Acquired over the summer from the Hornets in a three-team trade that cost the Trail Blazers the draft rights to Jeff Withey, a second-round pick and cash, Robin Lopez has the potential to keep what has been a revolving door at center from spinning any further. Lopez, 25, does not have the offensive chops of his twin, Nets center Brook. What he does offer Portland is reliability around the basket (shooting 69.1% at the rim last season), shot blocking (1.6 per game) and the wheels to slide to the hoop on pick-and-rolls. Most important, the 7-foot, 255-pound Lopez has the size and strength to occupy opposing bigs; last year in New Orleans he relieved rookie Anthony Davis of the heavy lifting in the paint. Now Lopez can provide a similar benefit for All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, who can then take advantage of matchups against smaller defenders.
One of the most productive power forwards in the game, Aldridge has become an increasingly effective threat from midrange. At the same time, he is increasingly less willing to attack the basket. (Three years ago 34% of his attempts were at the rim; last year it was 21.5%.) With Lopez alongside him—instead of 6'9" J.J. Hickson, who is now with the Nuggets—Aldridge will be able to use his exceptional length to work down low. Coach Terry Stotts can now construct a true inside-out game with Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, catch-and-shoot threats who each shot better than 36% from beyond the arc last season.
COACH TERRY STOTTS (2ND SEASON WITH TRAIL BLAZERS)
2012--13 RECORD 33--49 (4TH IN NORTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW Rookie guard C.J. McCollum shone in summer league—but will miss six weeks with a broken foot.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG DAMIAN LILLARD
19.0 PPG; 6.5 APG; 42.9 FG%; 36.8 3FG%
SG WESLEY MATTHEWS
14.8 PPG; 2.5 APG; 43.6 FG%; 39.8 3FG%
SF NICOLAS BATUM
14.3 PPG; 5.6 RPG; 42.3 FG%; 37.2 3FG%
PF LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
21.1 PPG; 9.1 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 48.4 FG%
C ROBIN LOPEZ
11.3 PPG; 5.6 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 53.4 FG%
PG MO WILLIAMS
12.9 PPG; 6.2 APG; 43.0 FG%; 38.3 3FG%
MINUTES PLAYED last season by Damian Lillard, who became the first rookie to lead the league in playing time since Elvin Hayes logged 3,695 minutes for the San Diego Rockets in 1968--69.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE TRAIL BLAZERS
You look at their nucleus and say, That's a really exciting young team. But when you dig a little deeper, improving that bench had to be a priority. It was historically bad last year. There were guys who would not make most NBA teams.... To say LaMarcus Aldridge is your best player—I don't know. But if you give me two or three guys like him, I'll take my chances. He has the ability to be a major headache in the low post, but he can fall in love with perimeter shots. He could do more on defense; he doesn't have the mind-set that he's going to impact the game that way.... There's a tremendous amount of room for Nicolas Batum to grow. He's still learning as he plays. He's always been able to make three-point shots, and he's so athletic that he can make plays in transition and finish at the rim. What he has developed lately is the ability to come off screens and shoot and also the ability to post guys.... Damian Lillard had a tremendous amount of responsibility thrust on him as a rookie, and he handled it like a veteran. Rarely did he play poorly or seem overmatched or make careless errors. There's no question that the ability to make shots and score is his strength; everything else plays off that. Now he has to improve at breaking down defenses, getting to the rim and getting to the foul line.... The one thing you add with Mo Williams and Earl Watson is some veteran presence, which the Blazers had none of last year.... Terry Stotts is very innovative offensively; a lot of what they ran in Dallas were things that he designed.
SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (LOPEZ)
HOLE PLUGGER LOPEZ
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (ALDRIDGE)