No NBA team shattered more expectations than the Portland Trail Blazers. They started the season without Wesley Matthews (Mavericks), Nicolas Batum (Hornets), LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), Robin Lopez (Knicks) and Aaron Afflalo (Knicks). They were replaced by C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, Mason Plumlee and Allen Crabbe. 2015-2016 looked like a rebuilding season. Not many, including myself, expected the Trail Blazers to make the playoffs in the Wild Wild Western Conference.
Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts thought differently. Lillard put the team on his back leading the Trail Blazers with 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game. But it wasn’t all Lillard. McCollum averaged 20.8 points per game and earned the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Amino and Crabbe joined Lillard and McCollum as the only other Trail Blazers to average 10+ points per game. Finally, Plumlee led the Trail Blazers with 7.7 rebounds and 1 block per game. Stotts coached his tail off to find the talent no one expected him to find.
The Trail Blazers finished 2015-2016 sixth in the NBA with 105.1 points per game, fifth with 45.5 rebounds and fourth shooting 37 percent from the three-point line. They won 17 games after Lillard was snubbed from All-Star weekend and slowly crept up the Western Conference standings.
After the final buzzer sounded at the Moda Center on April, 13, the Trail Blazers were the fifth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. They battled the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The Clippers breezed through the first two games before traveling to Portland. The Trail Blazers won the next two at home and the found the Clippers in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were ruled out for the playoffs and the Trail Blazers closed the series in six.
Besides the injuries, the Trail Blazers had a key role player step up to help them advance. Here is who stepped up in each game.
Game 1: Al-Farouq Aminu- 10 points and 12 rebounds, Gerald Henderson- 16 points
Game 2: Mason Plumlee- 17 points, 10 rebounds, Maurice Harkless- 12 points, 7 rebounds
Game 3: Mason Plumlee- 6 points, 9 assists, 21 rebounds
Game 4: Al-Farouq Aminu- 30 points, 10 rebounds
Game 5: Mason Plumlee- 10 points, 15 rebounds, Maurice Harkless- 19 points, 10 rebounds
Game 6: Mason Plumlee- 9 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks
Next up, the Golden State Warriors.
This series was much more difficult. The Warriors won the first two without Stephen Curry, Lillard exploded in Game 3 with 40 points and Curry returned as the Warriors won in five. The Trail Blazers packed their bags and traveled back to Portland as their season came to an end.
2015-2016 was a great season for a young Trail Blazers team. They made it to the Western Conference semi-finals after losing five key players from the previous season. The Trail Blazers enter the offseason with a dominant star-to-coach duo and reliable role players who gained valuable playoff experience. All they need to do is find another star. Lillard needs to recruit. In the Wild Wild Western Conference, the Trail Blazers are not far from joining the elite.