The Trail Blazers’ storied 50-year history includes one title-winning squad and a handful of others that nearly reached the pinnacle of NBA success. SB Nation is putting together a historic field of teams that focuses on the latter in hopes of identifying the best team to never win a NBA Championship.
SB Nation will roll out 64 teams this week and they will eventually settle on a field of 32. The Blazers have four teams in the field. That list, with the help of our readers, will be reduced to a single team to represent Portland in the final bracket.
This post highlights the final Blazers team in the field, the 2008-09 squad.
2008-09 Trail Blazers
Regular Season Record: 54-28
Eventual Exit: Lost to the Rockets in the First Round (4-2)
Leading Scorer: Brandon Roy (22.6)
Brandon Roy’s 2008-09 stats don’t jump off the page at first glance. Averaging 22.6 points and 5.1 assists per game on 48 percent shooting is solid but, out of context, not particularly memorable.
Here’s the context: Roy finished the season with 13.5 win shares, the most in team history. The Blazers finished the year with the best offensive rating, by far, in team history. And the slowest relative pace in team history. (All stats via Basketball Reference.)
Sneakily, Roy’s 2009 campaign was one of the best single season efforts ever by a Trail Blazer. Coach Nate McMillan’s glacially slow offense often hid how ruthlessly effective Roy’s game was, but the Blazermaniacs watching on a nightly basis knew they were cheering for a stone cold basketball assassin:
Roy was flanked by an impressive young team that went 11 deep. Not-yet-an-All-star LaMarcus Aldridge and microfracture-worked-we-swear Greg Oden headlined the rest of the roster. Rookies Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez wowed the crowd with raw potential while veterans Joel Pryzbilla and Steve Blake provided consistent role player minutes.
The Blazers, led by Roy, hit their peak in the final weeks of the 2008-09 season. They finished on a 10-1 tear with a 16.2 point average margin of victory. Roy and the Blazers were flying high, finishing the season with 54 wins and all the momentum.
One small problem: That “1” in “10-1”? That was the Houston Rockets — the Blazers first round opponent.
A 27-point shellacking in game one in Portland made it apparent that the young Blazers weren’t quite ready to hang with the NBA’s elite teams. Other than Roy, the entire Portland team looked like it was in over its head — Luis Scola convincingly outplayed Aldridge, for example.
Roy almost singlehandedly saved the day in game two, with a magnificent 42 points on 27 shots against the defense of Ron Artest and Shane Battier. After the game Artest asserted that Roy was the best offensive player in the NBA, even better than Kobe Bryant.
Artest’s respect and Roy’s heroics ultimately didn’t save the Blazers, though. The Rockets prevailed easily in six games and would go on to nearly beat the Lakers in the next round despite losing Yao Ming to injury.
Other teams from the same era: The 2008-09 Blazers should have been the forebearers of a Portland dynasty. The loss to the Rockets was necessary seasoning that would harden the youngsters for deep playoff runs in the future. When the Blazers signed Andre Miller during the summer of 2009, it looked like the young, deep, and exciting team was ready to dominate the NBA.
Injuries, however, quickly derailed that plan early in the 2009-10 season. Oden’s knee exploded (again) against the Rockets on Dec. 5, 2009 and Roy’s knees gave out forever before the midway point of the campaign. Cruelly, the 2008-09 season became the high-water mark for the Brandon Roy era. Rip City denizens will forever look back on the 50-12 record that the Roy/Aldridge/Oden trio achieved in their brief time together and wonder what might have been.
You can check out SB Nation’s complete Thursday field by clicking here.