Trail Blazers Got Game

In the modern NBA, the proven method of winning a championship relies on one thing: superstar players. The formula is simple: get a few of the best players in the league and surround them with capable role players. Okay, not so simple. Great players don’t come along every day, and injuries, personality conflicts, or a dozen other reasons can derail a singular talent. Not all great players are effective in the playoffs (Tracy McGrady never led a team past the 1st playoff round) and some lesser talents play enormous roles on championship teams (Robert Horray and Steve Kerr come to mind).

The 2004 Championship Detriot Pistons were one team with plenty of gifted players, but no dominant superstar. Every starter on that team was good or very good (probably a top 10 talent in each position).

Today’s Portland Trail Blazers have taken a similar philiosophy in building their team. Lamarcus Aldridge is clearly the team’s star and number one option, but the capable talent which surrounds him has top ten ability. This year’s team is ripe for a breakout season; all five starters are under 30 years old and most are considered experienced NBA players. In a subjective list, each Blazers starter will be placed in their NBA hierarchy. These ranks are based on overall career and general predictions for this year’s production. Even injured players who have not played yet, or are not 100% healthy, are taken into consideration.

Eighth best Center – Robin Lopez (behind Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Marcin Gortat, Nikola Pekovic, Andrew Bogut)
He is still adjusting to everything that comes with a new team but the 17 point 10 rebound performance against Detroit on Sunday showed what the guy can do. Don’t expect him to average those numbers, but hope for ones similar to last year in New Orleans: 11 points, 6 rebounds per game and, most importantly, he played all 82 games.

Second best Power Forward- Lamarcus Aldridge (behind Kevin Love)
This high placement may be controversial to some. There are certainly more dominant offensive 4’s than L.A., and veterans like Duncan and Garnett are more savvy defenders, but Lamarcus has youth and athleticism on his side. He has improved every year and, at 28 years old, he should be just entering his prime. Look for his consistent play to set the tone for the Blazers season, hopefully leading to a playoff berth.

Fifth best Small Forward – Nic Batum (behind Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony)
The good news is: Nic’s having a terrific all-around start to the year, notching his second career triple double already. The bad news is: the best two players in the world today play the same position, and Paul George was scary good in last year’s playoffs. Because Batum is still young, athletic, and showing potential for more growth, he ranks ahead of waning stars (i.e. Paul Pierce).

Seventh best Shooting Guard – Wesley Matthews (behind James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Martin, Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon)
Usually an adept defender and three-point shooter, Matthews gets placed ahead of some up-and-comers (Jimmy Butler) and veterans (JR Smith), who may be more athletic or skilled, but his leadership, toughness, and all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet make him an essential piece for any team.

Sixth best Point Guard – Damian Lillard (behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russel Westbrook, Kyrie Irving)
Probably the most star studded position in the league, it seems a great point guard emerges from every draft, going on years now. Lillard has that killer instinct and drive to be the best player on the court, so he is placed ahead of all but the most accomplished and spectacular of point guards.