2016-17 Portland Trailblazers Season Preview: Where to Now?

Are the Trailblazers, coming, going or staying put? The Dunkyard has a look at what lies in store for them this season.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 44-38 (5th West)
  • Offensive rating: 106.1 (7th)
  • Defensive rating: 106.5 (20th)
  • Pace: 98.3 (12th)
  • True shooting: 54.8% (10th)
  • Turnover rate: 13.2% (16th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 25.9% (3rd)
  • Defensive rebounding: 76.2 (13th)
  • Giveashitameter: 8th
  • Highest PER*: 22.2 (Lillard)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

The Blazers took everyone by surprise by playing some great basketball and riding their luck all the way to the 5th seed in the West with a 44-38 record (NB: this wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs the season before). They also managed to knock off the injury depleted Clippers in the first round before succumbing to the Warriors in five reasonably close games. All up, the season was a wild success.

At the heart of it all was the Blazers’ offense, which ranked 7th overall. In particular, they were driven by their three point shooting, which ranked 5th for makes, 6th for attempts and 4th in accuracy (37.0%). While the two point shooting (15th), turnovers (16th) and free throw attempts (14th) were merely average, the offensive rebounding ranked a staggering 3rd – thanks in no small part to Ed Davis (3rd among 76 power forwards) and Mason Plumlee (14th).

While everyone thinks of Lillard and McCollum when it comes to the Blazers’ shooting -and rightly so – the reality was that their accuracy was much closer to league average than elite (56.0 and 54.4 TS% respectively). Their real skill was their ability to shoot at this level with such insanely high usage rates and attention from the league’s best defenders.

Getting far less credit were the unheralded quartet of Davis, Crabbe, Leonard and Plumlee. Between the four of them, they accounted for over 7,200 minutes and 1,900 field goals (27.9% of the Blazers’ total shots) of above average shooting.

All up, the Blazers had no glaring weaknesses on offense and were a true pain in the ass to defend.

The defense was another story, ranking 20th overall. On the outside, the Blazers ranked 26th on three point accuracy allowed (37.1%), while on the inside, opponents got the line at will (27th on free throw attempts). If the Blazers hadn’t ranked 2nd on opponent free throw percentage (purely a product of luck), the story would have been even worse.

The simple fact is that Lillard and McCollum lack the defensive athleticism and height to defend the league’s premier guards. Down low, Davis and Plumlee were reasonably solid defenders. However,  Davis didn’t quite have the bulk to defend the post and Plumlee lacked the athleticism to make up for Lillard and McCollum’s shortcomings as a pick and roll defender and overall rim protector.

Reasons to be optimistic

The Blazers have returned every major piece of last season’s roster and added some valuable bench depth in Ezeli and Turner. Turner will give the bench some much needed playmaking, while Ezeli gives the team a defensive option it didn’t have last season.

The entire roster is very young (the top 7 in minutes played last season were all 26 or younger) and still has some organic growth left in it.

Reasons not to be

So long as the Blazers’ starting back court is comprised of Lillard and McCollum, other teams are going to shoot over the top of them from the outside. You can’t teach height or lateral quickness and this will continue to be troublesome for the Blazers and prevent them from becoming true contenders without a major trade or shakeup.

Portland also has a distinct lack of low post and interior scoring. This makes them a little one-dimensional. Teams are not going to be surprised by them anymore after last season and will be gunning for this.

The time has come to properly recognise GM Neil Olshey. After doing a solid job of constructing the Clippers between 2008 and 2012, he has carried on with the Blazers. While everyone was expecting the Blazers to be a rebuilding project, Olshey quietly rebuilt on the fly and constructed a deep roster full of effective players. My personal favourite move was the trade which brought in Plumlee (17.2 PER last season) for Steve Blake and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t swindled the Nets yet?

Major Ins 

Festus Ezeli, Evan Turner.

Major Outs

None.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Lillard
  • McCollum
  • Aminu
  • Davis
  • Plumlee

Dave’s lowdown

Having increased his PER and per game scoring in each of his first four seasons, I wonder how much more improvement Lillard could possibly have left. If the trend continues then we are looking at an MVP candidate dropping 28-29ppg.

McCollum has showed similar increases in his first three seasons and, should it continue this season, Portland will have the best small-man combination since America’s ABC Network aired both Diff’rent Strokes and Webster in the mid-80’s.

Forecast record: 45-37

The Blazers are a tough one to predict. At face value, a roster as young as this should improve a little bit at the very least and edge its way to 45-50 wins. However, while Ezeli improves the rim protection, the exterior defense will continue to hold things back, while the offense will need to adapt to a league that’s going to be coming after it.

The Dunkyard has decided to wuss out and give them pretty much the same record as last season – good enough for a playoff berth, but with a first or second round exit being most likely.

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