New Bill & Jalen previews coming, 2012-13 Trail Blazers revisited


Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose have begun recording their 2014-15 NBA preview for after last year’s team by team breakdown turned out to be a huge success. If they follow the same format this year, they will release one team preview per day, for 30 days, leading up to opening night— starting with their prediction for the worst team, and ending with their prediction for the best.

 Via Simmons’ Instagram account

Last year, Simmons ranked the Portland Trail Blazers 16th in the NBA to the chagrin of Rose, who thought the spot belonged to the Minnesota Timberwolves (ranked 17th). Let’s look at what was discussed then and see how things have worked out since.

 Via Grantland’s Youtube channel

Key Point #1: Trail Blazers offseason moves

"Simmons: I loved Portland’s summer. Portland’s summer was so great that I actually feel like they kind of catapulted themselves into the playoffs. Last year they had no bench; this year, they added Robin Lopez for free, they added Thomas Robinson—fifth pick in the 2012 draft—basically for free, Dorell Wright—great corner three-point shooter dude— and Mo Williams, who tried to start a feud with me during my first NBA countdown season because I said Utah didn’t have a point guard."

These moves worked out spectacularly for the Trail Blazers.

Lopez became a cornerstone of Portland’s starting unit. His large frame and physical style of play allowed LaMarcus Aldridge to do his thing without having to do someone else’s too. This was a huge part o Aldridge’s career year and first discussion as an MVP candidate. Lopez also set a Trail Blazers’ franchise record for offensive rebounding and led the entire league in offensive rating, despite rarely playing a scoring role.

Robinson got off to a slow start, but showed real improvement when trusted with more minutes in the latter half of the season. When Aldridge sat with a lingering injury after the All-Star break, Robinson had his best performance as a Trail Blazer, tallying 14 points, 18 rebounds, and two blocks against the Timberwolves that Rose ranked so highly.

Wright struggled at times, but was a serviceable floor spacer and a welcome veteran presence. If nothing else, he provided depth at small forward behind Nicolas Batum at a low cost.

Williams shared the workload at point guard so Damian Lillard didn’t wear himself out after leading the league in minutes played as a rookie. Williams did a damn good job too, despite frustrating decision making. He was the Trail Blazers only reliable scorer in the second unit, and led the NBA in assists off the bench (4.3 per game).

Key point #2: Trail Blazers defense and depth

"Simmons: His [Zach Lowe’s] concern is that Wesley Matthews is the only really elite defender they have. Now, they go 11-deep, potentially. I thought that was a problem with them last year. Like, Aldridge and Lillard especially, and maybe Batum too. When you don’t have a bench it’s depressing after a while. It’s a frickin’ long season."

The Trail Blazers were definitely not known for their defense in 2013-14, though it was not as bad as anticipated. The two biggest surprises were Lopez and Joel Freeland, who both showed improvement defending the low-post. Neither were downright impressive, but both were better than they were on paper to start the season. Their added depth turned a laughable defense into a middling one that finished a respectable 16th in defensive rating.

Key point #3: Who will help Aldridge down low?

"Rose: It’s hard to say that a guy went to the draft too early when he goes in the top-15, but I thought that about Meyers Leonard. Now you have Lopez in the starting lineup, which shows that the Leonard pick wasn’t such a great pick. Those are the type of moves that I think are going to hold the Portland Blazers when they go against a team like Minnesota, because they have a solid four-five tandem that can pound them down low on the boards and scoring. Who’s going to help Aldridge down low?"

He hit the nail on the head with Leonard’s struggles, but the answer to key point #2 should cover this pretty well. I don’t think anyone was overly optimistic about the Trail Blazers’ center rotation at the time of this preview.

Clairvoyant Bill Predictions

  • [Indirectly] Robinson will succeed
  • The Trail Blazers will make the playoffs
  • Neil Olshey will win GM of the Year

"Simmons: “I’m always betting on pedigree. If you’re [Robinson] a top-7 pick and you’re under the age of 23 and you don’t have a drug problem or an alcohol problem or something, the only reason you didn’t succeed was because of the team you were on? I want you on my team.” […] “Clairvoyant Bill should also mention, he thinks Portland makes the playoffs, he thinks Neil Olshey is the GM of the year.”"

Robinson found more of a home in Portland than he did success that reflects his draft position. He will continue to grow, but will also be stuck behind Aldridge for the foreseeable future. Simmons thought Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts would play Aldridge at center to make room for Robinson at power forward, but that was not the case, in large part because of Lopez’s success with the starting unit.

The Trail Blazers did make the playoffs though, ousting his eighth ranked Houston Rockets in the first round. As for Olshey, he finished third in the Executive of the Year voting. San Antonio Spurs General Manager, R.C. Buford, took home the award, and Phoenix Suns GM, Ryan McDonough, received the second-most votes.


What will be Simmons and Rose have to say this time around? Perhaps they will talk about Lillard’s continued ascension, or maybe the new depth Chris Kaman and Steve Blake bring to the table. The Trail Blazers’ weaknesses are fewer and further between than they were last September. One thing is for certain; you will have to wait a little longer this year, as Portland is sure to feature more prominently in this season’s countdown.

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