As the Portland Trailblazers start training camp in less than a week, the anticipation of what is to come surrounds the team from top to bottom. What type of offense will Terry Stotts run and will Nicolas Batum live up to new expectations? Will Damian Lillard be the point guard of now and the future? Just how good are international rookies Joel Freeland and Victor Claver?
In glancing at the Blazers roster, general manager Neil Olshey has pieced together a group that is young, but through diversity, should rack up a few significant wins in what should be the beginning of a new era in Portland. Here is a look at all five positions on the Blazers’ roster that should bring their share of excitement to the Rose Garden.
Watching Lillard over the summer you’d think he was the second coming of Derrick Rose and is certain to lead the Blazers to deep playoff runs at some point in his career. In all reality, though, for the ever-calm Lillard, his season will probably be filled with more learning experiences than highlights. Lillard was more of a scoring guard in college and will be learning the point guard from Stotts on the fly.
Nolan Smith was drafted to run the Blazers’ offense only a year ago and with the recent signing of veteran Ronnie Price, the Blazers have more than enough talent mixed with a decent amount of experience. Price may be key at this position although playing a backup role. Price plays an intelligent game and has been an understudy to some of the best in the NBA in Steve Nash and Deron Williams.
Price has vast knowledge to pass on. Stotts may not have the best in the league running his offense this season, but certainly has the depth and potential to do more than simply compete.
One of the Blazers’ more questionable spots with some questions that will be answered as the season unfolds. Wesley Matthews, injured over the summer, returns to the Blazers after an up and down season last year that saw him average just shy of 14 ppg. Rookie Will Barton, like Lillard, looked promising this summer and could do much more than is expected.
Having two rookies in the backcourt at the same time doesn’t seem like the best of answers for Stotts if he’s truly looking to win now and get a playoff seeding. Matthews needs to play with a consistency for the Blazers in his fourth NBA year. Doing so early on could assist the Blazers younger guards in being able to find their own games. Where Elliot Williams fits as a guard remains to be seen. In a crowded backcourt players like Lillard, Smith and even Price could log minutes at the two for the Blazers to stay competitive if Matthews can’t hold his own.
Batum will finally get the chance to show what he can do with the ball in his hands and more of a leadership role in Portland. After a busy summer that saw him highly courted as a free agent and the summer Olympics, Batum should attack this season with a revised energy and a refreshed focus that will justify his payday. Stotts will give the majority of minutes here to Batum but a player like Claver could very well have a strong presence on the floor that justifies minutes at the two and three spots.
Claver, fresh off playing in this summer’s Olympics with a silver medal Spain, will almost undoubtedly command attention from defenses. Claver showed an ability to shoot the three and create opportunities in an unassuming way during the international games and should bring that same flair to the NBA. Luke Babbitt at this time is on the roster but the minutes here are pretty much spoken for.
Once again, LaMarcus Aldridge will hold things down at the four spot for the Blazers as a household name that averaged almost 22 ppg last year. Will he play too many minutes for Stotts is probably the only question as Aldridge is the clear cut leader on this team. Aldridge, more than likely, will shuffle between the forward and center position.
JJ Hickson comes off the bench as a sixth man and does his share of work with a keen sense of his own scoring presence during games. Freeland is another rookie that will be used as a rebounder and defender in the post possibly seeing minutes as both a forward and center. Freeland will probably be more of an observing learner to the returning Blazers as Aldridge is an All-Star and Hickson has proven himself as a real gamer in the NBA.
The recently signed Jared Jeffries will have a veteran’s respect but not necessarily the minutes in Stotts rotation but all this remains to be seen. The simple presence of all four make this the Blazers position that is the deepest and of the least concern.
Camp will open in less than a week and ironically for Portland, the center position is vacant. The way the roster looks, rookie Meyers Leonard is set to start by default. If so, Leonard won’t be relied upon to score this season, but to provide a defensive presence down low that only a 7’1 center could have. Depending on how well Leonard plays, there could really be any combination of him, Aldridge, Freeland and possibly Jeffries and Hickson at the five for Stotts and the Blazers.
Anyway it’s looked at it, as of now, on paper it’s probably going to be center by committee as opposed to hanging Leonard out to dry against players like Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Next to the shooting guard, center is another position that the Blazers lack any real depth and an injury here, could determine a lot of what happens in the 2012-2013 season.