Although there will always be usual dominant contenders such as the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA, every year there is a team or two that finds a way to persevere when no one expects them to do so. Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies took the Western Conference by storm when they asserted themselves as a battle-hardened defensive juggernaut that could suppress explosive offenses at will. This year, the NBA has once again revealed another successful niche team whose success is predicated on a young and tenacious offense: the Portland Trailblazers. While the Trail Blazers have plateaued in terms of their unstoppable scoring capabilities, they are still ranked fifth in a highly competitive Western Conference. Despite the Trail Blazers intriguing Cinderella story, teams such as Oklahoma City and San Antonio have continued to garner more than their fair share of the limelight for their beloved dynasties regardless of their inconsistencies. Yet, even without this type of attention, the Trail Blazers have been content with simply playing their style of basketball until they can prove themselves in the NBA playoffs.
Whenever the inevitable debate arises of which point guard is the most gifted, it’s easy to direct the conversation towards the likes of Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, and Chris Paul. While all of these distinguished ball handlers have earned their place as some of the elite leaders in the game, one youthful talent has yet to be fully appreciated for his confident demeanor and on the court consistency. At age 23, point guard Damian Lillard has welcomed the pressures of being a dynamic ball facilitator that can both score proficiently while dishing out well-timed assists to his eager comrades. Although Lillard’s field goal percentage may be considered average at best (he shoots 43.1% from the field), his perimeter shooting has been a sensational asset for his offensively potent team (he shoots 40.2% from the perimeter). What makes Lillard’s numbers even more impressive is that he still has a tremendous amount of room to grow before he reaches his full potential. With every game he participates in, Lillard always finds a way to contribute and isn’t afraid to change up his style of play in order help his team excel in critical circumstances.
Of course, every successful point guard needs a right hand man who can carry out his leaders initiatives on the court. Although there are many dynamic guard and forward duos in the NBA, the chemistry between Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge is simply awe-inspiring. Not only can Aldridge score with a degree of impressive consistency (23.4 PPG), he also uses his immense size to bully over confident defenders to garner one well-deserved rebound after another (11.1 RPG). Again, as is the case with Lillard, Aldridge has shown drastic improvements even in just one year in terms of his scoring and rebounding capabilities. Even Aldridge’s free throwing prowess has become much more reliable as he shoots just under 82% from the charity strike.
Although the Trail Blazers have come to be known for their fast paced and physical offense, they still have a reliable center who has stepped up his game as both an avid rebounder and accurate shooter (he shoots 53.7% from the field). While Robin Lopez was decisively average last year for a center, he hasn’t let last years forgettable performances prevent him from reaching his full potential. In one year, Lopez went from only garnering 4.7 RPG to averaging 8.6 RPG this year. Having Lopez and Aldridge working in tandem allows the Trail Blazers to receive a plethora of second chance opportunities, as both of these tenacious athletes are able to snatch nearly 20 RPG between just the two of them. While having a starting roster that is made up of young starters can be a recipe for disaster, it also allows the Trailblazers to wear down their opponents while maintaining a consistent level of competitive drive throughout the entire course of a single game.
When all is said and done, the Portland Trail Blazers have worked tremendously hard on their shortcomings from last year to become one of the surprise contenders in the Western Conference. While established teams such as the Thunder and Spurs won’t relinquish their prominent places at the top easily, the Trailblazers have proven that they can capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes while utilizing their own offensive schemes. If the Trail Blazers can remain as hungry and emotionally determined as they have been all season long, they might be able to make an unexpected run in the playoffs to surprise their bitter conference rivals come post season play.