Final stop out west: Portland

Essentials

  • Teams: Detroit Pistons (23-44) at Portland Trail Blazers (30-34)
  • Date: March 16, 2013
  • Time: 10:00 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

What to look for

After defeating the New York Knicks on national television last Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers will be hosting the Detroit Pistons tonight.

Terry Stotts’ group is one of the most talented young teams in the NBA and consequently many believe they are full of promise. Mind you this is problematic on a number of levels.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were once upon a time a bad team.

But the players took their lumps and came of age together. The roster collectively failed but understood the bigger picture. The Thunder front office brought in individuals that complemented each other and understood the program.

Outside of the acquisitions of Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Martin, every player earning big minutes on the team was brought in through the draft.

One could say Portland was first to this party, and that would be factually correct.

Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were drafted together, while Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden were acquired via the same process a few years after. Wes Matthews signed as a free agent a little less than three years ago and Damian Lillard joined the Blazers as a rookie this season.

That’s a lot of talent.

Sadly Roy and Oden didn’t pan out because of injuries.

Portland is nonetheless a competitive team but nowhere near what fans and analysts expected say three years ago.

The Trail Blazers were supposed to mirror the Thunder believe it or not. The issues with Oden obviously forced the franchise to take a step back, but the question needs to be asked: when will this group compete in the postseason?

They boast a near elite offense this season, thanks in large part to Aldridge’s terrific interior play.

The Texas product is a lethal mid-range shooter that also punishes defenders in the low block. Thus, despite only averaging 24.1 shots at the rim per game (19th in the NBA) according to Hoopdata, Portland owns the 11th best offensive efficiency in the league.

The prized big man is surrounded by a host of shooters ready to take advantage of every opening afforded by Aldridge’s presence on the court.

And when things get tight down the stretch of games, Lillard breaks down defenders with his ballhandling skills, which allow him to either get to the rim or create a jumper for himself from long-range.

There is a great tandem in the making in Portland but their recent history forces a bit of trepidation on outsiders looking in.

The evolution of their personnel leaves one to believe they might always be that young team that sells hope to its fans.

Their youth shows up on defense where teams simply take advantage of breakdowns and the lack of great defenders.

Batum and Matthews are very good defenders, but game changers they are not on this front. Oden was supposed to change it all but he is now a thing of the past.

Thus, Stotts operates with a defense ranked in the league’s bottom five.

They yield the third most shot attempts at the rim, an ugly stat that occasionally pop up in late game situations. Per NBA.com’s

Portland field goals allowed in clutch for 2012-13 season.

advanced stats tool, the Blazers surrender a 42.8 percent field goal conversion mark to opponents in the clutch (defined as last five minutes of the game with scoring margin within five points). That figure is one of the league’s bottom 10 marks.

This might be an issue this season, but with the added repetitions and collective growth the potential is there for a better Blazers defense.

The oldest player on the roster is Jared Jeffries at 31 years old and he barely plays.

The biggest area of concern in all of this mind you is LaMarcus Aldridge. He is signed until the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, but the inescapable amount of youth movements must be wearing on him.

At age 27, speculation on his long-term commitment might become an issue. Also, he’s already opened the door on maybe one day playing elsewhere, which must be a scary proposition for the team’s fans.

But all that talk about Blazers’ potential shortcomings in the near future can be halted with one thing and one thing only: winning.

Read about the Trail Blazers

Portland Roundball Society.

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

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