April 17, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles past Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) in the first half at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: A 2013-14 NBA Preview


Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.

The Trail Blazers are another one of these tricky teams in the middle of the pack. With a star in LaMarcus Aldridge and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, on the surface it seems as though the Blazers should be a force to be reckoned with in 2013-14.

Dig a little deeper, though, and this team remains flawed. Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews will flank Lillard on the wings, and free agent pick-ups Dorell Wright and Mo Williams will shore up what was likely the league’s worst bench last season. But next to Aldridge down low? There simply isn’t a whole lot there.

The Blazers were a rumored destination for Timberwolves restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic, but apparently decided that they weren’t interested in ponying up the cash to make an offer, and instead shifted gears by trading for Robin Lopez. Interestingly, they elected to give up assets (first round pick Jeff Withey, two second round picks, and cash) to bring aboard Lopez and his remaining two-years, $12.03 million.

Lopez is a good player, and fits nicely next to Aldridge in the Blazers’ lineup. But he can walk in two years, perhaps giving the Blazers the cap space to extend Lillard and/or Aldridge. If they can do that, than the Lopez move could end up being fairly savvy. For now, however, it makes one wonder if the roster is good enough to squeak into the playoffs in the Western Conference.

The top-eight man rotation of Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, Lopez, Williams, Wright, and number ten overall pick C.J. McCollum is quite good. Of course, only two of those eight players play in the paint. The main backups in the front court will be Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson — both raw, both talented. But probably not yet qualified to be key cogs in a playoff rotation.

Additionally, for as much hype as Lillard received for his rookie campaign (To be clear, it was absolutely captivating. Let’s not let that get lost here.), he wasn’t that good/efficient/productive. Yes, 19 points and 6.5 assists per game is remarkable for a rookie point guard, but the peripherals were decidedly less pretty, and significantly more telling.

Lillard’s True-Shooting Percentage (TS%), which takes into account the value of two-point shots, three-pointers, and free throws, was .546. Not good or great, but not horrific. His Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), which reflects the different in value between two-point and three-point field goals, was .501. Again, decent. But certainly not world-beating.

At the same time, his turnover percentage of 14.5% was decent for a rookie point guard. But his defense was the biggest issue — the Blazers allowed 112 points per 100 possessions when Lillard was on the court. Easy to gloss over for the casual fan, but vital to joining the upper tiers of point guards in the NBA. His assist rate of 28.8% also needs to go up quite a bit in order to be seen as anywhere near elite.

Assuming that Lillard takes a large step forward in 2013-14 and Aldridge and Batum enjoy relative health, the Blazers will be a good team. They’ll almost certainly be better than all but five or six teams in the Eastern Conference, but alas, the Blazers must play with the hand their dealt. It’ll be a rough go of it in the rough and tumble West, even with their relative youth and added depth. One thing is for sure, however — they’ll be a treat to watch for NBA League Pass subscribers.

Best Case Scenario

It’s tough to peg just how many wins will be up for grabs in the middle of the Western Conference, with the odd mix of tanking teams and true contenders. The NBA’s overall talent seems to be largely consolidated among 25 teams or so, leaving a few near-guaranteed wins against bottom-feeders.

I like what Portland did over the summer. The sky is the limit for Lillard, assuming his defense picks up and his shot continues to improve. Batum must improve a fair amount if this team is to make the playoffs, however, and is likely the key to whether this team makes some noise or not. If he can make the leap that many have been expecting for a couple of years now, the Blazers could manage 42-45 wins.

Worst Case Scenario

Of course, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room — Aldridge’s alleged commitment issues. It’s anyone’s guess how the Portland front office is/will handle this situation, but if the team starts poorly and more rumors surface, Aldridge could be on the move. There are a number of young players in the rotation as well, and given the tough competition in the West, a return to 30-33 wins is certainly conceivable.

Most Likely Outcome

This team is well-built, minus front court depth. It’s tough to say what this team will be thinking by the February trade deadline, but they’ll probably have to do something if they think they can make the playoffs. I think they’ll be on the cusp, but 40-43 wins may not be enough to play postseason games in the Western Conference.

Atlantic

Central

Southeast

 Toronto Raptors (22) Cleveland Cavaliers (17) Washington Wizards (19)
 Boston Celtics (24)  Detroit Pistons (18)  Charlotte Bobcats (26)

Philadelphia 76ers (30)

 Milwaukee Bucks (20)  Orlando Magic (27)

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest

 Los Angeles Lakers (23)
 Portland Trail Blazers (16)  Sacramento Kings (25)

Utah Jazz (29)

Phoenix Suns (28)

 Dallas Mavericks (21)

Tags: C.J. McCollum Damian Lillard LaMarcus Aldridge NBA Portland Trail Blazers Robin Lopez