Which players have the most to prove in the preseason for the Trail Blazers?
Media day has come and gone, now the preseason is underway. This is the time of year when things start to take shape. Teams build chemistry and individuals can separate themselves from the pack. The Trail Blazers starting unit is mostly set, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few players who have a lot riding on a good showing.
For Leonard, the potential has always been there. He is a 7’1″, sweet shooting big man who just can’t seem to put it all together. If he can manage to continue where he left off last season he should be alright. He put up 8.4 PPG and 5.1 RPG in just under 22 minutes a game (both career bests). His ability to pull opposing big men out of the paint is becoming a necessity in today’s NBA. Leonard connected on 37% of his three point attempts last season, while also upping his attempts up to 3.7 per game. That’s not bad when you consider that drastic increase in his usage.
He seems to have dedicated the offseason to developing himself as a more mature individual, not just a basketball player. The Blazers committed the next four years to Leonard and it’s time for Leonard to commit himself to being the force he’s capable of being.
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If Leonard can’t outperform his competition he could get lost in a deep Blazers frontcourt . On the other hand, if he can start to tap into his potential he could possibly eat into Mason Plumlee’s starting minutes.
This brings us to the man with the most on the line, Vonleh. The 21-year-old failed to show any improvement in his second year. Coach Stotts even gifted him the starting spot when Leonard went down with an injury. He failed to capitalize on the opportunity and after 56 starts lost his spot to Al-Farouq Aminu (via Maurice Harkless starting).
The worst news is that Vonleh had offseason surgery to have a bone fragment removed from his right thigh. The original timetable for his return would have made him available for the start of camp. However, over the last week Vonleh has been limited to just shooting and running. If he misses the chance to build confidence now – it might be hard to develop later on in the season.
He, much like Leonard, has all of the physical tools to be a force. He needs more time to develop and the Blazers just don’t have the available minutes to do so. If he were fully healthy and ready to go, he would still have an uphill battle ahead of him. As it stands, with his injury he has next to an impossible task.
My prediction is that Leonard continues to show up ready to work. He’s going to maintain a consistent role as long as his confidence and shot keep moving in the right direction. As for Vonleh, things don’t look quite as good. There are just too many veterans ahead of him in the rotation. The season is long and things change, but what we see from these guys now will likely dictate the rest of their season.