NBA Question of the Day: Will this year’s breakout team be the Portland Trail Blazers?
This year’s breakout team will be the Portland Trail Blazers
From now until the start of NBA training camps, we’ll be asking a question about the league and its upcoming season. Today: Who will be this year's breakout team?
BOSTON – This is not where Portland is supposed to be, right now.
They lost the face of their franchise in LaMarcus Aldridge who signed with San Antonio.
All-Star guard Damian Lillard was the man waiting in line to take over, but behind him…it wasn’t pretty.
But a funny thing happened as the 2015-2016 season played out.
Portland won … a lot.
And when all was said and done, this team projected by many to be in the lottery had the fifth-best record in the always-challenging Western Conference.
As you fast forward to the present, the Blazers’ future is as bright as any team in the NBA that doesn’t play in the Bay Area.
They have experience. They have young, still-on-the-rise talent.
They have a talented by very underrated head coach in Terry Stotts.
And when you look at all those factors, it collectively adds up to a team that poised to make noise – some series noise – in the NBA this season.
No one believes they’ll win a title this season, but the Blazers will be among the breakout teams in the NBA that will be considered one of the game’s elite teams by season’s end.
TALENTED YOUNG CORE RETURNS
Damian Lillard is the headliner, but the Blazers proved to us all last season that they have a roster that’s relatively deep beyond their all-star point guard.
One of the Portland is one of the more aggressive teams in the NBA when it comes to attacking the rim.
Lillard averages 9.8 drives per game which according to NBA.com/stats, ranked 10th in the NBA last season.
His backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was a breakout performer last season and won the league’s Most Improved Player award.
Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harkless and Mason Plumlee are just some of the key players back in the fold, all of whom are still relatively young even by NBA standards.
Portland doesn’t have a single player with a guaranteed contract older than 27 years of age, with the team’s “old men” being Ed Davis and former Celtic Evan Turner.
That kind of talent and cohesiveness bodes well for Portland’s short- and long-term future.
KEY FREE-AGENT ADDITIONS
Because of their youth, the Blazers were in position to be among the big spenders on the free agent market this past season. Because of their overflow of young talent, the Blazers were very selective in who they would target on the free agent market.
One of Portland’s first signings was former Celtic Evan Turner who inked a four-year, $70 million deal. Turner’s versatility was instrumental in Boston advancing to the postseason in each of his two seasons under head coach Brad Stevens.
In addition to Turner, the Blazers signed Festus Ezili to a two-year, $16 million deal to provided added depth in the frontcourt.
Those two signings by themselves won’t make Portland a title contender. More than anything else, they provide some more depth and experience to a team that’s still very young.
DIVISION CROWN THERE FOR THE TAKING
Portland should be among the biggest teams to benefit from Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Although Oklahoma City is still a solid playoff contender with Russell Westbrook still on board, the Blazers have the kind of talent and depth that should lead them to winning the Northwest Division. Minnesota and Utah are both squads that will be better this season, but again, the Blazers should prevail as the division’s top team and with that, secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM ’16 PLAYOFFS
Portland made the most of an injury to the Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin as they rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to advance to the second round past the Clippers in six games. However, things were much rougher in the second round against the Golden State Warriors who advanced past the Blazers in five games.
Being able to close out a playoff series provided a huge lift in confidence for the Blazers.
While they know and the rest of the NBA as well, that Golden State is better on paper than any other team in the league.
But that ability to buck the odds which propelled them to 44 wins last season, has to be alive in well if they are to meet or exceed their success from last season.