Looking at the Trail Blazers’ 2015-16 resurgence and their outlook for 2016-17
Ever since the Blazers lost four of the their five starters, every reasonable NBA fan, myself included, expected Portland to fall off the face of the NBA landscape and certainly out of playoff contention.
However, the 2015-16 season was the polar opposite for the resilient Blazers. The almost overnight emergence of CJ McCollum, the leadership from star point guard Damian Lillard, and the increased play of players such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Maurice Harkless really shot the Blazers into playoff contention.
Portland’s dynamic backcourt
It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that the Blazers’ reinvention into a genuine playoff team started with Damian Lillard.
Widely regarded as an elite point guard, Lillard is a leader for both the team and his city. Coming off a season where he both improved his points per game (25.1), assists per game (6.8) and three-point percentage (.375), Dame proved that he can still lead this team and was pivotal in their success.
However, it was the explosion of shooting guard CJ McCollum which sent the young Blazers core into stardom. McCollum had almost an unparralled improvement in production. He doubled his minutes, added and additional 14 points per game, and saw an increase in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. It was obvious CJ made a jump of which we haven’t seen in quite some time from a guard.
Pairing McCollum’s emergence with Dame’s great season was a lethal combination. The Blazers backcourt averaged over 45 points per game and are one the most elite offensively in terms of individual scoring ability. Their defensive prowess, especially for Lillard, does put them down slightly in comparison to duos such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson or JJ Reddick and Chris Paul, but there is no question these players can flat out score.
All the parts working together
Combining this with the re-signing of improving young guys such as Crabbe and Harkless, the amazing defense of Aminu (who played a massive part this last playoff), and an absolutely elite coach in Terry Stotts, the Blazers are a team making moves out West.
Stott’s system last year really overachieved for what should have been a lottery team on paper. Look out for how he utilizes new free agent Evan Turner, who is one of the league’s most versatile wings, especially in passing and rebounding. All credit should go to general manager Neil Olshey for not giving up after losing the star pieces of days gone LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
The Portland Trail Blazers and the city as a whole are synonymous with resilience and determination, and their backcourt personifies this more than anyone. Look out for the Blazers to make noise again next season in a Western Conference that is really up for grabs outside the top few teams.
Buckle up for Rip City.