5 Things We Learned About Portland Trail Blazers in First Week of Training Camp
The Portland Trail Blazers have begun training camp and already it is evident that this is a brand new team from a season ago.
There are new faces, a new philosophy and a new sense of personal accountability.
That being said, this Trail Blazers team has yet to play a preseason game and there are plenty of questions to be answered before the regular season gets underway.
Here is what we have learned so far in training camp for the Trail Blazers.
LaMarcus Aldridge Really Wanted a Center
During media days, one of the biggest themes to come out was that LaMarcus Aldridge requested the Trail Blazers to bring in a true center during the offseason.
For a lot of reasons, that made sense. Last season, Aldridge was forced to really step up his role on defense due to J.J. Hickson's deficiencies on that end of the court.
Hickson was a fantastic rebounder, but was a total liability on defense.
He doesn't have great quickness or athleticism, but he won't be asked to guard players that will be able to exploit his deficiencies.
The biggest concern that the Blazers have about Lopez is his rebounding ability. He is a surprisingly weak rebounder and certainly won't be able to duplicate Hickson's average of over 10 rebounds per game.
However, you can already see the relief on Aldridge's face when he talks about having a true big man next to him. And a happy Aldridge is a good Aldridge.
C.J. McCollum Will Be Counted on to Contribute Right Away
The Blazers upgraded their bench during the offseason after drafting C.J. McCollum in the NBA lottery, raising concerns over what type of role the talented rookie will have this season.
Will he back up both guards even though the team brought in Mo Williams to spell Damian Lillard?
The fact is that McCollum figures greatly into the Trail Blazers' plans, beginning immediately.
McCollum is a dynamic player, which has been on display often this year. At Lehigh, he was asked to be the primary ball-handler and so the Mountain Hawks' offense resembled those early Allen Iverson experiments in Philadelphia.
But unlike "The Answer," McCollum is not a player who needs to have the ball in his hands in order to be effective. During training camp, the Blazers have showcased McCollum's ability to catch-and-shoot and play off of screens.
Not only will McCollum be able to take over some ball-handling duties when Lillard is on the bench, but he will also be able to play alongside the young point guard.
Defense Will Be Enforced
The one overriding theme throughout the Blazers' media days in Portland has been the rededication to defense.
The Blazers' disastrous defense of a season ago will not be allowed to continue.
Most NBA experts will tell you that defense is the one aspect of basketball that can be improved almost entirely by effort and dedication. The Blazers have a young, impressionable team that just saw its level of competition for playing time jump up considerably.
This means that as long as coach Terry Stotts is pushing his players, they can certainly give more effort on the defensive side of the ball.
Two acquisitions in particular will be very important to Portland's new dedication to defense: Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez.
Lopez was essentially named a starter right off the bat and will bring interior toughness and effort. Robinson will be the wild card. He is going to be the first big off the bench, but how much playing time he receives will certainly be tied to his defensive effort.
Once the Blazes' interior defense gets better, it will help improve all of the team's other aspects on defense as well.
Damian Lillard Is Hungry to Improve
One of the themes that came through in countless interviews during the Trail Blazers' media days was the fact that Damian Lillard wants to forget about last season.
Sure, he was Rookie of the Year by a wide margin of votes, but he also has plenty of aspects to his game that need to improve.
Lillard was a terrible defender last year. True, the whole team was bad, but Lillard looked lost.
Part of that had to do with the fact that the interior defense offered very little help down low. Another part of Portland's defensive struggles was the amount of effort that Lillard was forced to exert on the offensive side of the ball.
But Lillard still needs to improve, and so far through training camp, he is saying all the right things.
Lillard has the size and quickness to be a good defender and now that he has some help, he should start to answer his critics about his defensive deficiency.
He also will need to continue to look to set up his teammates under the hoop and play better off of pick-and-rolls. The Blazers are a team that is built perfectly for pick-and-roll offense, so Lillard's contributions will be essential.
One thing is clear—Lillard is eager to improve all aspects of his game.
This Team Is Going to Be Deep
Much has been made about how bad Portland's bench was last season.
Consequently, the Blazers went out this summer and addressed literally every position on the roster.
C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Mo Williams and Thomas Robinson were all brought in to improve the depth of the team.
That would essentially give the Blazers a nine-man rotation. That doesn't even include Meyers Leonard, Earl Watson, Joel Freeland, Victor Claver and Will Barton, who all have shown reasons why their numbers should be called as well.
Most NBA teams run with an eight- or nine-man rotations during the regular season. Therefore, the competition will be incredibly tough in Portland for the final spot in the rotation.
Through the first week of training camp, that is already evident. The Blazers don't just want to have a solid bench, they want to have a great bench.
This year's Trail Blazers team could have one of the league's better benches, turning a huge concern into an actual strength.