In a tough Western Conference the Portland Trail Blazers got off to a hot start surprising most of us. Their health played a major part in their success as four of the five starters started all 82 games. LaMarcus Aldridge was the only starter to miss games due to injury. Coming off his Rookie of the Year season Damian Lillard improved and became an All-Star. The Blazers won 54 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
LaMarcus Aldridge was brilliant all year long. He was an All-Star once again after averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists. It was Aldridge’s first season averaging a double-double so that’s why he had a career high 40 double-doubles. He was even better in the first round of the playoffs averaging 29.8 ppg and 11.2 rpg against the Rockets. Aldridge had back to back 40 point games to start that series as the Blazers went on to upset the Rockets.
If you look at the overall numbers Damian Lillard was slightly better than his rookie campaign. He went from 19.0 ppg to 20.7, his assist average dropped and his overall shooting percentage was about the same. If you watched Lillard play you could tell he was a much better player. He played in all 82 games once again which seems to be rare nowadays. His three point percentage went up as he took and hit more three pointers. He was actually third in made three pointers. He hit more big shots and none bigger than his game winning three pointer to beat the Rockets in game 6. If you look at all the Player Clutch Stats on NBA.com or check out the blog I wrote about Clutch than Damian Lillard is the most clutch player in the NBA.
The rest of the starters were solid for the Blazers. Nicolas Batum did everything for them. He was a good defender while averaging 13 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 5.1 apg. Wesley Matthews is an underrated player but he can really impact a game. He defends his position, he posts up smaller guards and he can hit an open shot. He was fifth in three pointers made this past season. Matthews and Lillard were only behind Curry and Thompson in three pointers made by a backcourt. Robin Lopez was a very good starting center, averaging 11 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 1 block. He protects the rim and is a good free throw shooter.
There were no new draft picks added to this team. In the off-season they lost their backup point guard in Mo Williams. They replaced him with Steve Blake who is a serviceable backup who can knock down shots. They added Chris Kaman although he might not play over Meyers Leonard.
Wesley Matthews has been cleared to play after being limited to an irregular heartbeat. I expect to see more playing time for Will Barton and even C.J. McCollum. The Blazers were kind of a surprise last year. They were underdogs in that series against the Rockets and they held their own. Of course it was a mismatch against the veteran Spurs team. The Blazers should continue to get better, led by their two All-Stars. This year they will win 52-55 games.