Scottie's Preseason Analysis
Trailblazers have just made the final cuts to their opening day roster. Here’s
my take on the starting 5 and 2nd unit players.
PG - Damian
For the last
decade, the Blazers have been looking for a franchise point guard to push them over
the top to contender status. From what I have seen in the Summer League and
preseason, Damian Lillard just may be that man.
the Summer League, Damian Lillard dominated his opponents. Through 4 games in
Vegas, he put up a stat line of 26 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4 APG.
continued to prove his worth in the preseason with averages of 16.1 PPG, 2.5
RPG, 5.8 APG. The one thing Lillard must do if he is to take his rightful place
as a top tier point guard is cut down on his turnovers. While superstars such
as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are also turnover prone, if Lillard can
strengthen his game in this area, he has potential to surpass even the very
best scoring point guards.
SG - Wesley
Matthews has been known as a defensive force. While fans may have criticized
his shot selection in the past, we could always hang our hat on his scrappy
defense. That was a bit suspect in the preseason, however,
as he allowed his opponents to shoot an average of 46% from the field.
preseason games, Matthews averaged 14.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.1 APG. So, we saw a different Matthews in the
preseason. Maybe, he’s getting smarter on the offensive end. Now, if he can just put it together on both
ends of the floor, I think Matthews has the potential to be the shooting guard
of the Blazer’s future.
SF - Nicolas
first time in his 5 year career, Nicolas Batum appears ready to have a breakout
season. He is definitely part of the team’s future after the Blazers matched a
large contract offer by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He had a pretty good
preseason, but needs to crank it up in the regular season to help the Blazers battle
to the top, and justify his huge contract.
preseason games, Nicolas has averaged 14.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, which is
similar to what he produced last season. One take is that this performance
shows consistency, which is great. Another
perspective is that he must step up in order for the team to excel in the
future. Count me in the latter group. I believe Nicolas will prove himself a
consistent contributor to the team in more ways than just being a shooter.
PF - LaMarcus
first time since Brandon Roy left the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge has his
“Stockton” in Damian Lillard. Throughout
the preseason, Rookie Lillard was able to take on some of the scoring that LaMarcus
has had to carry the last couple of years.
preseason games, LaMarcus has become less of a force than he was in an All-Star season where he averaged 21.7
PPG, 8 RPG, 0.8 BPG. This preseason, he averaged 15.3 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.5 APG; down
7 points and 1 rebound from last season.
This is of no major concern, though, as Aldridge will pick up more
points and minutes as the season progresses.
addition of Meyers Leonard, Aldridge will stay fresher. J.J. Hickson will play power forward while Leonard
is on the floor. This is a great example of Portland’s depth new depth.
With a more
widespread offense, the Blazers will have more surprises for the opposing
defenders to deal with, thus opening up more shot opportunities.
C - J.J.
has proven that he was more than an anomaly with the Cavaliers. At 6’9” and 242lbs, he’s a bit undersized to
play the center position, yet does so quite effectively. If it were my decision,
I would have started Meyers Leonard at center for his size and athleticism at
7’1’ and 245 lbs, at least long enough to get a look at how he will fare in
that role. However, starting Hickson
makes sense given his strength, power, and experience.
starting at center for now, let’s focus on his assets. During preseason, J.J. Hickson racked up
averages of 9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 BPG in 25 minutes of action. While
this isn’t spectacular, he is a very strong, solid addition to the team. Over
time, I expect Meyers to replace Hickson as the Blazers starting center. This would allow Hickson to be a dominant,
defensive force off the bench. In any
case, Hickson was a good pickup for the team.
The Second Unit and
second unit will likely include Ronnie Price, Nolan Smith, Victor Claver, Luke
Babbitt, and Meyers Leonard. This unit has a good balance of young talent and
experience to help give the starting unit a rest from a 48-minute shift. The
second unit, as a total, averaged 25.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 8.2 APG in the preseason.
This is a good
start as the bench continues to develop. Bench production will increase as each
player’s career progresses, and the coaching staff refines both the rotation
and roster. However, there are a couple of players who I believe should have
made the cut. First, having watched him in the preseason, Coby Karl actually
looked better than Nolan Smith. Somewhere along the line, some team has got to
give this guy a legitimate chance. In truth, my reaction to the Adam Morrison
cut is more of an emotional response. To see a player as great as he was in
college, a former top-three pick, vow to retire if he didn’t make the team, was
kind of a kick in the gut. Since Morrison is from the Northwest, I would have
given him a shot, like the Kings did Isaiah Thomas.
To sum it all
up, the Blazers have a great young core that is poised to become the next young
and upcoming team. Let us not forget the 2010 Thunder. Many of the pieces look
similar. And while the Northwest Division might be tight, let’s don’t count out