Andrew R Tonry
The 2012-13 Blazers season may well resemble Barack Obama’s first term. Inauguration day, the season opener, restores some sense of hope, but the residual effects of previous administrations remain a drag on recovery. It’s a big goddamn mess and it’s gonna take some time to clean up.
In such periods of instability, predictions are much harder to make. As I’ve written, perhaps the most important factor in shaping this Blazers season is how LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum respond to mounting losses. Heretofore, the handsomely paid, promising duo have led relatively charmed careers. Clearly they have talent. But do they have what it takes to both lead and inspire, despite, night after night, being kicked in the teeth?
I have no clue to the answer to this question.
So I went through the Blazers’ schedule and picked wins according simply to roster depth and talent, with some consideration to home court. I came up with 26 wins.
But should Aldridge and Batum, along with Damian Lillard, create and sustain some kind of competitive fire—something like the pure will demonstrated by Brandon Roy in years past—they ought to be able to do better than that. That ought to be worth another six or seven wins, easy.
Vegas has the over-under at 34 1/2, which sounds high to me (not to mention the majority of the PRS staff). And indeed, 26 sounds low.
So, like a tepid Obama, I’ll hedge.
Win Prediction: 31
Wow, does this team get ugly quick. Even with a top twenty talent in LaMarcus Aldridge, an emerging versatile wing in Nicolas Batum, and a potential breakout candidate in Damian Lillard, things are dire in Portland. The backend of this roster is so far below replacement level there’s virtually no chance of a season being anything better than just plain awful.
There’s a little hope, though, with a new coach and a new system that could prove successful. But everything would have to break absolutely right—Victor Claver and Joel Freeland transitioning to the NBA with ease, JJ Hickson and Luke Babbitt learning how to play defense—for this team to even come close to winning thirty-five games, a mark that still would put them towards the bottom of the stacked Western Conference.
This is more or less a throwaway year for Portland, one that will be more about Neil Olshey’s prospective vision for the future of the roster and what kind of new system Terry Stotts will implement. Aldridge is primed for a big year, and Lillard is going to be fun as hell to watch, but outside of that things are not going to be pretty. If you’re looking for winning basketball, avert your eyes.
Win Prediction: 28
Erik C. Anderson
Portland has all the makings of that young, run-and-gun team fans have been craving. Terry Stotts supposedly brings an up-tempo offense that favors a roster with an average age of around 25. The core group — LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard — will hang with any other teams’ top three.
That said, the terrifying news will be minute usage. The L-Train will be getting more play than “Gangnam Style.” Last season, Aldridge clocked 36.3 minutes per game, good for 15th highest in the league. Without an established backup and a short, young bench, the Blazers may be looking like a doppelganger of the Clippers pre-Blake Griffin, Chris Paul moves.
Win Prediction: 35
There are several ways a roster can look bad on paper. Teams like last year’s Bobcats or the post-Dwight Howard version of the Magic are doomed from the start because they’re subpar supporting casts in search of elite talent to support.
The new-look Blazers’ brand of bad is sneakier. It’s easy to overlook them when naming the contenders for the top of the lottery. They have a top-20 player in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge. They re-signed their second-most important player, Nicolas Batum, to a big contract. They have a prospective Rookie of the Year candidate in Damian Lillard. They can’t be that bad, can they?
Well, yeah they can. Those three players are the entire net positive of the roster as presently constructed. The rest is a mishmash of “veteran leadership” guys without much on-court value, rookies with very raw skill-sets (two of whom have never played in the US before), and players in their second or third seasons who are for all intents and purposes also rookies (by virtue of having never played anything but garbage minutes in the careers). Their starting shooting guard can’t dribble or make a layup. Oh, and they just hired a new coach who’s implementing a drastically different system than the one most of these guys are used to from Nate McMillan. I like a lot of things about the Blazers’ future, and truly believe it’s a franchise headed in the right direction. But this season won’t be pretty.
Win Prediction: 24
Let’s play best case scenario: Damian Lillard has a Kyrie Irving-like rookie season, Nicolas Batum takes a huge leap forward offensively, and LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play at a high level. Even if all those things happen, in a loaded Western Conference, it’s hard to project for more than 35 wins, right?
Problem is, Damian Lillard is not Kyrie Irving. No matter how one may be on the rookie point guard, it’s still very difficult to know how he’ll faire—coming from the Big Sky conference does that.
As for Nicolas Batum, at this point I think we know what we’re getting: a solid, above-average role player. Batum can’t carry the Blazers offensively, and defensively he’s solid but nothing spectacular. Maybe he does take the next step, but I’m very, very skeptical
Aldridge is an All-Star and a great player, but the rest of this roster is so maligned and or unproven there’s no way to project for anything other than the lottery.
On the plus-side, for the first time in a long time the Blazers expectations should be tempered. There are no absurdly lofty goals to live up to, no lingering questions about injuries, health, untapped potential. There are no what-ifs.
This is a reset, a season that will be judged more by process than results. This is a season that will be exciting but also painful. This is a young team. This is a growing team. This is an interesting team. This is a team without a bench. This is a bad team.
Win Prediction: 25