Lost in the incredible depth of the Western Conference is the Portland Trailblazers, who just so happen to have one of the best young cores in the NBA, yet nobody is talking about them. They are headlined by a fantastic three-man core of, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, who just happens to be the favorite for Rookie of the Year. The Blazers also have two elite role players, in Wesley Matthews and JJ Hickson and two other gifted rookies, in Meyers Leonard (11th Overall Pick) and Will Barton (40th Overall Pick). They are playing better than anyone expected and currently hold the 8th seed in the Western Conference, which is amazing considering their collapse last year.
The Trailblazers are one of the youngest teams in the league, as every player mentioned is 27 years old or younger. The team is led by All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, who is currently the highest scoring big man in the NBA, at over 20 points per game and seventh overall in the NBA. He is one of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA and has become a true franchise player for the Trailblazers. It looks like Damian Lillard is well on his way to stardom as well, having a fantastic rookie year. He is a brilliant scorer, but he has proven to have solid distribution skills as well. He has shown Portland that he can be a true NBA point guard, which was a concern entering the season. Nicolas Batum has become one of the best two-way players in the NBA and has improved his game immensely since entering the league. He is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, an elite three-point shooter and he can score inside and out. There are few better third offensive options in the NBA than Batum. Wesley Matthews is one of the hardest working players in the NBA and like Batum, is excellent on both sides of the floor. Hickson is among the league leaders in rebounding, grabbing boards at a career high pace, while still playing very good and efficient offense for the Blazers. He is playing center full time, despite being a power forward, which is quite impressive. Meyers Leonard may be raw, but he is huge and has the potential to be a great defensive player, but is also skilled on offense. Leonard has the talent to be a franchise caliber center. Barton was a steal in the second round, as he was one of the most gifted scorers in the entire draft, but he has had to adjust to playing off the ball. However, with his explosive athleticism he could prove to be a great sixth man in the NBA and he is constantly showing flashes of his potential, in limited playing time. Despite this fantastic core, they still have one major problem, they have absolutely no depth on their roster.
The Trailblazers have the highest scoring starting lineup in the NBA, but have the NBA’s worst bench production. Barton and Leonard are both tantalizing prospects, but neither are ready for a big role off of the bench and the “veterans” of the second unit are pretty awful. Their leading scorer off the bench is Leonard at a scorching 4.7 points per game, which is all that needs to be said about their second unit. Their five starters (Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Hickson and Aldridge) are all playing at least 29.5 minutes per game, with all but Hickson playing at least 34.7 minutes a game, which is among the highest of any starting lineup in the NBA. This is because they have no bench. If they had put more talent in the second unit, they would be even better. However, hindsight is 20/20 and they must have believed this was simply a year for rebuilding and developing, as did everyone else; so it is hard to fault them for not creating a better second unit. Because of this, they will be lucky to make it past the first round of the playoffs, but if they even make the playoffs, this season should be seen as an incredible success, as no one gave them a chance.
The Trailblazers have one of the best young cores in the league and without a doubt, the most underrated core. Their future seemed quite bleak after losing Brandon Roy, but they have rebounded beautifully and have created something truly special in Portland. Fans in Portland have a great young team to cheer for once again and they have an extremely bright future, whether are not the playoffs come this season. Management has done a fantastic job rebuilding this franchise and with a few more moves they could climb further up the ranks in the West in the next few years.