It’s time to see what the seasons has in store for the Portland Trail Blazers, and I am not afraid to bring you five bold predictions. Count ’em.
Do not worry, this committee of one knows the difference between a bold prediction and a wild claim (Meyers Leonard will not join Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant as the only members of the 50-40-90 club), and these predictions all have a realistic chance at coming true. I just hope when I revisit this column eight months from now I am not mortified at what I believed in.
Onward to the predictions!
1.) At season’s end, the Portland Trail Blazers will not own the worst record in the West and will not be the worst team in their conference.
The Western Conference is not a forgiving place for rebuilding teams. In a conference so talented, every win is important, and no one is going to feel sorry for the underdogs. You know what the bottom tier teams in the West are going to be? Low hanging fruit. Easy money.
Not only will the big time match-ups be circled on the proverbial calendar, every match-up against a sub-.500 team will be circled with big red letters next to it reading “MUST WIN”.
People rightly view Portland as the wounded warrior, the sob story that must now pick up the pieces of a metaphorically broken heart and move on with their lives. What will surprise many people is how much talent is on the roster.
Portland has always been a place where the team was much more than just the sum of their parts, and this year will be no different. Portland chose each player with a specific vision of how he can contribute to the team, in the long run, and each player has the capability to mesh well and create a complete team around Damian Lillard.
Mason Plumlee will never strike fear into the hearts of coaches around the conference, but the way he plays with Leonard, Ed Davis and Lillard will at least give some coaches pause. I predict the Blazers to come out with a solid-30 wins and overtake Minnesota and Denver for third place in the Northwestern Divison behind Oklahoma City and the Utah Jazz.
2). The Blazers will steal the Nov. 11 showdown with the San Antonio Spurs.
Tying in directly with the first prediction, the Portland Trail Blazers will win a game against the San Antonio Spurs. Think I am crazy? Let me explain why the Blazers will win.
First things first, this will be the homecoming of LaMarcus Aldridge. While not every Portland fan has animosity towards Aldridge, no one is happy with the way he left town. Bolting after proclaiming that he wants to be the greatest Blazer ever? Not cool.
There is no real hatred towards him; the man gave the franchise nine great years. However, the fans at the Moda Center will be giving Aldridge and the Spurs everything they have; nothing unites a crowd like a common enemy.
The second factor is the fact that the game is on national TV. The Blazers are receiving less national exposure this year and opportunities to make impacts on the casual viewer are limited. Be sure that the Blazers will be coming out hot and riding the momentum in this game – it will be as close to a playoff game as the Blazers will get this year and the fact that it is early in the season will make this game competitive. And you never underestimate Damian Lillard in close games.
On that note, the third factor—the fact the game is earlier in the yea—will mean less chemistry for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs will not be humming along as smoothly as they will be in January, and the Blazers will be sure to capitalize on the moments the Spurs falter.
3) C.J. McCollum will win two NBA Awards this year.
McCollum will enjoy a breakout year in a season where the focus will be on improvement and steady progress. Cast to back up Lillard and lead the second unit, McCollum will not only have the ball in his hands a ton but he will have a long leash and a lot of room for error. Those are very compelling factors when combined with McCollum’s talent.
A chucker like Nick Young would have a field day leading the second unit for the Blazers, but the more controlled McCollum will be putting up impressive stats and turning heads with his play. The Most Improved Player Award is a very tangible goal for McCollum, who was a fringe bench player last year that showed off his talent in a tough playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
With the stats that McCollum will put up, winning the Sixth Man Award is not that far out of reach either. Usually, that award goes to someone who produces on a championship contending team, but I am banking on McCollum putting up such gaudy numbers that he will be in the conversation.
4) Damian Lillard will make his third straight All-Star selection.
Take a look at the talent in the Western Conference. It is unreal how many great players there are. There will always be All-Star locks; guys like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis. There are also going to be old-timers that are going to be in the All-Star game no matter what. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan are locks for the All-Star game. They are living legends and who knows if we will ever see them on the hardwood again after this year.
With eight spots locked down in a prospective 15-man roster, I think Lillard will have a monster year and keep the Blazers relevant. Putting up huge numbers and keeping games close will be enough to garner the nod of respect as a reserve from the coaches, and Lillard will earn his third straight All-Star appearance.
5) Rookie Pat Connaughton will win the Slam Dunk contest this season.
The rookie stands at 6′ 4″ and boasts a 44 inch vertical, the second highest ever measured at the NBA Draft Combine. Sneaky athletic? Nope. Just a straight-up athlete. There are going to be a number of circumstances that determine Connaughton winning the Slam Dunk contest. Lavine will withdraw due to unforeseen reasons. Lillard (a past contestant) will coach Connaughton to embracing his goofy side and winning over the crowd. Connaughton will take the All-Star break to go train with Team Flight Brothers to come up with never before seen dunk.
Ok, I admit the last one is a bit of a reach, but hey, these are the bold predictions for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2015-16. Basketball is back!