This is going to be a unique version of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag. This evening I wandered over to Twitter and blasted out a request to followers for their Portland Trail Blazers questions. I've got a nice, cold Ninkasi Brewing Noir Milk Stout in a glass, a fancy mechanical keyboard on my lap, and a whole passel of Twitter questions begging for answers, so let's do this!
@DaveDeckard Who do you think will positively surprise us the most on the team this season?
See, folks, you can tell @lisapease is a veteran reader. She knew that if she just said "who will surprise us" I was semi-likely to twist the question on its head, talking about negative surprises as well as positive. So she threw in a modifier to get her question answered just...the way...she wants it.
Despite her impressive authorship credentials, though, Lisa forgot that "positively" has a dual meaning. "Will positively surprise us" could mean "will surprise us in a positive direction" or "will really, really, really surprise us". Ha ha, Lisa! I can answer your question any way I want. #FreedomFromTheOppressor
Out of respect for probable intent, however, I'm going to go with "positive direction" and offer two veterans, Gerald Henderson and Chris Kaman, as my answer.
Expectations are high for almost every young player on the team. Odds are all of them will soar to great heights then crash to the depths again at different points during the season. Whether they end up unsteady-but-good or unsteady-and-bad hardly matters in the long run. It's hard to exceed expectations when the entire roster is putting out more shakes than Dairy Queen.
By contrast, Henderson and Kaman are being overlooked. Everybody knows what these two can do. Nobody expects much more than providing the bar over which the younger players can jump. But that bar may be higher than people think and consistency may end up more valuable than promise with such a volatile lineup. On average, over time, Henderson and Kaman will probably look better than you expect them to, providing more of a surprise than the youngsters.
Also you should really love Mason Plumlee. And Pat Connaughton's inevitable social media and commercial spots.
@DaveDeckard I'm not sold on Lillard handling extra defensive attention, what's our best strategy with personnel and scheme to help him out?
Not sold on Damian Lillard??? Have you not been listening to the press conferences, to the sneaker ads, to the covers of Trail Blazers Media Guides for the next decade???
While I think Lillard will fare well overall--this year included--I agree with you about the defensive attention. Who else are defenses going to plan for?
Strategic Counter #1 is going to be CJ McCollum. He can take ball-handling pressure off of Dame. If CJ can also hit a shot--catch-and-shoot three or leaner off the dribble--defenses will split and Lillard will find seams. The other Really Big Deal in helping Lillard's offense will be motion, particularly catches by big men on the way to the rim. When Portland's frontcourt players donate a defender to a squeeze on Damian, their first response should be diving to the rim. Lillard could make a living lofting up alley-oop after alley-oop to athletic leapers this season. That kind of easy bucket in the halfcourt would be a godsend.
@DaveDeckard CJ/Meyers/Vonleh (Plumlee?) the only players w/ star potential, everyone else auditioning for role player status. T or F?
I don't think we need to go that far yet, but I suppose we could almost get there since you named 25-33% of the 12-man active roster. Any team with 3-4 young players with star potential is doing just fine. Nevertheless, we need to see more from your quartet before anointing them stars in the making. We shouldn't discount Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, or Luis Montero yet either...though your mileage may vary there.
I'd say you hit the fat part of the bell curve on potential stars, but the outer edges still have some viability.
@DaveDeckard Chances of deadline trade? Targets?
Chances are decent, but probably not the way you're thinking.
I don't see many miracle moves to reform this roster. Another couple of veterans might make the final win total look nice, but the Blazers still aren't making the playoffs. Portland will have a hard time prying a young star away from anyone with their non-Lillard offerings. The only likely scenario there is if CJ blossoms into an obvious star in the making but can't share the court with Damian. But 3-4 months of their first season playing together will be a short time frame to test either end of that hypothesis, so it probably won't happen.
That leaves bailing on the veterans or consolidating a couple of the prospects into a slightly better prospect as the trades of choice. A move like that this season will make headlines but ultimately leave the Blazers in the same position they're already in, at least for the short term.
The roster is fluid; future trades are a near certainty. But at this stage of the rebuild trades don't create an automatic path forward. The team still needs more time, the players more experience, to show the direction in which their destiny lies. That'll remain true no matter who shuffles in and out of the uniform this year.
@DaveDeckard f/m/k lillard Meyers ceejay
Let's see. I know "f" stands for "forward", right? So that's Meyers. "M" is the first letter in McCollum's last name. That leaves "k" for Damian, which probably stands for, "K, time to step up and be the leader now, k?"
I hope I've understood the nature of your question correctly. I could've looked it up on Urban Dictionary but I'm betting I wouldn't have answered it then.
@DaveDeckard would a starting back court of Lillard and CJ help free Lillard up to play more off the ball and get easier 3 point attempts?
Almost certainly...IF the two can learn how to work together. Sharing the ball and responsibility for initiating the offense is one aspect. I suspect that one will go just fine. McCollum is a smart player. Lillard will want to score, not just set up his offensively-challenged teammates for misses. They'll discover that trading off is good for both and that working in tandem creates far better scoring opportunities than going it alone.
But guards have to adjust to different sides of the floor and lanes of attack depending on their position. Unspoken but equally important: both will depend on frontcourt teammates to move defenders. If Portland's forwards and centers camp in the lane--or if bigger defenders sag off their men to camp in the lane themselves--it won't matter what sides of the floor Lillard and McCollum end up on. The net result will be passing the ball around the perimeter without mounting a significant attack, settling for bail-out jumpers off of stalled possessions. Portland's lottery-pick guards certainly can work together but their success depends on more than just them. The problem isn't talent in the backcourt, but skill set, continuity, and commitment across the court.
@DaveDeckard why should I buy any game tickets this year?
Why'd you buy them last year? Take away 20 wins, add in 78% more dunks, and you'll have your reason.
Besides that, the organization itself has offered up a bevy of options:
--Take the Neil Olshey route and root for the superstar. You've seen the presser PR-fest, you've heard Lillard established as the Leader of the Franchise Forevermore (your new "LFF"). If you want a talented All-Star who will make you feel good no matter what the team's record, #0 is right there for the ogling.
--Take the Paul Allen approach and root for player development. As Allen referenced in a recent press interview, he loves watching young guys earn their wings (and so should you). No team has more young players with nebulous,-but-tantalizing potential (and no team has more open rotation space for them) than the Trail Blazers do. If you like seeing careers blossom from the ground floor, this team is for you.
--Take the Terry Stotts approach and watch team systems evolve. The coaching staff has plenty of ideas and a few core principles to rely on. It remains to be seen whether any 5-man unit they can field can put those into practice. If the Blazers look better at the end of the season than they did at the start, you'd have to call it a job well done. Watching a coaching staff forced to think on its feet nearly every game should be a sight to behold in itself.
--Take the Jason Quick approach and root for the stories. The Blazers usually field 1-2 players with histories and futures speculative enough to leave space for great redemption/struggling to make good/last chance at the big time stories. This year they're stocking at least a dozen. You don't know anything about these guys yet. By the end of the season every one of them should have a backstory and personality feature for you to enjoy. How often do you get to meet an entire team all at once? It'll take you half a season just to recognize who's checking in! Better get those season tickets and a set of flashcards now.
--Take the traditional fan approach and love your team, rain or shine. Granted this sticks in the throat a little. Fans enjoyed a successful team full of praise-worthy, easy-to-like players last season. They're nowhere to be found this year. It's like buying tickets for a Styx reunion tour featuring Dennis DeYoung while J.Y. Young and Tommy Shaw play elsewhere. But hey, fandom is fandom. Get your "Come Sail Away" t-shirt on and sing along, you groupie, you.
--Take the "once-in-a-lifetime" approach and see history in the making. As we've mentioned a couple times before, most notably on our podcast, what happened to the Trail Blazers this summer was unprecedented. A natural disaster blew through town, ripping apart the roster and leaving shreds in its place. The aftermath will also be historical in its own way...maybe not pretty, but significant. The Blazers could rise like no team has before. More likely they'll languish, but even that has its own curious attraction. When you tell your grandchildren how bad losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, and Arron Afflalo in a single summer was, you'll want to tell them how really bad it was.
@DaveDeckard Cliff Alexander a lock?
For what? Making the roster? I think so. Most of these players will. Plus Alexander is a beast. For playing time? Less sure about that. We'll have to see how much he can pick up.
If you'd like to submit your own question for our Mailbag, you can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter. (If you don't know my handle by now, you haven't been reading. But here it is again anyway.)
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge