With the start of the 2013-14 NBA season rapidly approaching, we thought it only fair to share what makes each team so exciting. Ontologically speaking, all 30 teams deserve our eyeballs this season. Even disastrous lineups still present oodles of plays, personalities, highlights and headaches. Here are five things to keep in mind for each team before flipping the channel.
Next up, a Portland Trail Blazers team that could sneak into the tough Western Conference with an improved bench.
[5 Reasons To Watch: Kings, Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Bobcats, Cavs, Magic, Warriors, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Pistons, Bucks, Nets, Pacers, Wizards, Thunder, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics, Raptors Hawks, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz]
There were a lot of adjustments made up in the Northwest this offseason. The Portland Trail Blazers had one of the most efficient starting lineups in the league last season, which supported one of the league’s worst bench units. Additionally, Rip City was the home to the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year. So will the changes made this summer pay off with a playoff berth? Let’s look at the 5 reasons to watch the Portland Trail Blazers this season.
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A Breakthrough Season?
Are the Blazers poised for the NBA Finals? No. How about a deep playoff run? No. However, they are forecast as a bubble team in the loaded Western Conference, fighting for a playoff birth against the Mavs, Pelicans, the Lakers and even the Nuggets. By bringing in some desperately needed bench players, the Blazers are looking to regain some relevance in the Wild Wild West.
The team remains incredibly youthful and athletic, but they also added crucial veteran leadership to the mix. Remember, the Blazers seemed poised to end the season as a playoff team outside of lottery danger, then their horrid bench caught up to them and poof, their postseason hopes faded faster than Damian Lillard in the open court.
If everything falls into place for the Blazers, and everyone plays to their expectation and potential, this team could jump over the bubble and secure a playoff spot.
From Thin To Deep
To say that Portland’s bench was bad last season fits the definition of an understatement. Per HoopsStats, the Blazers’ second unit averaged a league worst 18.5 points per game with a 21.1 offensive efficiency rating and a -17.7 defensive efficiency rating (both worst in NBA). They were historically bad, yes, historically. In fact, according to ESPN, the “Blazers’ reserves combined to rate nearly 10 wins below replacement level, making them the second-worst bench of the past three decades. Since 1981-82, only the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls’ backups have collectively been less effective.”
To keep this historically bad bench off the court, the starters had to remain on the court as much as possible. The total sum of their starters’ minutes average per game of 176.8 lead the league. Despite Portland’s young starting lineup, injuries to LaMarcus Alridge, Wes Matthews, and Nicolas Batum in early April and resulted in a winless April for Portland, finishing the season with a 13-game losing streak, which tied the franchise record.
Therefore, the priority for Blazers’ GM Neil Olshey this offseason was to strengthen the team’s depth in just about every area on the court. This summer, they added Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Earl Watson. The Blazers seem pleased with their acquisitions, adding depth to their roster to shore up a bench that might have struggled against some D-League teams last year.
While getting to watch the best five players on a team (the starting lineup) is fun for the fans to watch, giving those five ample time to rest and therefore avoid injuries and exhaustion, allows them to play at their peak when they are on the court. That’s more entertaining for the fans.
Does the comparison to Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons ever get old? In all seriousness, Lopez was specifically brought in by the Blazers to help with some of their horrible defensive deficiencies from last season, especially to defend the paint. Per ESPN, the Blazers’ defensive efficiency (points per possession) ranked in the bottom five of the league. Additionally, the Blazers ranked dead last in the league for point paints allowed (47.7 PPG, per TeamRankings.com).
Lopez has the habit of making a big play on either end of the floor, and then falling through on multiple consecutive plays that follow. However, he is an efficient pick-and-roll defender, and the Blazers could use any and every upgrade in their defensive department. It doesn’t hurt that he is coming off the best statistical season of his career, averaging 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 26.0 minutes per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field. Lopez may not be the guy that pushes the Blazers into being contenders, but he was a solid pickup that will benefit their defense. Plus, he reminds us of one of the best TV villains, Sideshow Bob. That’s always fun.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Double-Double Machine
There was a ton of talk over the offseason regarding LaMarcus Aldridge’s future with the Blazers. While the trade talk has faded, his future in Rip City will be in the spotlight throughout the season since he becomes an unrestricted free agent when the clock turns 12 on July 1, 2015. Therefore, the Blazers are hoping this season’s performance will be enough to persuade the All-Star to extend his stay in Portland when the time comes.
Aldridge is one of the most efficient players in the league. Add his versatility on offense to the mix of things, and he is one of the biggest frontcourt headaches to defend in the NBA. He has the size to get into the post, but he needs to be more physical down low to make some real noise. Aldridge can fall in love with shooting long jumpers (58% of his shot selection last season per ESPN), but that also adds another threat the defense must worry about.
While his defense continues to need fine-tuning, the addition of Robin Lopez should help take some of the load off Aldridge, as he was typically left to defend the opposing team’s center. Aldridge is an impact player, as evidenced by his +9.1 on/off player rating per 82games.com. He averaged 21.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, and had 38 double-doubles (only seven players had more) last season. He should continue to benefit from Damian Lillard’s influence, especially if Lillard improves his playmaking skills and creates more floor space. Aldridge’s versatility is always fun for fans to watch, especially now that he has some suitable contributors to elevate his game even more.
Damian Lillard is becoming one of the most interesting players to watch, and that’s only based on his first and only year in the NBA. He led the 2012-13 NBA rookies with 19.0 points and a team-high 6.5 assists to go with 3.1 rebounds in a team-high 38.6 MPG. Lillard played in all 82 games and led the team with a +10.9 on/off net ranking, per 82games.com. His phenomenal performance last season resulted in him being unanimously named the Rookie of the Year (just the fourth player with a unanimous decision in NBA history). Portland has indeed found their point guard for the foreseeable future.
It will be interesting to watch Lillard play off the ball more, as the additions of C.J. McCollum and Mo Williams will take the ball out of his hands more. Since the Blazers won’t have to ride on his shoulders as much this year due to added depth, Lillard will have the opportunity to round out his game.
What will be most interesting while watching Lillard this season is his attempt to produce on both ends of the floor. While his offense is stellar, as he is a natural shooter (you’ve seen his brilliant pull-up jumper, right?) who can explode for surges of points, his defense was less than stellar, or as he put it, “embarrassing.”
Lillard was criticized last season for his defensive shortcomings. He heard those criticisms, and wants to change it to praise. Lillard recently spoke with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com about his focus to improve his defense this season:
“It fuels me, definitely,” Lillard said Thursday night at Oracle Arena, where the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors in their exhibition finale, “because people were giving all this credit for what I can do offensively and then they say, ‘He takes a break on defense and he can’t guard anybody.’ And I know I can guard people. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to. I’m a good athlete, quick, I’m strong. So why wouldn’t I be a good defender? It’s just a matter of me wanting to do it.”
Will Lillard become a producer on both ends of the court, becoming an even bigger threat for all opponents? One thing is for sure, basketball fans will be watching.
What do you think?
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