The last few seasons we have seen our young Blazers improve their win total from 21 to 32 to 41 to 54 wins. We all want to see another substantial increase in the win total, but it is just as hard, if not harder, to improve from an average team to a good team as it is to improve from a good team to a great team. 60 wins is a benchmark for a great team; it's not a perfect benchmark, though. For example, the Orlando Magic finished with 59 wins last season and made the finals while knocking out the best regular season team. Only 14 teams (unless I forgot how to add) in the last 9 seasons have cracked the 60 win mark. Roughly 62 wins puts you in this kind of company. Of course, winning a lot of games can be aided by an large underclass of terrible teams; a few haves can pillage a large number of have-nots to boost their win totals. The '09-'10 season could have that phenomenon with the bad economy and many teams clearing cap space for the summer of 2010 FA bonanza.
So, what can the Blazers do both as a team and as individuals to increase their win total next year? I've put together a list of areas that can be improved, but it certainly isn't exhaustive and not everything on the list must happen to get to 60. There are plenty of ways for the Blazers to improve that won't be covered below; for example, I did not list any coaching improvements. Also, with the exception of Andre Miller and Greg Oden, who I believe could single handily bring us to 60 wins with enough improvement, I didn't try to estimate how many wins any one thing might contribute. I will, however, put an asterisk by the entries I think are the most crucial.
General Team Improvements:
1. Improve Road Record (20-21) *
The Blazers need to learn to win on the road. There's no easy formula or drill for this. It is just about confidence, execution and experience. This is about as close as you can get to just saying "win more!" without coming off as ridiculous. The Blazers already have the talent to win on the road; they just need to put it all together.
2. Improve Record Against playoff teams (21-21: 15-6 home, 6-15 road)
This is similar to point number 1 and somewhat tautologous for a 54 win team. Clearly, the Blazers can beat the lesser teams so to improve they must beat the better teams; there is no other way to (significantly) improve the overall record. It is important to note that the record listed above includes wins against East playoff teams. Certainly, wins against the Pistons and Bulls are a bit different than a win against the Jazz or Hornets. Specifically improving on the road against West playoff teams (2-11) is a crucial step toward potentially winning a championship. If you want to include the Suns, the two teams split the season series 2-2 with the home team winning every game.
3. Better Defense (Def. Eff. 107.8, 13th in the league)
The Blazers were the best offensive team in the league, but only middle of the pack defensively (Basketball-reference). The Blazer defense is an area that can be improved, particularly, pick and roll defense. The Blazers need to rely less on the bigs covering up the mistakes of the wings. Some defensive improvement should be expected from a young team as learning and anticipating the professional game develops with time. Veteran defensive savvy will develop eventually, but don't expect that alone to push us into the top 10.
4. Better FT% (76.51%, 17th)
This is just a matter of practice. Also, the Blazers may want to seat our more intimidating fans behind the baskets to scare opposing free throw shooters as they give up 80.3% at the line.
5. Not falling behind early
The Blazers had the most double digit comeback wins last year which is both impressive and a red flag. There is no reason for a good team to fall behind by 10 or more points this often. How many games did the Blazers end up losing by just a few points after almost making a comeback? Playing from behind is a good skill to learn because the other team can come out hot, but mailing in the first quarter is not something an elite team does.
If Roy improves his game again next season it would be like winning the lottery and then finding $100 on the ground. We already have one of the best players in the game so any improvement that Roy brings is just icing on the cake. I think it's safe to say any (minor) offensive improvement Roy makes won't boost our win total because he already generates many wins for us. For the sake of argument, though, Roy with a better jump shot (both 3s and 2s) would open the floor up more and reduce the pounding he takes going to the rim.
Defense is a slightly different story. Adequate is probably the best way to describe his defense. This could be an energy saving method because he's already working so hard on offense. The presence of another creator, ballhandler and scorer in Andre Miller might let Roy work a bit less on offense and therefore a bit more on defense. We'll see.
Everyone wants to see more beast mode from Aldridge. Here are some things I think he could do to improve.
1. Further develop his post game (counter move, spin move, etc) An array of post moves makes you less predictable and harder to defend. We'll need a (more) refined post presence while Oden is learning.
2. A quick first step on the perimeter a la Bosh. Aldridge has the quickness to get to the basket with a dribble drive. This would compliment his face up jumper nicely.
3. Better Interior Defense. Aldridge has the length and quickness to play good interior defense, but he seems to lack the awareness of what to do. Hopefully, this is fixable with some coaching and tape review.
4. Aggressive Rebounding. Przybilla goes after rebounds like I would go after a 20 dollar bill laying on the ground. I would like to see Aldridge go after rebounds like Joel does.
5. Box out better. This is simple, fundamental basketball. Just do it.
6. Add the 3 ball (but don't use it that often). If he's going to insist on being primarily a jumpshooter then extending his range to the 3 point line makes sense. A 3 point shot is much more efficient than a long 2. However, he needs to not fall in love with it like Rasheed did.
Greg Oden: *
Significant improvement from Greg could single handily bring the Blazer win total to 60. His improvement is by far the most crucial component not only for the upcoming season but for the future of this franchise. I cannot overemphasize the importance of interior defense and low post scoring.
1. Have an healthy and productive off season of training. This includes losing some weight, regaining athleticism, refining skill sets etc.
2. Develop a "go-to" move in the post. The hook shot was inconsistent at best, having at least one solid post move will make him an exponentially greater threat on offense
3. Keep those hands straight up---no bad fouls. Many of his bad fouls were the result of poor conditioning. Number 1 will hopefully take care of number 3. Just having Oden on the court for 30 minutes a game will be a vast improvement over last season.
4. Enjoy the game again
As much as we love his high flying alley oop dunks and spectacular 3 point shooting, Rudy needs to expand his game. He'll never be a lockdown defender, but he can expand his offensive repertoire. Rudy demonstrating an ability to slash to the rim will keep his defender honest and open up the 3 ball more. A mid range shooting game would also be very helpful in maximizing Rudy's contribution.
Rudy should also endeavour to develop a rapport like he had with Sergio with one of our PGs, most likely Miller. Rudy likes to cut and work for back door lobs and Andre Miller has the passing ability to get him the ball.
Nic Batum was the big surprise of the 08-09 season. Significant improvement from Batum would a great help toward achieving 60 wins. A lockdown perimeter defender with length, athleticism and a solid 3 point shot is exactly what the Blazers need at the 3.
As a slight aside: Nate often took Batum out of the game when we need some more offensive firepower. With the arrival of Andre Miller, I see less need for Batum to be subbed out for the sake of our offense.
Study Shane Battier, Tayshuan Prince and Scottie Pippen who all have similar body types and are known for their great defense and high BBIQ.
Add some strength.
Work on that (corner) 3
Be more aggressive. I'd like to see him flash 3 fingers at Gasol at some point next season.
A year off from basketball is going to leave Martell rusty. I think it would be unfair to expect him to do much other than regain his feel for the game. A healthy, non-rusty Martell Webster could be deadly come January. His 3 point shooting and potential for break out scoring is a great asset to have.
It's difficult to say what Bayless could do to help this team. On one hand he could breakout next season and become a potent combo guard off the bench. On the other hand the only playing time available is 3rd string point guard and that isn't known as a difference making position. Bayless has the potential to help the team, but don't count on it this year.
It is doubtful that any of these guys improves a significant amount, certainly nothing that would boost our win total. I'm not saying they won't be important to the team, quite the opposite, these guys have been and will be crucial to the success of the team. I'm saying that these guys have maxed out their talents, yes, even Outlaw. I will make one small exception for Steve Blake. A Miller/Blake PG rotation is much better than a Blake/Sergio rotation. Essentially, Blake>Sergio. We no longer have to worry about what happens when our starting point guard goes out.
Our New Point Guard Andre Miller: *
Now you're saying, "Ok, Magnum, but what does all that mean in terms of wins?"
My guess is as good as yours. I don't think Miller, ceteris paribus, boosts the Blazers to 60 wins, but I do think he helps the team. If you tied me down and used Chinese Water Torture on me until I cracked and gave you an exact number I would say Miller pushes the Blazers to 58 wins on his own. Please, keep in mind that our Pythagorean win total was 56 last season, so Miller is adding 2 games and not 4.