Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers – 44-38

Key Additions: Evan Turner – G (FA – 4 years, $70M), Festus Ezeli – C (FA – 2 years, $15M), Shabazz Napier – G (Trade with the Orlando Magic)

Departures: Cliff Alexander, Tim Frazier, Chris Kaman, Brian Roberts

The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the more storied franchises in the NBA. From Bill Walton to Brandon Roy, there have been stud players sprinkled across the decades in the upper north west. Damian Lillard is the latest name to add to that list. Lillard is a knockdown shooter that has the quickness and strength to dart into the lane in the blink of an eye. Despite having a shoot-first moniker tagged on him, Lillard is an underrated playmaker and is able to find the open man when the opponent places too much attention on him.

Portland was able to bounce back quickly from what looked like a disaster of an offseason in 2015. The team saw four starters (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Robin Lopez, and Wes Matthews) depart as free agents. That was no problem for Dame. The Blazers didn’t miss a single step and were able to notch the fifth seed in the Western Conference in 2015-16.

Keeping C.J. McCollum around was a big move as he and Lillard became one of the top backcourt duos in the league last year. Terry Stotts has proven that he can coach in this league and on the whole things are looking up for the Rip City heading into the new season.

SEASON/ROSTER OUTLOOK:

As long as Lillard and McCollum are around and healthy this is a lethal team. They’ve shown that they have the ability to hang with the elite of the West in the playoffs last year. Also, they might’ve stumbled onto a pot of gold with Mason Plumlee’s ability as a passer. His calling still lies on the defense as a rim protector, but if he can facilitate on offense at the same rate as we saw in their postseason matchups against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors he has the chance to be an Andrew Bogut type of player.

Their biggest addition this offseason was bringing in Evan Turner. Turner’s ability to handle the ball and run an offense is a good pick up in theory. However, Turner needs the ball in his hand constantly to be truly effective as a player. It will help to get Lillard and McCollum working off the ball for some situations during games, but ultimately you want those two to have the ball as much as possible. Along with Turner the team was able to get Festus Ezeli away from the Warriors. Yet, by the end of last season Ezeli’s stock had plummeted. He doesn’t have great hands and is very foul prone.

PREDICTIONS: 46-34

Portland could break the 50 win mark this year, but I don’t think they are able to strike that type of luck in consecutive years. The Trail Blazers will definitely have the talent and depth to win any game they play, but I think they will see a minimal improvement in the win column this year.

Lillard and McCollum are going to be the two pieces that will carry the Trail Blazers into a possible home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. If either have to miss extended time due to injury, things could go south quickly for Portland.

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