With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Brandon Jennings/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
No.1: CJ McCollum will come close to bringing POR consecutive ROY crowns
The great thing about this Portland team is that they have a good culture within the organization. They brought up Damian Lillard properly and he was certainly a feel good story winning ROY in an otherwise down season. Rookie back-up CJ McCollum has a chance to bring home a ROY of his own, but I don’t think he will. CJ is going to get major run because he’s coming into the NBA at a mature age where he is ready to contribute right away. He took "The Lillard Path" to the NBA going 4 years at a small school getting significant minutes, scoring lots of points, and being the go-to guy which can be very useful for a lowly touted player like McCollum.
Reasonable expectation says that McCollum splits minutes with Wes Matthews and Lillard as a steady rotation player. In a season where right now there is no clear front-runner for best rookie it might not take a lot to win- maybe 25 mins, 15pts, and 2 other above average stats. 3 of the top 10 drafted rookies didn’t even play summer league (Bennett, Len, Noel) so there are no clear expectations for them. 3 more out of that 10 played abysmally at times (Porter, McLemore, Burke) showing that they aren’t quite there. Then the last 3 didn’t do all that much that was outstanding (Zeller, Oladipo, Caldwell-Pope). So, what’s left is 10th pick CJ McCollum who played well at summer league. But I don’t think McCollum will win it because some bum on a terrible team is going to get 30+ minutes a game to pad the stats and make himself look better. It’s a tough life playing 2nd banana, but I’m excited about what we will see from CJ. If it’s not a repeat ROY for Portland, it will be close.
No. 2: Everyone will wonder why Terry Stotts is a head coach
Terry Stotts is not a good coach. He has had zero plus .500% seasons in his 5 seasons as a head coach in the NBA – including the 2007 season when he got fired from the Bucks. Last year, he coached a near identical team to a losing record, but they won enough to almost place themselves out of a top 10 lottery pick. Stotts is not a great X’s and O’s guy, but he was lucky enough to be on the bench when mastermind Rick Carlisle brought home the bacon for Mark Cuban back with the 2011 Mavericks. This just seems like the classic instance of a piece of a formerly great puzzle solving is given his own new puzzle and I frankly don’t think Stotts is equipped to be the main guy solving the Trail Blazers puzzle. But maybe I’m wrong and Stotts will turn into Don Nelson Redux. Maybe he’s got a playoff team on his hands and he can get them to push it to the next level. But maybe not. This Trail Blazers team has the look of a team that’s got sure talent, but really needs the right coach with a scheme to utilize their strengths for it to be competitive. That is not Stotts to me. By the All Star break, we’ll know for sure, but looking back I think a lot of Blazer maniacs will be wondering why did we pick Stotts and how much longer do we have to put up with him?
No. 3: The Trail Blazers didn’t get better
There’s been a great deal of buzz about the Trail Blazers getting better this offseason. I don’t think they actually did. They lost JJ Hickson who overachieved greatly last season, averaging a double-double, and playing 2nd fiddle to LaMarcus Aldridge admirably. He outhustled everybody, and had a Rodman-esque rebounding energy. Hickson was an outstanding complement to Aldridge, but he wasn’t brought back for whatever reason; that was a huge loss for Portland. Furthermore, they replaced him with Robin Lopez! Robin Lopez is not good; I realize now Aldridge can slide back down to PF naturally, but with a player as good as Aldridge with his body type I don’t think it matters. I would compare him to the KG, Duncan, Gasol type player that can effectively switch to either PF or C given the matchups. Looking at their stats, Hickson had a better PER, Estimated Wins Added, Value Added, and Rebounding Rate than Lopez by a large margin. Robin Lopez averaged 5 rebounds per game last year. That’s atrocious for a center that can really do nothing else at an elite level. All those extra rebounds Hickson was getting that allowed Aldridge to take it easier on the glass at times and play more on the perimeter are gone. They are replaced by a goofy looking dude who’s below league average at his position.
The main point is that besides adding backup depth with Wright, McCollum and Crabbe, Portland did little to actually boost their overall standing. They regressed in the frontcourt, unless Meyers Leonard or Thomas Robinson are primed to break out. Furthermore, the Trail Blazers did not add any startalent to pair with Aldridge. Nic Batum and Lillard are B-list guys, and in the ultra competitive western conference you need at least two A-grade guys to make the playoffs. Last year’s Rockets are the exception, not the rule. This offseason the Trailblazers just really underwhelmed in terms of improving themselves. Portland was 33-49 (.402%) last season, didn’t add anything meaningful, and in the league where it doesn’t benefit to be mediocre the Trailblazers will be once more.