The new look Trail Blazers – Filling in the holes


As the dust from free agency settles, the Portland Trail Blazers have started to take a drastically different shape compared to last season. Perhaps most noticeably, four out of five starters will not be returning, with the lone holdout being Damian Lillard.

Of all the roster shifts, this is of the most interest to me. Starters form the backbone of a team, and with a full 80% of last year’s moved on, the Trail Blazers really will be a whole new team next season. The loss of LaMarcus Aldridge is the most significant for obvious reasons, but only focusing on the loss of Aldridge would be a disservice to Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez.

That is a lot of minutes that need to be filled, and in fact, looking at the minutes vacuum can help to illustrate just how much change the team is in for. Last season, all players on the Trail Blazers played a combined 19,855 minutes. Aldridge, Matthews, Batum, and Lopez accounted for 8,554 of those minutes, or 43.1%.

Forty-three percent is a gaping chasm of minutes that are now unclaimed, and this is ignoring smaller yet still key contributions from players like Steve Blake, who played 1,529 minutes himself.

More from Blazers News

Looking at this through another lens, the Trail Blazers took 86 field goal attempts per game. Of those 86, on average, those four starters accounted for 48.3 of them, or 56.2%. This well outpaces their percent of overall minutes played, which again shows how much a given NBA team generally relies on its starters to carry the team.

This is starting to get crazy – as of this upcoming season, 48 shot attempts per game are wide open. It is natural to pencil Lillard in for absorbing some of them, but one player can only do so much. In addition, without Aldridge to draw attention from opposing defenses, they will be more locked in than ever on Lillard.

When pondering the new starters, positions one through three seem pretty easy to make educated guesses about. Lillard will remain at point guard, CJ. McCollum has probably wrapped up the shooting guard position with his explosion against Memphis in the playoffs, and the $30 million the Trail Blazers invested in Al-Farouq Aminu indicate that they view him as ready for a key role in the lineup at small forward.

Apr 6, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Mason Plumlee (1) and Portland Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (11) battle for a rebound during first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Far more interesting is the glut of big men the Trail Blazers have acquired. They retained Chris Kaman and Meyers Leonard, and have brought in Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, and Mason Plumlee. Honestly, it is anyone’s guess as to how playing time among this group will turn out. If I had to categorize them, I would peg Kaman as the reliable veteran, Vonleh/Plumlee/Leonard as guys with potential, and Davis as solid.

However it pans out, though, there are two big man starting positions open, and with injuries, you can be sure that at least four will see regular minutes, and likely all five will get some play. This may change as the season progresses and some of them separate themselves from the pack and earn more and more minutes.

Ultimately, we can speculate all we want, but this is the task that Head Coach Terry Stotts has ahead of him. He has a variety of pieces to work with, and I suspect the plan is to bank on one to two young players, aside from Lillard, to experience significant jumps this next season.

It’s easy to tell yourself that four starters are gone, but when you look at this fact in context, it starts to become apparent just how much change the team has undergone and will continue to undergo. I still have a hard time grasping the fact that almost 50 shots per game are available within the starting lineup alone if the Trail Blazers play a similarly paced game. It’s going to be a whole new look next season for the Trail Blazers, so let’s hope that Stotts and the new additions can make the most of it.

More from Rip City Project

Next: An open letter to LaMarcus Aldridge