Friday, October 9, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Portland TrailBlazers

PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS
[] 51-31
[] Offensive Rating: 108.8 (9th)
[] Defensive Rating: 104.3 (9th)
[] Net Rating: +4.5 (6th)
[] Eliminated in 1st round of NBA playoffs
[] Coach: Terry Stotts

No team is going to look more different from a year ago than the Portland Trailblazers.  They retain star PG Damian Lillard, but will be breaking in a new starter at every other position.  The biggest hole comes at PF, where LaMarcus Aldridge will no longer be in town to give Portland the steady 20 & 10 he's provided since budding into a superstar over the last five years.  While that's certainly their biggest loss, replacing Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum won't be easy either.  The team made the right decision to start from scratch as soon as they realized Aldridge would be jumping ship, but there are going to be growing pains this year.  They picked up young talent over the summer, but most of the pieces they acquired are either unproven or incapable of providing Lillard with the level of support he's going to need.

Projected Starting Five

PG: Damian Lillard - 6'3, 195 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
21.0
20.7
26.9%
56.0%
34.3%
.421
86.4%
.293
29.0%
12.6

There are definitely worse pieces to start a rebuild around.  In an era where PG is definitely the deepest position in the league, Lillard is firmly in the upper echelon.  At only 25 years old, and signed through the end of the 2021-22 season, the Blazers will have him all the way through his prime.  Now the key will be adding enough young, established talent to make Lillard's $120M extension viable.  Lillard wasn't a low usage player by any means, but he's looking at a significant jump this year with Aldridge, Batum and Matthews no longer in town.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Lillard's Usage Rate shoot up into the low or mid 30s this season, which would cement him as one of the five most used players in the league.  The good news is, Lillard posted the league's 5th-best points per possession number in isolation situations (min. 125 poss.) last year.  The bad news is, he'll no longer have Matthews, Batum and Aldridge around to keep the defense honest.  There's no reason to panic if Lillard slides back a bit this year.  It's only reasonable to expect that his raw production will improve, but his efficiency measures might take a hit.

SG: Gerald Henderson - 6'6, 215 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
80
12.1
13.2
20.7%
51.4%
33.1%
.161
84.8%
.256
15.6%
10.5%

Henderson's a serviceable player, but he's not going to move the needle much for a fanbase that had the pleasure of watching Wesley Matthews for the past few years.  He lives in the mid-range a bit more than you'd like to see, especially when you consider that he converted 62.9% of his FGA within 3 feet of the basket last year.  He's entering the meat of his prime now, which coincides with a contract year; Portland should see the best that Henderson has to offer.  He could find himself fending off McCollum at some point, but to start the year, it looks like Henderson is the 2nd or 3rd option on the offensive end of the floor for Portland.  If he plays well, he could hold some value as a trade chip at the deadline.

SF: Al-Farouq Aminu - 6'9, 220 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
75
5.6
14.4
15.2%
50.4%
27.4%
.347
71.2%
.331
13.7%
6.1%

I really, really like what Aminu brings to the table, but I'm not sure this is going to be the best fit for him.  His defensive game is what derives a large chunk of his value, and while that shouldn't change in Portland, the Blazers don't have enough top to bottom to live with Aminu's offensive deficiencies.  This would have been a really good signing had the Blazers managed to keep Matthews and Aldridge.  Aminu was brilliant all-around for the Mavs in their playoff series loss to the Rockets, but that was built on an unsustainable 3P% (63.6%) and FTr (.613).  Aminu may be better offensively this year than last, but his value as a high quality role player is reduced by there not being enough go-to options in the Blazers' lineup.

PF: Mason Plumlee - 6'10, 240 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
82
8.7
18.0
19.2%
57.0%
16.5%
11.3%
21.6%
49.5%
.648
1.3

I would say that if things go as planned, this spot will be manned by Noah Vonleh by the end of the year.  Until then, Plumlee makes for a bit of an awkward fit at the 4 due to his lack of range.  That would be more of a problem if Leonard couldn't help stretch the floor though.  To this point in his career, 76% of Plumlee's FGA have come within 3 feet of the basket.  While he certainly isn't a new-era stretch four, Plumlee played some PF (about 25% of his minutes) in Brooklyn, and should be fine here if Leonard, Lillard and Henderson can keep the defense honest.  I would feel better about Plumlee manning the PF spot if Aminu were swapped out with a strong outside shooter, but this is what it is.  Plumlee's a solid basketball player and should have another productive, efficient season.  I imagine that he'll also shoulder some minutes as the nominal backup C if/when Chris Kaman is traded.  Regardless of all of the factors, Plumlee looks to have the unenviable position  of taking over the starting PF spot from LaMarcus Aldridge. 

C: Meyers Leonard - 7'1, 245 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
55
5.9
14.8
15.8%
63.1%
42.0%
.457
93.8%
.131
15.8%
5.8%

Leonard's never going to be a star, but the Blazers may have their C of the future, which makes me think that of the four starters from last year who departed, Portland will miss Robin Lopez the least.  Leonard's 1.32 PPP as the roll-man in a PnR last season was only topped by four players last season, with a minimum of 59 possessions.  Those four were Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside and Tyson Chandler.  On top of knocking down 42% of his three point attempts, Leonard shot 58.6% within three feet of the rim.  That's a good formula for giving teams a hard time defending you in the pick-and-roll.  Expect Lillard and Leonard to run plenty of basketball's simplest play this season.  Leonard may be the second option on offense this year, and stands to see his Usage Rate bump into the 20s.

Bench

PG: Tim Frazier - 6'1, 170 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
11
5.2
8.1
17.5%
40.6%
29.4%
.279
47.6%
.344
39.4%
26.2%

Frazier played pretty well for the Blazers in what equated to a five game tryout at the end of the 2014-15 season, including a 13-point, 10-assist showing against the Mavericks.  He'll likely have the first crack at filling the hole left by trading Steve Blake.  Pressey could challenge him for minutes if he struggles, but that's not a desirable scenario.

PG: Phil Pressey - 5'11, 175 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
50
3.5
11.8
17.3%
45.3%
25.6%
.374
67.3%
.282
28.0%
17.3%

He's okay as your third PG, I guess.  He'll never be a serviceable NBA guard until he learns how to shoot the ball though.  At his size, he gets to the FT line well, but that doesn't make up for shooting a high frequency of three pointers at an abysmal rate.  The backup PG spot is an issue on this Blazers team.

G: CJ McCollum - 6'4, 200 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
62
6.8
13.1
20.5%
53.4%
39.6%
.381
69.9%
.200
10.3%
10.8%

McCollum made small statistical improvements in just about every area last season after an underwhelming rookie campaign.  He upped his shooting efficiency inside and outside the arc, got to the FT line more frequently, increased his Assist Rate and cut down on his Turnover Rate.  He'll have his sights on taking the starting SG spot from Gerald Henderson, which would be welcomed by the Blazers' brass if he earns it.  In order to truly stake claim to a starting spot, McCollum needs to continue to whittle away the mid-range game that composed 40.6% of his FGA last season.

SG: Pat Connaughton - 6'5, 210 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
38
12.5
7.4
1.5
46.6%
42.3%
78.1%

Connaughton should bounce back and forth between Portland and the D-League as the Blazers pick and choose spots to get minutes for the rookie.  Most first-year players struggle to shoot the ball, and if that's the case with Connaughton, he may not have much to offer in his year one.

G/F: Allen Crabbe - 6'6, 210 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
51
3.3
8.7
11.5%
52.5%
35.3%
.556
75.0%
.105
8.1%
8.6%

Crabbe didn't really leave his mark in the 9 games that he started after Wes Matthews went down last season.  He shot 34.0% from the field as a starter, 26.9% from beyond the arc, and that can't bode well for his chances at a bigger role this year.  It would be less of an issue if he hadn't been so mediocre off the bench as well.  The only chance Crabbe has at becoming a key piece off the bench is if he can up his outside shooting and get to the FT line more often.  With young wings piling up (Aminu, McCollum, Connaughton, Harkless), he better do it sooner than later.

SF: Moe Harkless - 6'8, 210 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
45
3.5
8.4
13.7%
44.9%
17.9%
.354
53.7%
.259
8.9%
5.4%

Harkless took a bit of a step back in his 3rd season in the league.  He shot a putrid rate from behind the three point line, down from over 38% in his sophomore campaign.  The good news is, Harkless takes a decent chunk of his shots at the rim (51.3% of career FGA w/in 3 ft.) and converts two-point attempts at a 50.8% rate.  He's not going to shoot 18% from the perimeter again, so I think Portland is going to see an improved year.  At only 22 years old, the Blazers are hoping they got a steal when they grabbed Harkless for a future 2nd rounder this summer.  I think he'll be a pleasant surprise.

PF: Noah Vonleh - 6'10, 235 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
25
3.3
13.2
17.3%
47.5%
38.5%
.171
69.2%
.342
18.3%
2.5%

Vonleh remains a project after only playing a total of 259 NBA minutes in his rookie season.  Still, it seems like the Blazers got great value by trading the last season of Batum for the 9th pick in the 2014 draft.  He's got legitimate range out to the NBA three point line, a 7'4 wingspan and he gets up and down the floor well.  Now he just has to put it together, as he figures to get plenty of opportunities behind Plumlee in 2015-16.  At least until Portland makes their likely lottery pick in the 2016 draft, Vonleh figures to be the planned Robin to Lillard's Batman.  If he pans out, his game pairs very interestingly with the outside shooting presence of Meyers Leonard.  Cliff Alexander will also fight for minutes at the PF spot.

PF: Ed Davis - 6'10, 230 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
79
8.3
20.0
14.8%
59.4%
18.0%
13.3%
23.1%
48.7%
.403
1.9

Portland will be the fourth stop for the paint-oriented big man.  Much like Plumlee, Davis takes a big chunk of his FGA at the rim (71.4% w/in 3 ft. in '14-'15), which will likely limit the minutes he plays with Plumlee or Kaman.  If Vonleh takes off, Davis could find himself in a minimized role.

C: Chris Kaman - 7'0, 265 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
74
8.6
17.3
22.5%
53.7%
18.5%
11.6%
25.2%
70.6%
.186
1.4

Kaman is certainly past his prime, but he still has some on-court value.  With the Blazers making a sweeping youth movement, Kaman will likely be dealt to a contender who needs frontcourt depth between now and the 2016 trade deadline.

Outlook

The Blazers were smart to cut their losses when they couldn't re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge this summer.  The moves they made to acquire young talent in order to rebuild around Damian Lillard should pay off in the long run.  However, that also means they're going to suffer in the short run.  It would take some help from the true Western Conference contenders and an MVP-caliber season from Damian Lillard for this team to think about a playoff berth.  Success shouldn't be measured in wins and losses for this year's Blazers team.  Instead, this year needs to be about milking every inch of development out of guys like CJ McCollum, Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Mason Plumlee and Moe Harkless.  The roster is set up to give those guys plenty of opportunities, and that's going to hurt them in the win column.  With 52 contests in the unforgiving Western Conference, I see the Blazers ending the season with something around 22 wins.

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