The Portland Trail Blazers have wrapped up their season with a 44-38 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, which they ultimately fell to the reigning champions the Golden State Warriors. The Blazers played exceptionally well against the Warriors but were just unable to sustain the lead nor keep up shot for shot with MVP Stephen Curry.
Having said that, let us analyze how the Blazers did this season with their new-look team.
Obviously, the great part is the Blazers made the playoffs and had a respectable run. During the offseason I had the Blazers slated to win 20 games and thought they would be in the lottery but they have far exceeded my, and many other sports analysts’, expectations. You have to admire what Head Coach Terry Stotts is doing in Portland. He was able to coach up a very young team to play together and produce.
I think the biggest highlight of the season was how fast the team grew as a unit and really knew each player’s role on the team. Star point guard Damian Lillard was the fearless leader and gave this team a spark when necessary and finished the season with 25.1 points and 6.8 assists, which are both career highs. His backcourt counterpart C.J. McCollum also was a huge contributor to the overall success of the team, notching 20.8 points and 4.3 assists. McCollum did an outstanding job filling the void left by Wes Matthews.
The synergy between these two were something to watch, as they always knew where the other player was at all times and really fed off of each other.
The team play was extraordinary, especially towards the end of the season leading up to the playoffs. Each player did their part. Outside of Lillard and McCollum I was very impressed with the play of Mason Plumlee, Allen Crabbe, and Moe Harkless. Plumlee showed off his versatility by averaging 11.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists during the playoffs and really creating opportunities for everyone.
Next, Crabbe played well and also showed off his offensive prowess. He was probably the most overlooked Blazer on the team. When Lillard was out with plantar fasciitis, Crabbe filled the role of the secondary scorer nicely. He averaged 10.6 points per game during the regular season. Although, he was a defensive liability for a good part of the season but really stepped up during the later part of the season and played really solid defense throughout the playoffs.
Lastly, Harkless played a vital role off the bench averaging 12.7 points during the Clippers series and showed that he can be a capable two-way player. If he gains a little bit of mass and polishes his defense a bit more he can probably carve out a full-time role at the four spot.
I know I am missing a few other players that have played well too but those up top are the ones that I was most impressed with.
You really have to credit the front office and the coaching staff with the recognition of young talent and development of the players.
The only bad thing you can really say about the team was the inconsistency throughout the season, but that is normal for a new team that lost four of its five starters. Also, the team’s defense was too inconsistent; often times the offense had to overwork to keep themselves in the game. The Blazers gave up an average of 104.7 points per game, which is ranked top 10 in the league. Yikes!
Lastly, Noah Vonleh was a disappointment in his first season and probably should not be kept on the roster the following season. He did absolutely nothing to overtake Ed Davis and even with the shoulder injury to Meyers Leonard could not make his way into the rotation.
As you may have heard the NBA salary cap will sky-rocket next season to roughly $89 million, which gives many teams an opportunity to make a splash in free-agency. According to spotrac.com, The Blazers will have a little north of $44 million to spend in free-agency. That is enough for a max contract and a mid-level contract if played right.
First-order of business The Blazers front office should try to keep their young nucleus intact and bring back Crabbe and Harkless at a reasonable price. Also, try to re-sign Gerald Henderson to play off the bench. This might be tough as he is still capable of playing high-quality basketball. Henderson might want to find a team he can start on.
Next, The Blazers should to go after a big free-agent like Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. He is a crafty big man and would be able to take some pressure of Lillard and McCollum. Also, he would not interfere with Plumlee, as Horford can slide into the four spot and contribute on offense.
Then finally, The Blazers should try to procure a reliable backup point guard to give some rest to Lillard. Maybe a good option would be Ish Smith or Ty Lawson. Ronnie Price would also not be a bad option, as his defensive skills are pretty good.
The Portland Trail Blazers had a great first season and significantly outperformed expectations. This young team is built to last and should start to put pressure on the top-teams next season. If they want to be true contenders, they will need to add another all-star caliber player and a few bench pieces to make it further than the second-round. It will be interesting to watch what The Blazers do to upgrade their team.
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