Some nights aren’t going to be great for Leonard. In Portland’s most recent preseason game, a home loss to Golden State, Leonard found himself in early foul trouble and then later couldn’t seem to figure out how to effectively stop Carl Landry, a craft player who at 6-9 is four inches shorter.
It is Leonard’s upside, however, that should have Blazers fans excited. He is a legitimate 7-footer and can run the floor. He seems to take direction well, and he’s very serious about improving his game. The Blazers have enlisted the help of former Los Angeles Clippers coach Kim Hughes to school Leonard on his game, so the organization is prepared for him to be a bit of project. But with Portland picked to be in the bottom half of the west, there is a good chance that much of Leonard’s development will come on the floor in game situations. Those game time situations will likely produce some nice highlights. In fact, they already have.
3. This team is going to be fun to watch
The firing of coach Nate McMillan was one of Blazers owner Paul Allen’s biggest moves last season. The introduction of Terry Stotts as the team’s new head man also meant a new offense for Portland.
Stotts is known as something of an offensive coach and has promised to bring a more open, up-tempo style of play to the Blazers. This is nothing new; McMillan talked a lot about opening up the running game at the beginning of every season. But this season is different, because Portland has the right personnel.
Led by Lillard, this team will get out on the break and look to create points in transition. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are willing slashers who have both openly stated their interest in doing more than camping out in the corner and bombing threes. Aldridge, Leonard and even J.J. Hickson are bigs that can get up and down the floor and finish with style at the rim. This team is built to run.
On top of being basically designed as a fast-breaking team, Portland has a couple of players who are at their best when the offense is allowed to be a little more free-flowing. Lillard has shown flashes of greatness while
freelancing. So has Batum. Lots of transition offense and lots of finishing at the rim are two things to feel positive about.
4. These Blazers could have a lot of surprises
At this point, Lillard is a known entity following his great Summer League and his early showings in preseason. Leonard isn’t going to sneak up on anybody; that’s not his style. However, Portland does have a couple of guys on the roster that might surprise some people.
Victor Claver already has had a pretty good preseason outing, going off for 13 points in 13 minutes against Denver. Fellow rookie Will Barton has been touted by some as the steal of the draft at the 40th pick and lights up Twitter every time he takes the floor. Joel Freeland, another rookie, has a ways to go before he is an everyday contributor on offense but is the type of player who can provide Portland with some much-needed toughness. Ronnie Price is an experienced veteran who will be able to effectively pilot the Blazers’ second unit.
Claver, Barton, Freeland and Price make up the bulk of the Blazers’ playable bench, so clearly depth is going to be an ongoing issue throughout the season. There will be nights against Oklahoma City and other teams with eight or nine genuine proven players where Portland’s bench is going to get absolutely torched.
However, there also will be nights when the Blazers’ reserves all come together at the same time. If one of those nights comes against a team like OKC, that could build confidence within the second unit.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge is finally the unquestioned team leader
Aldridge played second fiddle to Brandon Roy for his first four NBA seasons. With Roy gone last season, LA stepped up his game and made the leap to All-Star. But even as Portland’s best player last season, he had to contend with a roster chock full of veteran players all trying to impose their unique personalities on the team and the season.
In 2012-13, Portland is no longer home to big personalities and locker room guys such as Marcus Camby or Jamal Crawford. Or players who are at their best when they play the game their way, such as Gerald Wallace. Or guys who try to be leaders but are simply just not up to the task, such as Raymond Felton. For better or worse, the Blazers belong to Aldridge this season.
The addition of Lillard gives Aldridge the perfect point guard to complement his game. Leonard developing into a serviceable offensive option opens the offensive end of the floor that much more for Aldridge. With both Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love starting the season on the sidelines, Aldridge has a good chance to get the jump on his competition for best power forward in the Western Conference.
And if his performance against David Lee in Portland’s last preseason game (7-of-11 from the floor, 4-of-4 from the line, 18 points in 27 minutes, plus-18) is any indication, Aldridge is primed to prove anybody wrong who thinks he maybe shouldn’t have made the All-Star Game last season.
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