Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard commented to journalist Henry Abbott earlier this
month that the Blazers could expect 46 wins this season. What should fans make of this prediction? 46 wins will eek them into the seventh or
eighth spot of the Western Conference Playoffs’ lineup. 46 wins is safely pessimistic. 46 wins predicts the same sort of mediocre
playing that has been boring Blazers’ fans since the 2010-2011 season. Implied by Lillard’s prediction is that the
Blazers are still missing some key dynamic factor(s).
Ball-handling by the Blazers has
been disheartening. They allowed their
opponents 691 steals through the course of the 2012-2013 season, earning them
27th in vogue for turnovers. It’s
almost as if they didn’t want the ball. This
is a problem. Veterans like Mo Williams and Dorell
Wright will likely encourage improvement in this area and Lillard should
show progress in his second year. But
none of these solutions are really a magic bullet. Blazers still have a hole to fill here in
order to excel.
Blazers’ 2012-2013 hustle on
defense also lagged. Last season, they ranked 28th in
the league in steals. In fact, they had a total of 538 steals to the league
average 639. That means they had 101
fewer steals than the average NBA team.
That’s not all. They had a low
number of blocked shots. Lopez, as the
predicted first string center for the 2013-2014 season, seems the likely
candidate to bolster this category. But
his record for blocks in the NBA is not great.
Lamarcus Aldridge, the
reigning center, offers little in this category. Nicolas
Batum provided over 20% of the team’s blocked shots last season and his
defensive skills have improved over time.
But Batum cannot do it alone.
This presents a mid-season opportunity to pick up a player with good
The Trail Blazers are perched at
the entry to the Western Conference playoffs.
Lillard predicts they will make it, but just. To excel, the team must nurture the ball
more—hold on to it, value it, salvage it from their opponents. They must follow Batum’s defensive lead and
show greater hustle. Fixing these things
coupled with improving an already solid offense should lead to the kind of
winning season for which fans have been waiting.