The stage is set, the roster has been cut down to 15 and basketball season is here. In less than a week, the Portland Trail Blazers take the court in Phoenix to kick off the new campaign.
During the preseason there have been clear improvements when it comes to the branch depth and defense. The Blazers have held their opponents to around 40% FG percentage the last 5 games of the preseason, which is a huge improvement off of last year.
Fans around town love the makeup of this team and how many highlights will be created this year from the likes of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum. But there are definite things to keep an eye on to see what improvements have been made during the offseason.
1 ) Defense. This is a huge thing for this team. With the shooters they have added to this team, they should score in the high-90s every night. The question is, can they keep their opponents under 100? I think the defense will be better with the anchor of Robin Lopez. He will impact shots in the paint and give the other four guys on the court a little more freedom to play more aggressive defense.
2 ) Bench Depth. Last year’s bench was one of the absolute benches ever. That is no exaggeration. Adding Dorell Wright, Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson was a huge success; now we all wait and see what that translates to on the court. Having more depth on a team not only helps during game night, but practices will also be more competitive between teammates.
3 ) Health. There are always whispers around Portland that the Blazers are cursed when it comes to injuries. Last year we saw basically everyone on the team, aside from Lillard, miss time for various ailments. The key in the tough Western Conference will be health. There will be 3-5 teams vying for the last couple playoff spots and whoever stays healthiest down the stretch will make the playoffs.
4 ) Development. This is when work ethics and coaching collide. Lillard is expected to come off of his ROY season with another huge season and possibly an All-Star bid. The same expectations aren't there for guys like Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Victor Claver, and Joel Freeland. If the Blazers want to really take that next step they really need to have a breakout performance from one or two of these guy.
My excitement is at a fever pitch, but my expectations are tempered. I think this team is very talented and ready to compete. The chemistry will take a bit to catch up. I predict a 38-43 win season and barely missing the playoffs. I hope they prove me wrong. But no matter what happens, I'm just grateful basketball is back!