NBA Season Preview

Portland Trailblazers 2016-17 Season Preview: Damian Lillard carries load for Rip City

Portland Trailblazers season preview

This season, the Portland Trailblazers will look to put all doubters to rest as the team guns for another playoff run after successfully reaching the semifinals and falling to the mighty Warriors last year. A year where they faced a watered down western conference. A year where they did not have to face Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

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Oh, and a year that did not have Kevin Durant on the Golden State roster.

But giving credit to where credit is due, the Blazers did make it to the semis without their four starters and sixth man after losing them to injuries. So this year may mark a better, more experienced and ready(er) Rip City team.

Portland Trailblazers Depth Chart

Point Guards: Damian Lillard, Shabazz Napier

Shooting Guards: C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe

Small Forwards: Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Pat Connaughton, Jake Lyman

Power Forwards: Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh

Centers: Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, Festus Ezeli

Key Additions: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli

Key Losses: Brian Roberts, Chris Kaman, Gerald Henderson

With the team retaining key players McCollum and Crabbe during the offseason, the biggest addition to the young Portland team could probably be Evan Turner.

Adding Turner to the Blazers lineup gives the team a bigger presence inside the arc, with the former number two pick bringing in an all around inside game to the team. Last season, he was the only player in the league to average at least ten points, four rebounds and four assists in less than 30 minutes per game per season.

Despite this, Turner also brings in some challenges, as well, with almost zero outside game potentially affecting the Blazers’ plays beyond the arc.

Portland Trailblazers Strengths/ Weaknesses

Off the bat, the majority of the Blazers’ success will rely heavily on the performance of its backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Though Lillard has nowhere else to go but up with his stellar stats (25.1 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.0 RBG), the point guard may also be reaching his peak in terms of his on-court skills.

McCollum, on the other hand, may have already seen the best season that he could have in his NBA career, making him a wild card of sorts for the team. But then again, he may still have a lot in him, and Blazer fans may actually see what could be another breakout career for McCollum (thereby potentially making it a break out the career for Portland).

What is Lillard’s strength could also be the weakness of the Blazers? With so much of the team’s load depending largely on the guard, an off night could immediately spell trouble for the team.

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Defensive trouble also comes to mind as, despite being an effective offensive duo, the Lillard and McCollum tandem is probably one of the weakest defensive backcourts in the NBA. Lillard ranked 79th out of 81 point guards in terms of Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, while McCollum finished 91st in defensive win shares among 117 players to clear 2,000 minutes.

“Lillard and McCollum are the Lillard and McCollum of bad defensive backcourts…” wrote Danny Chau of the Ringer. “Among starting guard duos who played at least 60 games together, only three had a worse defensive rating.”

Prediction

Despite spending during the offseason to retain key players, the Portland Trailblazers still look like an underpowered playoff contender among a powerhouse of western conference elites. Though the team has a large chance of making another playoff run, their overbearing dependence on the performances of Lillard and McCollum still make them unlikely to become dominant enough to make a play for the title.

Photo Courtesy: nikk_la/ Flickr

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