LaMarcus Aldridge made his first All-Star team last season. (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT ANALYZES THE TRAIL BLAZERS
Where are they going? For a young team that everybody liked not so long ago, this has been an amazing drop. If I'm LaMarcus Aldridge, I'm thinking I got a bum deal. He was thinking he would have Brandon Roy and Greg Oden around him and now they're both gone.
If you're trying to win a championship, then I think you can get there with Aldridge as your No. 2 or No. 3 player. Put it this way: I'd take him over Chris Bosh. Aldridge has improved a lot. He keeps getting better and better, and he has improved his consistency. He's fine in the post, but what he does best is shoot the crap out of it. If he has a size advantage, he turns around and shoots it over people. His shot is what makes him special.
Aldridge is not a great rebounder and he doesn't block shots, but he's tougher than I thought he was. I thought he was going to be soft coming into the league and he's proved me wrong. There are certain guys you can be physical against -- you hit them one time, and they're done. That's not the case with Aldridge. He's put on some good bulk. He's not going to beat you up, but he won't let you beat him up, either.
I won't say his post game is a strength, but he's better than most big men down there. His passing out of the post doesn't stand out as a strength, either. I don't view him as the kind of star who is going to elevate his team. He'll win you some games because he's so good, and he'll even dominate some games, but on a night-in-and-out basis, you'd have a lot better chance if he's your second or third option.
They go into the season with Nicolas Batum as their second-best player, and that is a real reach. I love Batum, but he is so overpaid [four years, $46.1 million] that I think it's going to come back to hurt him and them. They absolutely should have let him go [to Minnesota, which signed him to an offer sheet] for that much money. He can't carry your team. He's better than Bruce Bowen or Thabo Sefolosha, but his role is basically the same as their roles. You can't pay that kind of money for that many years to a player like that.
Batum is a great athlete. He's long and he defends, but he isn't a great shooter. He's not one of those guys you can give the ball to and tell him to go by his man and score. Defense is his strength. He can guard the best wing player at either the 2 or 3. But everything else he does is at an OK level and nothing more, and I don't think anybody would expect him to become much better than he is after being in the league for four years. He is a complementary player, but they're paying him as if he's the kind of guy you're going to be able to build around. It makes no sense to pay him that money on a team like this.
Now we come to their third-best veteran player, Wes Matthews. Everybody in the league would love to have him in their second unit. He comes in and plays with a lot of energy and he can get streaky and put up some points. He's the kind of guy who can have a phenomenal game one time, and then the next time you're asking how can they be paying him so much money [$6.5 million this season]. But he defends and gives you a lot more across the board than, for example, Jamal Crawford [who played for Portland last season].
Rookie point guard Damian Lillard is going to have the chance to come in and produce right away as a guy who puts up a lot of points on a bad team. Center Meyers Leonard is another rookie who isn't going to be brought along slowly. They're going to throw him out there and he's going to have to play and take his lumps.
J.J. Hickson was so bad last year in Sacramento, and then he went to Portland [after being waived] and looked so good. But I would point out that the Blazers lost most of those games. He was supposed to be such a promising young player in Cleveland that they wouldn't trade him, and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing ever. He does everything OK and nothing great, though he can be a very good offensive rebounder.
I like Jared Jeffries in the right scenario. If he's on a good team, he can start as your fifth man and make a difference with his energy and defense. But this is not that scenario. He'll go through stretches where he is a major offensive liability. I don't see him being able to make a huge contribution to a bad team like this.
Sasha Pavlovic might get a chance to play. He had an opportunity in Boston, where all they wanted him to do was to make a shot, and he couldn't get it done.
Luke Babbitt is a specialist who can make a shot. Sometimes those guys fill a role and sometimes they don't. You can see the same thing with a guy like Jason Kapono. With some teams, he plays a lot of minutes, and with other teams, he never gets on the floor. It depends on how the coach sees it. Babbitt can shoot, but I don't know if he can do anything else. I'd give Babbitt a chance ahead of Pavlovic just to see what he can give you.
I'm wondering if they should try to make a run at getting the No. 1 pick this year. They've got Aldridge and one more established NBA starter in Batum, and that's it. Their big job is going to be to sell Aldridge on the program and that they're going to turn it around quickly. They also have to keep Lillard from getting ruined while they're losing a lot of games, and they have to be a hustling team because that's the only way they'll have any hope of keeping the fans on their side.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.