The Blazers last made the playoffs in 2011, as a six seed. In the playoffs, they took the eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks to six games, behind an incredible game four performance from the ailing shell of Brandon Roy (RELIVE THE MEMORIES NOW). In earning the sixth seed, that year’s team won 48 games. In light of Lillard’s recent prediction of 46 wins, and expectations of a shot at the playoffs running high, let’s consider how the two teams would stack up playing each other.
That 2011 squad actually boasted a top-10 offense as well as the number 14th ranked defense. While last year’s Blazers will not be this year’s Blazers, for comparison, last year’s team had the 15th ranked offense and 26th ranked defense. Ouch. I fully expect both areas to improve, as on offense Damian Lillard will have matured and we will have a bench, and on defense, there is talk that Stotts will move to a simpler defensive system.
That being said, jumping up to the 2011 team’s standards would be quite a stretch. I’m not sure that much improvement could be made in one season. Enough with the numbers, though – games are decided by players, so the real fun is in seeing how they would match up. This would be in a seven game playoff series (because the playoffs are really what matters), without home court (unless you think Moda Center fans will be quieter than Rose Garden fans).
The 2011 Blazers trotted out a pretty set eight man rotation during the playoffs, with Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby starting, and Nicolas Batum, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez off the bench (just bask in that nostalgia). As I have said before, as of this moment, it looks like the 2014 Blazers will essentially have a 10 man rotation, featuring Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez (likely) starting, and Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard off the bench.
In full disclosure, I still think it is well within the realm of possibility for one of those ten to not earn consistent minutes, especially (fingers crossed) if the team finds itself in the playoffs.
Point Guard: Damian Lillard is better than Andre Miller. Despite what seemed to be many fans liking him, I also did not care for Miller on the Blazers, as I thought he bogged down the offense. Unfortunately for our 2014 squad in this matchup, Miller’s biggest weakness was athletic, quick guards. While Lillard is no slouch in the athletic department, he doesn’t have blinding speed. The 2014 Blazers certainly have the edge here, but the gap, while noticeable, is not as large as it first seems.
Center: While Leonard could certainly nab the starting job (and I hope he does eventually during the season), the odds look to be in Lopez’s favor for being the starting center right now. The 2011 Blazers featured Marcus Camby, a rebounding and defensive machine, who has averaged an astounding defensive rating of 99 throughout his career. Lopez? A laughable 110. Camby did a far better job of rim protection than Lopez is capable of, and clearly has the advantage here. The slashers on the 2011 team (Matthews, Batum, Fernandez, and Wallace) could all feast around the rim, while the opposite would be true for the 2014 team coming at Camby.
Small Forward: Wallace was a better rebounder, but 2014 Batum will be a better facilitator. Both were/ are cast as defensive stoppers, with this moniker a bit of an exaggeration in both cases. 2011 Wallace shot a blistering 49.8% for the Blazers in the regular season, and a still solid 44.8% in the playoffs. Batum? He didn’t even crack 43% last season. I’d call this a wash, if not a slight win for Crash, with Batum being powered almost solely by his versatility. The BIG if, though, is that if Batum makes even a mini-jump next year, he’d probably have the slight edge.
The Clones: 2011 Matthews and Aldridge vs. 2014 Matthews and Aldridge is a tough matchup to judge. The younger counterparts have youth, while the older ones have experience. They also played / will play on fairly differently constructed teams. It’s worth noting, though, that both players shot worse from the field last year than they did in 2011. Additionally, I liked 2011 Aldridge’s game a LOT more than current day Aldridge. Back then, he shot 63% of his attempts from within 10 feet of the hoop. Last year? Only 40%. This is a troubling trend, especially since his attempts from 16ft to the three point line skyrocketed. The younger versions both had fewer injury concerns as well. I’m honestly taking the younger ones here.
The Bench / Depth: Herein lies perhaps the biggest wild card of all: Roy, or more accurately, what was left of Roy’s knees circa 2011. He won Game 4 of the 2011 series for the Blazers off the bench. He also shot 50% from the field overall during that series, during the minutes he could gut out. He was a huge emotional spark for the team. He was, however, approaching crippled status, and only one man. The 2014 Blazers will have much greater depth, and I could see one of Williams/McCollum/Wright getting hot enough to win a game on their own.
When the dust settles, in a seven game series, I think the 2011 Blazers would beat the 2014 Blazers. This should not come as a surprise, as 48 wins and the sixth seed in the Western Conference seem out of reach for next year’s team. Even if individual matchups seem fairly even, the 2011 team really played as a team and had a cohesiveness that I don’t think next year’s team will be able to immediately emulate. The 2011 team had also been booted in the first round the past two seasons, and displayed a hunger I did not see present last year. Let’s face it – they took the eventual champions to six games, something that I think next year’s team would have had trouble doing.