The Portland Trailblazers got better this summer. They added a solid defensive center to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge, in Robin Lopez. They snagged a talented, if unproductive, young big man to back up Aldridge, in Thomas Robinson and they grabbed solid swingman Dorell Wright. Finally, they drafted C.J. McCollum and signed Mo Williams- because they want to have ALL of the small combo guardy point guards. Basically, the Blazers improved their bench, which was terrible, to the point where it is downright serviceable now. How good should we expect the Blazers to be next year, then, based on the Walker numbers and my minutes estimates?
Portland’s projected Net Rating, adjusted for context, is -1.39, which would make them a 37 win team. This projection would place them at 11th in the Western Conference, though the difference between Portland’s projected 37 wins and the 42 projected wins of the 7th and 8th rated teams is marginal, so Portland’s improved bench has put them firmly on the Western conference’s playoff bubble. It will be interesting to see whether they can make it in to the postseason, and whether merely qualifying for late April play will be enough to satisfy LaMarcus Aldridge’s allegedly professed desire to play for a better team.
Speaking of Aldridge, he projects, unsurprisingly, to be the Blazers’ best player, by far. Dame Lillard should continue to be quite solid as a second year player. C.J. McCollum, Mo Williams, and Thomas Robinson — mentioned earlier — all project to be replacement level or worse, although they will still be an improvement over last year’s downright terrible bench crew. Robin Lopez should be very helpful. I’ve projected him for only 1900 minutes, but really, the Blazers ought to play him more. He’s much better than any other option they have at center. It’s a possibility that playing a 7 footer too many minutes could be dangerous for health reasons- just ask Joakim Noah’s busted up feet — but Lopez played over 2100 minutes last year with no problems. He could certainly stand to play a few more minutes per game over the 26 minutes a night he played last season. I’d recommend that he play 30 minutes a night. It might only change their projection by one win over the course of the 82 game season, but given that these Blazers are right on the bubble of the playoffs, one extra win could be hugely important.
The Blazers also have to hope that the talent that made Thomas Robinson a top 5 draft pick shows out next year and his projected xRAPM of -2.3 is an underestimate of what he’ll produce for Portland next year. Portland’s probably not the best bet to make the playoffs next year, but there’s reason for hope and maybe that’s enough. What do you think, Blazers fans?
Image via Wikimedia Commons.