2011-2012 Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview
Still reeling from the abrupt retirement of one of their most popular stars in team history, the Portland Trail Blazers have quietly put together a well-balanced team long on youth, size, toughness and athleticism. Sixth in the Western Conference last season, the Portland Trail Blazers are hoping to put the injury bug in their review mirror and get out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the 2011-2012 Portland Trail Blazers:
|Five Guys Think…|
It’s amazing that through all the bad luck this team has encountered, they have still managed to find a way to put together an extremely competitive team. Even without All-Star shooting guard Brandon Roy and the often-injured Greg Oden, this team is still going to be quite formidable. Despite the changes and losses, their backcourt is still going to be extremely productive thanks to the addition of guards Raymond Felton and Jamaal Crawford. Inside LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby give them a strong presence. Nobody in the league gave the Dallas Mavericks as hard of a time en their route to winning a championship that the Blazers did, and they’ll be that kind of pesky team again this year.
2nd Place, Northwest Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
The Blazers may be without Brandon Roy and Greg Oden this season, but they have done an admirable job of filling those voids. Wesley Matthews is ready and willing to takeover the starting role full time and LaMarcus Aldridge is prepared to play center after bulking up over the extended offseason. Key additions Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Kurt Thomas give Blazers fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic, even in the light of the tragedy of Roy’s premature retirement.
2nd Place – Northwest Division
- Bill Ingram
It hurts, Portland fans. Losing Brandon Roy, who meant so much to the organization, would’ve been enough to put a damper over the start of this season, but another year without Greg Oden, too? Pain in its basest form. At least the Blazers can take solace in the fact that they ended up with the steal of this year’s free agency pool by nabbing Jamal Crawford for 2 years and only $10 million. He’ll slide right in and actually contribute more to the team than Roy has even been able to the last couple of seasons. Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas were respectable signings, too, and let’s not forget that we’ve got three guys on this team in LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Mathews, and Ray Felton capable of having All-Star years. It’s easy for Portland fans to get down on themselves at the moment, but it really could be worse. Despite everything, the expectation should still be for this team to have a pretty respectable season, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t end up back in the playoffs.
2nd Place, Northwest Division
- Joel Brigham
Being a Portland Trail Blazers fan over the past few years has become synonymous with possessing a strong amount of patience and a high tolerance for mental anguish. Heading into the 2012 season, the news in Portland got even worse. Once promising All-Star guard Brandon Roy walked away from the game due to chronic knee trouble, Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007, suffered another medical setback which in all likelihood put his season in jeopardy and emerging forward LaMarcus Aldridge has missed time during training camp after suffering a health issue of his own. On the positive side veterans Jamal Crawford and Kurt Thomas arrive to town bringing with them over twenty seasons of combined NBA experience. The team is talented but can they finally avoid the injury plague?
2nd Place, Northwest Division
- Lang Greene
Every year, the Portland Trail Blazers seem to be decimated by injuries. This season is no different. Prior to the team’s first game, Brandon Roy’s knees forced him to retire and Greg Oden experienced a setback in his rehab that may sideline him for the entire year. With that said, Portland is such a talented team that they may still be able to contend after losing two of their most important players. They have a ton of depth and were one of the hottest teams in the second-half of last season. Now, with a full year of Gerald Wallace and the additions of Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford and Craig Smith, the Blazers are a team to keep an eye on in the Northwest Division.
2nd Place, Northwest Division
- Alex Kennedy
|Top Of The List|
Top Offensive Player: LaMarcus Aldridge – Last season was the best of Aldridge’s five-year career. He posted career-highs in points, rebounds and free throw shooting, while also tying his career-highs in steals, blocks and assists. With Brandon Roy hobbled with the injuries that eventually led to his retirement, Aldridge stepped up to fill a void in leadership and production. Roy’s image will loom over the franchise for a long time, but this is now Aldridge’s team.
Top Defensive Player: Gerald Wallace – With the ability to defend just about every position on the floor and a keen sense of where to move in order to best support his teammates, Wallace leads the way on defense. He can be physical in the post, keep up with quicker players on the wings, and pound the glass. Wallace also has help with center Marcus Camby; with Aldridge they form one of the league’s better defensive front lines.
Top Playmaker: Raymond Felton – Shouldn’t your top playmaker be your starting point guard? Last year it was Andre Miller throwing lobs to Aldridge and putting players in position to find success, but a draft day trade made the Blazers younger at the position without losing much. Felton doesn’t have Miller’s experience, but he will force the Blazers to run at a faster tempo and take advantage of their athleticism.
Top Clutch Player: Aldridge – With Brandon Roy on the floor everyone in the building knew who would take a final shot if Portland had the ball. That was a problem. Now that final play is going to be designed for Aldridge but will also allow for more flexibility to move out of the post to shooters like Wes Matthews and Jamal Crawford. Aldridge may not take the final shot, but his placement on the floor and the defensive focus he draws will directly influence the final outcome.
The Unheralded Player: Wes Matthews – After one season in Utah playing for the rookie minimum Portland signed Matthews to an offer sheet for the full Mid-Level Exception last summer. The Jazz balked at matching and many wondered why Portland was willing to commit so much to him when they already had Roy. That move proved prescient. With Roy’s injuries last year Matthews took over the starting role at the two and posted 15.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and shot 41% from three-point range. As a thank you it was assumed he’d go back to the bench when Roy returned and Coach McMillan even – just days before Roy’s abrupt retirement – named Roy as his starting shooting guard. Then Portland went out and signed Jamal Crawford and many felt he should be the starter. Instead, Matthews will still be the starting two on opening night and, entering his third season, could be better than ever.
Best New Addition: Jamal Crawford – Last season Portland’s second unit lacked much scoring. Some of that goes back to injuries that shuffled players previously thought to come off the bench into the starting lineup, but it also was simply because the bench lacked firepower. Enter Crawford. He will play role similar to the one he played in Atlanta that led to him winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2010. Portland hasn’t had a player off the bench in a while who demanded the defense pay attention to him. Crawford will be that player.
– Jason Fleming.
|Who We Like|
1 – Aldridge: What’s not to like? After being widely regarded as a snub from the 2011 Western Conference All-Star team, Aldridge put the Blazers on his back without Roy last year and almost carried them past the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. If he isn’t an All-Star in 2012 there needs to be a full investigation.
2 – Marcus Camby: Camby’s history says he won’t play a full season, but healthy or not he is the team’s veteran leader and the director of the defense from the middle of the paint. He will turn 38 before the end of his 16th season and is entering the last year of his contract, but the Blazers still depend on him.
3 – The Bench: The additions that have been made for 2011-12 make this one of the deepest Blazer teams in recent memory. Crawford brings scoring and the ability to play both guard sports. Rookie point guard Nolan Smith has impressed his coach enough he will earn minutes backing up Felton. Batum starred for Nancy in France during the lockout and is bringing a little more confidence to the floor. Veteran Kurt Thomas will add toughness to the middle, something the Blazers have been missing since Joel Przybilla was hurt a year and a half ago. Craig Smith adds rebounding and the ability to run the floor as a forward. And even behind all of those players, rookie (after missing his entire first year) Elliot Williams is one of the most athletic players in the entire league and has impressed in training camp.
4 – GM Chad Buchanan: Yes, Buchanan still has “interim” before his title, but hasn’t he done enough to earn the job? The GM role in Portland is different than most teams because decisions are made by a small inner circle and not simply by the GM, which means the person in that role has to be able to be the public face of the decisions and has to get along with all the parties on the inside. Communication is key, and the lack thereof (or disagreements with the circle) directly led to the firing of the two previous GMs, Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho. Portland has insisted Buchanan isn’t the man for the job, but at the same time look at what has been done while he’s been in the interim role: they got younger at point guard by trading Miller for Felton; they added depth in the draft with the addition of Nolan Smith; they signed Crawford, Thomas and Craig Smith as free agents. For a short period of time all of that looks pretty good.
5 – Coach Nate McMillan: McMillan to this point has been a coach who has had success but has been reluctant to let his players loose. With the offense dominated by Roy and Miller, McMillan preferred a slower game, evidenced by Portland being at or near the top of the league in possessions per game. However, with Roy and Miller gone and Felton now running the show McMillan is opening up the offense while still holding his players accountable on the other end of the floor. This is what a good coach does – he adapts to his personnel.
- Jason Fleming.
The Portland Trail Blazers have quietly put together a team with very few flaws. They have rebounders in the starting lineup and off the bench, and a bench deep enough that someone can step into the starting lineup in case of injury. Each unit can defend at all points on the floor. They have athletes who can push the tempo and work well in a halfcourt game. The roster is a nice mix of young and old, and Coach McMillan demands accountability. Portland will be very difficult for a team to get an advantage over and will bring intensity every night. In a condensed, 66-game season, that could lead to at least the second round of the playoffs.
- Jason Fleming.
Last season Portland was outrebounded by 0.4 boards a game on average, placing them 17th in the league in rebounding differential. The theory is a full season of Wallace and a deeper frontcourt will improve that, but it’s not a given. The Blazers also finished 21st in the league in three-point shooting percentage and while they did add the streaky Crawford, Felton isn’t much of a shooter from that far outside. Then, of course, there are the injuries, which always seem to hold this team back.
- Jason Fleming.
|The Coach’s Chair By Anthony Macri|
I am not going to say a word about how we play defensively. I think we are good enough to compete if we hadn’t added some of the guys we did. However, we are adding speed in Raymond Felton, which should hopefully help get us transition baskets, since we have struggled a little grinding out scoring chances. Gerald, we need you to stay healthy – we need your presence athletically. Everything will continue to run through you, LaMarcus. In fact, I think we are going to need even more from you than we received last year. If you can be the absolute beast that I think you can be, everyone can watch out – the reality is you could be the best player in the league. If that happens, we can be a real threat.
- Anthony Macri
|The Burning Question|
Can the Portland Trail Blazers stay healthy?
After the news of Roy’s retirement and center Greg Oden being asked to slow down his rehabilitation from his knee surgeries – he’s now out until mid-February at least – Coach McMillan began his first media address this year with this sentiment: just once he’d like to start a season without having to talk about someone being out for the year. The injuries in Portland have added to hundreds of games missed and millions of dollars spent on no production in the past few years, despite the Blazers having a very, very talented roster on paper. If the team can stay healthy – and with Portland, it always seems to be “if” – they could move to the top of the conference. If not, then they face another season of mediocrity; not good enough to make a playoff impact and not bad enough for a trip to the draft lottery.
- Jason Fleming
How do you see the Blazers this season, leave your comments below…