Portland Trail Blazers
"Portland takes the Northwest with 49 wins. They should have a top 7 offense and get by OK on defense. … They’ve got everything you want on offense: spacing, shot-creators, unselfish guys. They are one of the few teams that can hang in a shootout with Golden State. … After this summer, their depth is better than people think: they can play big, they can play small and they just need to find the best lineup combinations. … Their payroll took a huge jump so they have to make the playoffs or face some serious backlash. … Stotts has had some tough situations in the past with Aldridge leaving and rebuilding teams. But this might be his toughest job yet because he’s got so many options to juggle now and there are expectations now. He has a lot of people to keep happy when it comes to their touches and shots after everyone got paid. … This team starts and ends with Lillard. He’s the best point guard in the league besides Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. He’s good enough to will a team into the playoffs and to make some noise from there. You can rely on his game, his personality and his leadership. Offensively he has it all. … Lillard’s defense gets nitpicked for good reason. He wants the challenge but he still has work to do in pick-and-rolls. He wears down. … McCollum is one of the best ball-handlers in the league and he’s got a little Kyrie Irving in his game. He can make threes but he prefers getting the clean look from mid-range. … McCollum breaks down defensively but he puts so much pressure on you the other way that he usually makes up for it. … I would start Crabbe over guys like Turner and Harkless because of his shooting. Putting him out there with the two star guards gets Portland to its natural style. … I don’t really understand the Turner move because he’s taking away possessions from either Lillard or McCollum, and that can be a slippery slope. How they fit in Turner will be the biggest storyline for them. … Starting Aminu as a small ball four was easily their best lineup. He’s emerged into a defensive stopper who can shoot the three just a little bit, although his form is terrible. He still needs to prove he can shoot. … What exactly does Vonleh do? Not a playmaker, not a huge rebounder, not a knockdown shooter, not a lockdown defender. If he wants to get paid he probably has to become an energy guy. … Plumlee is an average or slightly below-average starter. He can make plays out of pick-and-roll traps. They understand that his back to the basket game is nonexistent and he’s not a shooter. Stotts covered up his flaws well. … Even though they paid him, there are probably going to nights when Leonard doesn’t even play. He’s a stretch five who can shoot it but he’s still not guarding anybody and he doesn’t have any other plus skills. He’s a decent passer, I guess. … Portland is in position where they might look at trade options if everyone stays healthy. Otherwise, they could have some unhappy campers."