The Portland Trailblazers’ young team had a very strong season, finishing 54-28, but they struggled in a first round loss to the Rockets in the playoffs, leading them to seek outside help to supplement their developing young core. With the 2nd ranked Offensive Efficiency and the 10th ranked Defensive Efficiency, the Blazers will look to improve even more this season, as Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are still growing as players, and the team should get a boost from new acquisition Andre Miller, who’s been a great player over the past few seasons.
The Blazers return pretty much all of their core players from last season, and looking at the chart below, it’s quickly evident how their offense was so efficient.
Brandon Roy was one of the most efficient and productive players in the entire league last season, arguably the most productive shooting guard behind Dwyane Wade. Roy creates a very high percentage of his own shots, uses a ton of possessions, scores with very high efficiency, never turns the ball over, and is a good passer and rebounder to boot. Oh yeah, and he’s a great defender with solid versatility. All things considered, Roy has quite clearly cemented himself as one of the league’s superstars, even if common perception has yet to acknowledge it. Breaking down how Roy gets his scoring, he’s efficient from everywhere on the floor, but like most players, is best at the rim and from behind the three-point arc. He still can improve as a three-point shooter, and as he becomes more comfortable with his range, he should become an even more efficient player, as he takes nearly 5 attempts per game from the 16-23 foot range as opposed to less than 3 from behind the arc, something that could adjust over time.
Moving down the roster, LaMarcus Aldridge is an excellent sidekick for Roy, also being a highly efficient player, due primarily to his low turnover rate and strong offensive rebounding. Aldridge is a good finisher at the basket and above average from mid to long-range, but his overall TS% is actually below the league average, due to his lack of three-point shooting. Adding three-point range could take Aldridge’s offensive game to the next level, and with the addition of Andre Miller at point guard this season, would also help in balancing out the Blazers’ lineup.
After Roy and Aldridge, the Blazers get most of their offensive value out of their pair of centers, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, both of whom are highly efficient players due to high TS%’s and great offensive rebounding rates. Oden is probably the best offensive rebounder in the league, but he’s not quite at his potential as an overall player yet. Oden’s efficiency isn’t quite as high as Przybilla’s, but he uses a higher usage and creates more of his own shots. Continuing to develop his back-to-the-basket game is a priority, and Oden could finally be ready to have his breakout season in the NBA this year.
Steve Blake is the incumbent at point guard, and he’s a solid option for the Blazers, whether he starts or comes off the bench. He’s a better stylistic fit with the Blazers offense due to his excellent spot-up shooting from three and his low mistake rate, but he’s not as good an overall player as newcomer Andre Miller, which puts the Blazers in a tough situation. Miller is a more efficient player than Blake, doing a better job on the glass and creating much more of his own shots, something that would allow Brandon Roy to play more off the ball, which will wear him down less over the course of the season. Neither Roy nor Miller are outstanding spot-up shooters, however, with Miller rarely going behind the arc, and this poses a potential chemistry problem when they’re on the floor together.
The Blazers’ small forward spot is a bit of a mystery, especially with incumbent starter Nicolas Batum out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury. If the Blazers want to play Roy and Miller together, their best bet is to move Roy to the 3 and slot Rudy Fernandez in at the 2, as he provides excellent three-point range and overall scoring efficiency to complement them, while being a remarkably efficient scorer overall. This would be the Blazers’ most effective lineup from an offensive perspective, but they’re more likely to start Blake and Roy along with either Travis Outlaw or Martell Webster until Batum returns, giving them more of a punch on the bench.
Outlaw is a moderately efficient player who provides an interesting dimension with his pull-up jumper from mid range, but he probably relies upon it too much, as he’s a more efficient player at the basket and from behind the arc. His athleticism and length give the team an interesting asset on defense as well, but he’s just an average defender overall. Martell Webster is also back after missing nearly all of last season due to injury, though he’s never lived up to expectations, not being a very efficient player, shooting just around the league average TS% despite being assisted on most of his attempts. His contributions elsewhere are marginal, and though he provides a better stylistic fit than Outlaw, he’s a less effective player overall.
The small forward position will look better once Batum returns from injury, as he’s an efficient player who uses few possessions, scoring with above average efficiency, doing most of his damage with spot-up threes, providing good support on the offensive glass, and being a good defender already at the young age of 20, due to his size, length, and athleticism primarily.
In the frontcourt, the Blazers were pretty thin behind Oden, Przybilla, and Aldridge last season, with Channing Frye handling most of the minutes, while being a poor offensive and defensive player, scoring with poor efficiency and contributing little else to offset it. This season, Frye is gone, so newly acquired veteran Juwan Howard seems most likely to take over those minutes, and while he’s not an especially effective player, he’s still an upgrade over what Frye provided last season. The Blazers also have two rookie power forwards in Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph, but Pendergraph will miss much of the season with hip surgery, and Cunningham seems unlikely to take over for Howard just yet, even though he had an excellent summer league with his high motor and hustle play.
While it’d be hard for the Blazers to improve offensively this season, they theoretically have more offensive weapons now with Andre Miller, and got rid of their biggest albatross in Channing Frye. That said, there are more questions about the way the pieces fit together, as three-point shooting isn’t a primary skill of most of their key players, something that could require careful lineup shuffling by coach Nate McMillan. The Blazers’ defensive outlook seemed improved heading into this season, but the recent injury of Nicolas Batum tempers that optimism a bit, though the team should still be a better defensive team come playoff time, with Brandon Roy less exhausted, Batum having more experience, and Oden likely being a better player than he was last year. If they can make the pieces fit, the Blazers are likely the third best team in the West behind the Spurs and Lakers, and given the continued growth of their young core over the past few seasons, it’d be foolish to count them out in any series against any team, as there’s no telling where they’ll be as a team a few months from now.