Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 11/13/14
New Team, New Dream The Portland Trail Blazers announced their “New Team, New Dream” campaign this week, but with a number of players from last season’s squad back in action, it will be interesting to see which of the returning members will step up in 2013. Following the disappointment that was the 2011-12 NBA season, there’s plenty of room to grow on such a young roster, and there are a few viable candidates for the team’s most improved player. Nicolas Batum Nicolas Batum is the most obvious choice for the most improved player on the roster, as his newly signed contract has set him up to become the team’s No. 2 option behind All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The question, of course, is, will he live up to such lofty expectations? Will Nicolas Batum live up to his new contract in 2013? The 23-year-old from France has yet to prove he can be aggressive on a regular basis. His shot has been inconsistent, his rebounding has been absent at times and his overall demeanor isn’t always what you’d like it to be. Then again, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance throughout his time in Portland, such as the record-breaking nine three-pointers he hit against the Denver Nuggets last season. In a new offense that is based on running and shooting the three, Batum has a chance to excel, but where we really must see improvement for Batum to take the next step is on the defensive side of the ball. He has all the tools to become a great defensive player, but we’ve yet to truly see it at this point in his career. Wesley Matthews When the Trail Blazers signed Wesley Matthews to a rather large, front-loaded contract in 2010, many fans questioned whether or not such a young player had earned such a lucrative deal. That topic can still be debated to this day, but what goes without question is that Matthews has quietly been a decent filler in the hole that Brandon Roy left when he began missing time to injuries in 2011. Matthews’ first season in Portland was better than his most recent, as his points fell more than two per game and his three-point shooting dropped off nearly 2.5 percent. That being said, his deep-range shot is still deadly at 39.3 percent for his career. Defensively, Matthews is as intense as anybody on the team. His hands are quick, his stance is low and he can guard most perimeter players on a night-in, night-out basis. If Matthews is healthy in 2013, which he appears to be at this point, his numbers should jump back up, especially with a new point guard in place who will take away much of the attention out on the perimeter. Wesley Matthews’ willingness to hit the floor running from day one is just what a young team needs. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching) J.J. Hickson J.J. Hickson was claimed off of waivers by the Blazers last season, and what a pick-up he proved to be. With the Trail Blazers, Hickson averaged 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds on 54.3 percent shooting from the field—all drastic improvements from the numbers he posted with the Sacramento Kings earlier that year. If Hickson can keep the momentum going, he has a chance to be an energy maker in Portland this year. Always willing to play on the run and soar above the rim, the 24-year-old can get the crowd excited, and that excitement could create for a serious home-court advantage late in the season. The biggest problem here is that while Hickson is in the starting lineup, he’s playing the center position at just 6’9”, 242 pounds. The four-year player will be starting alongside LaMarcus Aldridge this season—the team’s No. 1 option—and he won’t be the go-to scorer like he was late last year. Hickson will have to compete with Meyers Leonard throughout the year for that starting spot, but as someone vying for a contract in 2013, this could be his year to truly take his game up a notch. So Who’s it Going to Be? Coming off a season where Wesley Matthews experienced a bit of a statistical drop-off, the starting shooting guard in Portland has the best chance of turning his year around. He may be a bit of a sleeper for this honor, but the effort he displays game in and game out—and in the offseason—makes him the favorite if he remains healthy. His motor is as strong as it gets, which is something Batum will never likely claim, and his physique is perfect for his position, which is what may hold Hickson back at this point. Matthews’ willingness to hit the floor running from day is just what a young team needs, and when his energy converts into production, it will be the boost he needs to make 2013 his best season yet. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB! © Bryant Knox for North West Sports Beat, 2012. | Permalink | No comment | Follow NWSB on Twitter or join US on Facebook for real-time updates OR... | Share This on Twitter | Share NWSportsBeat.com on Facebook Post tags: J.J. Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, portland, Portland Trail Blazers, Portland Trail Blazers Blog, RIP City, Trail blazers blogs, Wesley Matthews
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Richard Sherman's girlfriend talks possible Super Bowl baby

DeMarco Murray: I don't pay attention to being replaced

Bucs believed to be going for Marcus Mariota with No. 1 pick

Report: Wrigley Field renovation causing massive rat problem

Rex Ryan praises Patriots, calls Deflategate 'unfortunate'

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Brady hopes Peyton Manning comes back next season

Report: Thibodeau’s relationship with Bulls 'beyond repair'

Joe Montana pins blame for Deflategate on Tom Brady

NFLPA boss: No Deflategate interviews until after SB

Blandino: Deflategate no sting; PSI in footballs not logged in

Aaron Hernandez’s DNA found on bullet casing, joint near body

What if Drew Bledsoe didn't get injured in 2001?

Who should make up the 2015 Hall of Fame class

WATCH: Porn sounds played during Predators broadcast

Five worst teams to win a Super Bowl

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck defend Patriots on Kimmel

Watch: John Oliver tackles the Super Bowl

The Washington Redskins and their forgotten dynasty

WATCH: Katy Perry cracks Deflategate, Marshawn jokes

Devon and Leah Still write a book for kids fighting cancer

Five potential heroes of Super Bowl XLIX

WATCH: Timberwolves throw shade at Kevin Love in promo

Tom Izzo: 'The Twitter' may have affected team's confidence

All Sports News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Who should be in 2015 HOF class

Five potential Super Bowl XLIX heroes

Rex Ryan downplays Deflategate

Brady hopes Manning comes back

The worst Super Bowl commercials of all-time

SB anthem, halftime performers through the years

Super Bowl should smash TV records

Super Bowl records unlikely to fall

15 amazing Super Bowl XLIX stats

Teammate: Manziel not a joke

Ten most underrated SB performances

Knicks ‘in play’ for Kevin Durant?

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.