Joe Freeman of the Oregonian brings the latest bit of pre-season optimism coming out of Blazers center today with a piece extolling the virtues of the Trail Blazers brand-new frontcourt.
Portland lost LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez to free agency last summer, replacing them with a collective of big men old and new, including Meyers Leonard, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Noah Vonleh. Freeman relays Coach Terry Stotts' assessment of the group:
"Collectively, it's the best passing, most athletic group we've had," Stotts said of his frontcourt contingent.
"Collectively" would be the new buzzword surrounding the team, with descriptions of the big man corps including copious doses of "athletic" and "versatile".
As the Blazers move on from the Aldridge era, they won't ask one player to replace his All-Star production, but instead will rely on a collection of big men who offer a wide range of skills and versatility.
Between the shooting of Meyers Leonard, the athleticism and intelligence of Mason Plumlee, the activity and attitude of Ed Davis, the playmaking potential of Noah Vonleh and the leadership of Chris Kaman, the Blazers think they have enough interchangeable pieces to hold their own in the frontcourt.
Freeman tips the expected starting lineup while continuing the theme:
Plumlee and Leonard are expected to start, but Davis will be a critical part of the player rotation and, if Vonleh continues to progress at his current pace, he could see plenty of time, too. Only Davis, who is entering his sixth NBA season, has more than three years of experience. So the group is rather untested. But it is also teeming with potential, offering Stotts a collection of interchangeable pieces to create mismatches on both ends of the court.
He then offers a curious interpretation of last year's team which finished in the top third of the league in points per game, offensive efficiency, and effective field goal percentage:
Over the last two seasons, the Blazers' frontcourt was relatively limited on offense. Aldridge was a premier scorer, but he was mostly a pick-and-pop player, using his silky midrange jumper to exploit inferior and/or bulkier big men. Lopez and Joel Freeland were most valuable on defense and mostly an afterthought on offense.
The thesis of the piece, stated enthusiastically and repeatedly, reads, "But now the Blazers' mix of bigs can seemingly do it all."
Versatility is great, but victories in this league don't come because players are capable of doing a dozen different things in theory, but because they can do 2-3 unstoppable things every night. Portland's frontcourt probably has one of those unstoppable factors out of the gate; they should rebound well. Everything beyond that is like the first time trying a new recipe at your dinner party. It could work...maybe should work, but you never know until it's put on a plate and served. Likely the first few attempts will result in a muddle until the dish is refined and the star ingredients rise to the top.