the Most Improved Player last season is creative on offense and better in one-on-one situations than Lillard. However, both players are weak on the defensive side of the ball. Al-Farouq Aminu had career highs in points (10.2) and assists (1.7) last season, but his main strength is defense. With a 7’3 wingspan, he uses this to disrupt shots and passing lanes. He’s a tenacious defender who can defend all forwards, as demonstrated when coach Terry Stotts put him at power forward instead of his usual small forward position. Mason Plumlee had a nice 2015-16 campaign which highlighted his underrated ability as a passer. Evan Turner comes into the team following a breakout year in Boston. He becomes another offensive weapon that Portland sorely needed last season, but he may get more touches, which takes some away from Lillard and McCollum. Turner’s versatility and length makes him a threat on both ends of the court. Allen Crabbe had his best season last year, managing career highs in scoring, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage. He’s a great catch-and-shoot player, which paired with his defensive instincts, makes him a reliable option. Maurice Harkless is slowly developing into a strong 3-and-D player, with his size and athleticism making him tough to defend and a threat on defense. Meyers Leonard has potential as a big man, but his inconsistencies plus the arrival of Festus Ezeli may see him get limited minutes.
With one of the best backcourts in the NBA, it’s hard to deny this team a playoff spot. Last season, their high-powered offense was rated 6th in the league and they have many versatile options that can trouble any team put against them. They’re a young squad that will compete for Western Conference supremacy in the years, but until they can solve their problems on defense, they’re won’t be able to compete with the elite.
Prediction: 2nd in Northwest Division