(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
Portland Trail Blazers fans had to endure one of the franchise’s worst meltdowns in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Following an epic sell-off and housecleaning, the Blazers enter this season with a new general manager in Neil Olshey, a revamped coaching staff with a single holdover in Kaleb Canales and a roster that includes eight new players.
Doom and gloom and a second season in the draft lottery are what some are projecting for these Blazers. But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Here are a handful of good reasons to feel positive about the Blazers in 2012-13.
1. Damian Lillard is ready to play
Portland’s list of point guards of the future is long. This time, however, the Blazers may have gotten it right Unlike former draftees Sebastian Telfair and Jerryd Bayless, the holes in Lillard’s game aren’t major. Telfair couldn’t shoot like Lillard. Bayless was playing out of position at the point. Lillard is a legitimate scorer, an above-average shooter with deep range, and best of all he’s a natural point guard.
In four preseason games, Lillard already has shown that he can handle the offense. He is developing a nice rhythm with LaMarcus Aldridge. And most importantly, he seems to be dealing well with the pressure of being the next great hope of the city of Portland.
Lillard still has work to do. He needs to figure out how to get engaged in the first quarter of games, he has to work on his decision-making with regards to when and where to hoist a jump shot, and he hasn’t really shown signs of being an elite defender. Lillard is going to get a hands-on lesson on how to play his position. Since he will be a full-time starter all season, watching him progress is worth the price of admission.
2. Meyers Leonard has a tremendous upside
The Blazers’ other first-round pick isn’t quite as game-ready as Lillard, but center Meyers Leonard could end up being almost as fun to watch. At just 20 years old, Leonard is still coming into his own on almost every level. For Leonard, 2012-13 will be about learning on the fly. The Western Conference is full of versatile big men, and Leonard will get the chance to match up against most of them.