With Oklahoma City losing Kevin Durant this summer, there’s a feeling that the Northwest Division will be wide-open and highly competitive in 2016-17. One of the team in contention for the division’s top spot are the Portland Trail Blazers, who last season won 44 regular season games and reached the second round of the playoffs before falling to Golden State. With the high-scoring backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading the way, Portland aims to not only reach last season’s heights but exceed them.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Lineup
G: Damian Lillard (25.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.8 apg) Lillard has rapidly developed into one of the NBA’s best players, showing off the ability to not only score himself but get others quality looks on a nightly basis. Lillard shot 41.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three in 2015-16, and he also averaged a team-best 6.2 free throw attempts per game.
G: C.J. McCollum (20.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.3 apg) After averaging 6.8 points per game in his second NBA season, McCollum made a major jump in his third to the tune of 20.8 points per contest. As a result the Lehigh product was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and this summer he agreed to a four-year, $106 million contract extension that goes into effect next season.
F: Maurice Harkless (6.4 ppg, 3.6 apg) An argument can be made here that new signing Evan Turner should be the starter. But with Lillard and McCollum both being attack-minded guards entrusted with making things happen off the dribble, a player who doesn’t need as many touches could be the way head coach Terry Stotts goes here. And with Noah Vonleh sidelined after offseason thigh surgery, the improved Harkless is the choice. Praised by many of his teammates during media day for the improvements he’s made in his game, Harkless agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal this summer.
F: Al-Farouq Aminu (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) Aminu’s an important player for the Blazers due in large part to his abilities as a defender. Aminu has the ability to defend both wings and stretch forwards, and last season was his best as a pro when it comes to the offensive end of the floor. If he can become more consistent as a jump shooter, Aminu can take even greater advantage of the opportunities created by Lillard and McCollum.
C: Mason Plumlee (9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) Like Aminu, Plumlee started all 82 regular season games for Portland in 2015-16. A 6-foot-10 athletic post player, Plumlee worked well with the guards in the pick and roll game and was also a solid rebounder and position defender. A poor foul shooter throughout his career, Plumlee even improved there as he shot a career-best 64.2 percent from the charity stripe. This offseason Plumlee spent time working on his mid-range jumper, a shot that could be available to him within the Blazers’ offense.
Trail Blazers Projected Bench
G: Shabazz Napier (3.7 ppg, 1.8 apg) Napier, a two-time national champion at UConn, has failed to find his groove in two seasons as a professional. This offseason Portland acquired Napier from Orlando, adding another option at the point. But with two players who can handle the point guard duties in the starting lineup, Portland can stagger the breaks given to Lillard and McCollum to ensure that at least one of them is one the court at all times. That would more than likely cut into the minutes available to Napier.
G: Allen Crabbe (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg) Crabbe, a solid scorer off the bench, was another Blazer who received a nice payday this offseason as the franchise decided to match the four-year, $75 million offer sheet presented by Brooklyn (Crabbe was a restricted free agent). A key member of the second unit, Crabbe shot nearly 46 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three in 2015-16.
G/F: Evan Turner (10.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.4 apg) After two solid seasons in Boston, Turner agreed to a four-year deal worth $70 million with the Blazers in July. While some saw this as a head-scratching move by general manager Neal Olshey, the addition of Turner gives Portland another playmaker who can help free up Lillard and McCollum from those responsibilities on occasion. And with those two entrenched as starters, it may make more sense to have Turner serve as one of the first subs off the bench.
F: Noah Vonleh (3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) Playing in 78 games last season, Vonleh made 56 starts for the Blazers. He hasn’t been much of a scorer but Portland doesn’t need him to be given the offensive options on the roster. Vonleh hasn’t been fully cleared after undergoing surgery to remove a bone fragment from his left thigh this offseason, and there’s no concrete timetable as to when he’ll be back on the court.
F/C: Meyers Leonard (8.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg) Leonard is also sidelined for the time being, as he’s still recovering from an April surgery to repair the torn labrum in his left shoulder. Leonard is close to being cleared to return to practice, and when in the lineup he gives Portland a big man who can be useful in pick and pop situations.
F/C: Ed Davis (6.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) Davis played in 81 games, all of the bench, last season and gave the Blazers quality minutes in the front court. While he can occasionally hit the mid-range jumper, Davis best serves the Blazers by hitting the boards hard on both ends and running the floor. He should be in a similar role this season, especially when considering the health of some of Portland’s other front court options.
C: Festus Ezeli (7.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) In his fourth season as a pro Ezeli produced the best numbers of his career to date on a Golden State team that won 73 regular season games and made its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance. That production resulted in Portland offering Ezeli a two-year, $18 million contract that he accepted. The deal could be a bargain for Portland, with past knee issues being the reason for the low cost. Ezeli didn’t play the 2013-14 season after undergoing surgery on his right knee, and last year he had his left knee scoped in February.
Other Players in Trail Blazers Training Camp
G Pat Connaughton
G Tim Quarterman
G Luis Montero F Grant Jerrett
F Jake Layman
C Greg Stiemsma
Connaughton, who played in 34 games as a rookie, and Layman both have guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season. That leaves one open spot for the other four players on this list. Quarterman, a rookie out of LSU, is a 6-foot-6 guard who played both on and off the ball in college and has good athleticism. Montero was signed by Portland as an un-drafted free agent in 2015, and he played in 12 regular season games with the Blazers last year while also spending time with Santa Cruz in the D-League. Jerrett has played in eight games as a professional since being selected in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Thunder. Stiemsma has four years of NBA experience under his belt, most recently playing 17 games with the Raptors during the 2014-15 season.
Trail Blazers Coaching Staff
Head coach: Terry Stotts (Fifth season; 297-314 career record; 44-38 2015-16 record.)
Assistant coaches: David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbetts, Dale Osborne, Jim Moran, Chris Stackpole
UPDATE (10/15): The Blazers waived guard Luis Montero.
UPDATE (10/23): The Blazers waived forwards Grant Jerrett and Greg Stiemsma.
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