Following a five game winning streak to end the preseason, the Blazers are ready to start the 2013-14 regular season against the Phoenix Suns tonight at 7 p.m. PT. Here is a short review of the team. Enjoy!
Team MVP (Most Valuable Person):
Neil Olshey, he has done so much for this Blazer team. Since he got to Portland he has drafted Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, and C.J. McCollum, traded for Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, and Allen Crabbe, signed or re-signed Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, Earl Watson, and Mo Williams, and brought Victor Claver and Joel Freeland from overseas. Count all those players for a second, there are 13 players. The only two players on the final roster for 2013-14 that Olshey didn’t bring in are LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews. Olshey in a somewhat indirect way will be the reason the Blazers return to the playoffs. Although he brought them all in, the players still need to compete, but the talent on this team so high it’s ridiculous. Coach Terry Stotts has even come out and said this is the most talented team he has ever coached. If Stotts can get this team into the playoffs and past the first round (I know it’s asking a lot) this year, Olshey deserves to win Executive of the Year.
Team MVP (Player):
Mo Williams, is the biggest addition to the Blazer bench. He will be a legitimate contender for 6th man of the year in the NBA. He has scored 10+ in all but one preseason game this season. He has proven he can play with Lillard and subbing in for Lillard too. Williams will be a bigger addition in the long run because he can teach Lillard a lot, and he can contribute right away in Coach Stotts system because he has played in this system before. Williams looked comfortable and poised in the Blazers offense this preseason. Look for him to replace Matthews or Lillard when one is struggling because Williams is an instant spark plug for an offense that sometimes needs a jolt.
Joel Freeland, he has proven that he deserves to backup Lopez. I mentioned in my review of Freeland that he could become a big force or be lost on the bench, but he came to play this season. He outplayed Leonard in several ways. Freeland has a solid turn-around jumper, a consistent 12-foot jump shot, a back-to-the-basket game, he can alter shots, and he can rebound almost as well as Lopez. Freeland had five or more rebounds in six of the seven games this preseason. He has showed that he didn’t like being an “end of the bench” player. Freeland is ready to be the primary backup at the five-spot, and I can’t wait to see him go to work. He is one of the hardest working Blazers on the roster. He knew this could be his make or break year, and he answered the call.
Biggest Question Mark:
Shooting Guard, the whole position for the Blazers is a perplexing issue. Matthews can’t stay healthy it seems, and Barton isn’t consistent enough to make buckets night in and night out. Before he got hurt, Crabbe was having a decent preseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if (and I implore) Coach Stotts to start Wright at shooting guard. He has shown that he can make shots consistently. However, once Matthews is healthy he should start. Although he can’t score at a position named for scoring, he plays great defense when he’s healthy, and Stotts needs Wright more when Batum needs a rest. This position needs to improve and if McCollum can come back and stay back, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a shot too. The Blazers need this position sured up and playing to its highest potential, which it currently is not.
A-. With all the additions Olshey orchestrated this off-season and the 5-game winning streak the team is on coming into the regular season shows this team is ready to compete. Now, I recognize that we’re talking about the preseason, but who is to say this team can’t perform the same way in the regular season? After starting 0-2, the team ripped off that five game winning streak to finish 5-2 in the preseason. In their final game against Golden State, they had 17 straight stops and went on a 22-0 run over an eight minute span. The players, coaches, executives and even Paul Allen are ready to fight for a playoff spot and try to make a run in the postseason. Coach Stotts has put a lot of emphasis on defense in his second season because his offense is easy, albeit elaborate, to learn.
Sixth – Eighth. The West is always tougher and more competitive than the East, but if the Blazers play just a little better than last year they can make the playoffs and challenge some teams. Sixth is if they play their absolute best basketball all season. Now that probably won’t happen, but this team has it in them to get there. Seventh and Eighth are more likely, but still will be a battle. Before the 13-game losing streak to end last season, the Blazers were competing for the Eighth seed despite having “no bench help”. Now there is a legitimate bench with depth at every position allowing the starters to rest instead of averaging almost 40 minutes a game. Look for this team to make a push and prove the “experts” wrong.