Stop me if you heard this before. A young team with a dynamite backcourt and one of the best crowds in the league show flashes of brilliance in the NBA Playoffs. Sounds a lot like the world beating Warriors, right? You have to give it up to the Portland Trail Blazers. This is a team that lost their presumed best player in the offseason and got better, largely do to the emergence of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and the steady hand of Head Coach Terry Stotts.
The Warriors finished off this Blazers squad last night with a 125-121 win in Oakland. I’m a little sad that this series is over, as it’s given us some of the best basketball of the playoffs so far. I love watching young teams that refuse to back down to the leagues best. I remember watching a young Thunder team take the Kobe/Gasol Lakers team to a game seven back before Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden were household names.
Will we be talking about Dame and CJ the same way we now talk about Russ, KD and The Beard? I think so, especially in the case of Damian Lillard who is the only other player in the league who can make the same kind of insane step back three pointers that Curry has trademarked in the past couple of years. McCollum averaged over 20 points a game in the playoffs this year coming off of a Most Improved Player award. He plays well off the ball when Lillard is on the court and can be a microwave scorer when working with the second unit. Can he be the second best player on a championship team? Not yet, but we’ve already seen so much improvement out of the 24 year old, I think he is absolutely capable of jumping up another level.
I think the competition from the Blazers has brought out the best in the champs. I don’t think Curry would have worked quite as hard to get back if the Blazers have not pushed Golden State as hard as they did. Even in last night’s game, both Steph and Klay turned their games up a notch, providing some really fun moments including this dagger three from the MVP.
The Trail Blazers are a few pieces away from seriously contending for a title, the most obvious piece being a big man who can also shoot from range. You can’t help but watch this series and wonder how good Portland would be if they had a player like Draymond Green. A versatile player like Green can help any team but no other team in the league has a lineup composition so similar to Golden State. You might think that they really missed having LeMarcus Aldridge against the Warriors, but having a post player dominate the ball just takes shots away from their young stars.
What the Blazers need is a player like Al Horford, a big guy who can get rebounds, hit threes and has enough basketball IQ to keep the offense moving. Horford is a free agent, along with other bigs like Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard. Whiteside would offer more rebounding and rimprotrectoin than Meyers Leonard or Mason Plumlee, and if they decide to give Leonard his qualifying offer they would have a good mix of offense and defense between him and one of the afore mentioned centers. There’s also the intriguing possibility of them getting Nicolas Batum back in free agency, Batum had a great year in Charlotte and is the kind of defender every team envies in today’s game.
Portland has enough cap room going into this off season to sign a couple of max players and still retain role players like Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless. They will also be a more battle tested squad having tasted victory in the NBA Playoffs. Not many teams can boast having one of the best young head coaches and backcourts in the league, and no one else can yet say that they beat the 2016 Warriors twice year.
Are the Blazers a NBA powerhouse in the making? Perhaps. These things are really hard to forecast. It takes one bad trade and a team that seems headed to multiple titles finds itself in no mans land. Just ask the Thunder what can happen when you miss your window. As a basketball fan, I want to see Portland continue to get back into the playoffs and unflinchingly stare down teams like San Antonio and Golden State. I want to watch Dame go shot-for-shot with Steph, and I want to see what happens when Kawhi Leonard gets matched up with CJ McCollum. The ascension from promising young team to world champion can happen in just a few short years, but a lot has to go right. The Blazers have all kinds of promise, and now they have our attention.