Monday, October 25, 2010
2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers season preview
The Portland Trail Blazers began the 2010-11 NBA season hoping to take the next step. The Blazers despite a crazy offseason that saw general manager Kevin Pritchard get fired and bringing in three new assistent coaches there isn't as much optimism as there was this time last year. Don't let all the turmoil fool you though the Blazers still have a very good roster. The Blazers have won 50 games or more the last two seasons and still feature former University of Washington star three time NBA all-star Brandon Roy. The Blazers appear to finally have the right mix of veterans and young players. Some of the youngsters like Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are just hitting their prime years. Once again the Blazers season will be about if they can stay healthy and in particular Greg Oden.
Portland despite having no buzz surrounding the team could be better than the team that won 54 games two years ago. All the buzz in the west this year appears to be with the Oklahoma City Zombies despite being only the eighth seed. The Zombies also had the fewest injuries amongst every team in the west while the Blazers had the most injuries. The other teams in the division appear to have gotton weaker as well. The Nuggets at some point during the year could trade away Carmello Anthony which would make them go from a threat to a non playoff team pretty quickly. The Utah Jazz lost Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews to Portland and Kyle Korver. The Jazz did steal Al Jefferson from Minnesota but the Blazers can very much win this division title especially if they stay healthy.
In this upcoming preview I'll break down each position of the Blazers and try to describe each player in the rotation.
Brandon Roy: The team goes where he goes. Roy is the Blazers face of the franchise and best player. The former Pac-10 player of the year with the Huskies has achieved great success in Portland going to the All-Star game three times already in just four seasons.
Roy is also a big time player in big situations. He has hit several big game winning shots and in his only playoff appearance when healthy shined. Roy averaged 26.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.8 APG while averaging over a block and a steal a game. He was terrific in the Blazers playoff loss to the Rockets in six games back in 2008-09.
Unfortunetly for Roy and the Blazers Roy was hurt in last years first round loss to the Phoenix Suns in six games. Roy missed the first three games and Roy came back to play the teams last three games. It was obvious Roy was hurt as he shot just 10 for 33 in the three games. He was a huge inspriration to the team in game four and the atmosphere that day in the Rose Garden was incredible. Utlimately with Roy hurt they Blazers again lost in the first round to the Suns in six games. I don't know of to many teams who can win a playoff series without their best player.
The big issue for coach Nate McMillan is what do with Roy and the offense. Roy said he wants the ball to be in his hands more often. Roy wants to go back to the 2008-09 mode when the Blazers won 54 games and were the fourth seed in the Western Conference but ultimately lost in the playoffs. While Roy's other guard mate who I'll touch on pretty soon would rather have the ball in his hands and play more up tempo offense. Keep an eye on that situation.
Andre Miller: Andre Miller was the big free agent signing last summer for the Blazers and right off the bat the marriage didn't seem like it would last very long. Miller appeared to be a bad fit with the Blazers as his style of play doesn't work well with super star Brandon Roy style of play. Miller began the year briefly coming off the bench as Portland stuck with incumbant starter Steve Blake.
Miller finally found a role with the Blazers once they traded Blake along with Travis Outlaw for Marcus Camby. Miller against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas on January 30th scored 52 points in the Blazers 114-112 win. He shot 22 of 31 that day from the field. When Roy went down Miller became the teams best player and you started to notice that LaMarcus Aldridge starting to shine in the up tempo offense. Miller also had a strong season when the dust settled averaging 14.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 5.4 APG. Miller is the Blazers best low post presence which tells a lot about him and the team.
Miller also had a pretty good playoff against Steve Nash and the Suns. In the game one upset at Phoenix Miller was a star. In the Blazers 105-100 win Miller had 31 points, five rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Miller was averaging 18 points a game in the teams first five playoff games then had a poor game six. Miller was just 2 for 10 shooting with 4 points in game six. That was also the game where Brandon Roy played the most minutes of the series. Miller must find a way to still play effective with Roy or he won't be in Portland very long. That would be a shame because Miller is Portland's second or third best player.
Wesley Matthews: Wesley Matthews is this years big free agent signing. The Blazers gave Matthews a 6 year/34 million dollar deal in a move that made you throw your hands in the air and go what?! Matthews this time last year was an undrafted rookie just hoping to make the team. Now he is making more money that #1 pick overall Blake Griffin. Don't let his high salary fool you Matthews can play and is a good team player.
Matthews was originally brought in to be Brandon Roy's backup shooting guard but with the Jerrad Bayless trade that will open up more minutes. At times the Blazers will run Roy at point guard and have Matthews at shooting guard. Have fun scoring on a lineup that features Roy, Matthews, Batum, Camby and Oden. Matthews last year for division rival Utah averaged 9.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG and 1.3 APG. In the playoffs though he averaged over 37 minutes a game, 13.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 1.8 steals a game. When you look at those playoff numbers plus add the fact he was just a rookie you can see why Portland stole him from their division rival.
Rudy Fernandez: When Rudy came to Portland two years ago there was a buzz surrounding him. He was a youtube sensation and played great for Spain in the 2008 Olympics helping them take second to the Americans. Rudy has always been a fan favorite in Portland because of his style on and off the court. He is like Ichiro in the sense he is known by just Rudy. Now with this past summer it will be interesting how Portland reacts to him.
In the offseason Rudy who is averaging just 24 minutes a game in his two years was frustrated and demanded a trade from Portland. Rudy isn't a good fit for Portland and especially coach McMillan. Rudy is best suited for a team like the Phoenix Suns who are an up tempo team where defense isn't stressed at all. Rudy when he is on fire is a very streaky scorer and shooter. At one point during the preseason Rudy was shooting close to 60% from three point range playing himself into the rotation possibly. Rudy is an outside threat for the team and averages close to two full threes a game. Another problem facing McMillan is finding minutes for Rudy and if he does it will most likely come at the expense of Andre Miller. However you shake it there will be some good players sitting on the bench unhappy for Portland as they are loaded at the guard position.
Nicolas Batum: This is a player that Blazer fans are absolutely in love with. Batum was a surprise starter two years ago beating highly touted Travis Outlaw. Batum started 79 games on a team that won 54 games as a rookie. He only averaged 5.4 points his rookie year but played good defense and developed into a three point threat. Then last year Batum began the year hurt and played just 37 games. Batum when he came back improved a ton as he averaged 10.1 PPG, making 1.5 threes a game then almost four rebounds a game. Batum will also be turning just 22 years old this December.
The potential in Batum everyone can agree on is pretty big. Where fans get in disagreements is where he is going. Some Blazer fans will have you thinking he is the next Scottie Pippen which just ludacris, while others scoff at the notion that he is compared to Tayshawn Prince who is a good player on his own. If they Blazers are to make a big trade it will most likely involve Batum. Whatever you think of Batum one thing is for sure he has tons of talent and has plenty of room to improve.
LaMarcus Aldridge: If it is possible for a player to be overated and underated at the same time Aldridge fits that. Talk to some Blazer fans and they are convince he is a top five power forward in the game and can be a perenial all-star. Talk to people who aren't fans of the Blazers and they bash on Aldridge so much you forget he averaged 18 points and almost 8 rebounds a game for the past three seasons.
Aldridge has a soft reputation which started from Blazers beat writer Jason Quick. Aldridge fits the model of players today where is a great shooter. Aldridge has a jumpshot that reminds fans of Kevin Garnett in his prime years. Aldridge when Roy went down stepped up his game. In the playoffs Aldridge against perenial all-star Amare Stoudamire he averaged 19.0 PPG,6.0 RPG and almost two blocks a game. Aldridge the previous year while facing Houston who had tons of bigs averaged 19.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and almost 1.5 blocks per game.
Say what you will about Aldridge but he is a natural scorer. For him and the Blazers to take that next step though he must improve his rebounding. Last year in game five of the playoffs he had just two rebounds in over 40 minutes. To get to that All-Star level he has to improve on the inside and on defense. Offensively he is there with his shooting but defensively he still has a ways to go. Aldridge looking at his stats has appeared to have each his plateau which isn't necesarily a bad thing given he has averaged 18 and 8.
Luke Babbitt: Luke Babbitt is a talented 6'9" forward who can shoot the outside shot. While at Nevada last year he averaged 21.9 PPG and grabbed 8.9 rebounds while making over a three pointer a game. Babbitt the Blazers were so high on is why they traded away three point specialist and former draft lottery pick Martell Webster away.
Look for Babbitt to be a nice spark off the bench this year for the Blazers. He is a tall small forward who can rebound and shoots the ball really well. If the Blazers can trade Rudy Fernandez look for Babbitt to steal his minutes. He will contribute some this year but down the road he could be a nice 6th man off the bench for the Blazers.
Marcus Camby: The Blazers were 17-6 in the 23 games that Marcus Camby played for them. Portland traded the popular Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw to get Camby and it appeared Camby would leave at the end of the season. Camby fell in love with Portland and decided to resign with them. Given Oden and Przybilla injury status having Camby around will prove to be huge.
The knock on the Blazers is they aren't tough enough inside but with Camby that simply isn't the case. In fact when healthy I dare someone to name me a team who has a better set of centers in the NBA. All Camby did in Portland was do what he always does which is play great defense and rebound the ball. Last year for the Blazers Camby averaged 7.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, a steal and two blocks a game. In the playoffs against the Suns Camby was a monster in the first five games. In the first five games Camby added 56 rebounds, 31 points and 7 block shots. He had a rough game six though. Camby will be asked to be the starter regardless of Greg Oden's health. When healthy look for Oden and Camby at times to be on the floor at the same time making it virtually impossible for teams to score inside on them.
Greg Oden: When you google search Greg Odens name what often comes up is "Sam Bowie", "Taken over Kevin Durant" and "Horse". The first two I"ll talk about and the last one well I'll just leave it alone.
Greg Oden fair or not fair will always be linked to Kevin Durant much like Sam Bowie was to Michael Jordan. The good news for Oden is he still has plenty of time to make people forget that he is a bust. There was once a time people mocked the Houston Texans for taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, the Twins for taking Joe Mauer over Mark Prior and the Rockets for taking Yao Ming over Jay Williams(the Duke point not White Chocalate). When you look at Oden's numbers the stat that sticks out the most is 82 games played in three seasons. His injuries have been true injuries two of which have ended his season.
To be fair to Oden injuries are a part of the game but to call someone a bust because of such injuries is unfair. A bust in my mind is someone like Kwayme Brown who is just plain garbage. Oden is far from garbage in fact when healthy last year all be it just 21 games he ranked as the 8th most valuable player in the entire NBA according to Jon Hollingers sabermetrics esque rankings. I'll break down Greg Oden's numbers from last year he averaged 11.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 2.3 BPG. He also shot 60% from the field and 76% from free throws proving he isn't a Shaq, he also played in just 24 minutes a game. Now those stats are fair but for a #1 pick overall they aren't what you'd expect. Here is what Oden's numbers would be if he played 35 minutes a game which isn't unreasonable he would average 16.2 PPG,12.4 RPG and 3.4 blocks per game. To me that looks like a game changer, those numbers are exactly what Portland thought they would get out of him when they drafted him.
No player in the NBA is as big of an X-factor as Greg Oden is. Oden if he is healthy and can give the team 25-35 minutes a game is a huge addition. If they Blazers can somehow get Oden for 50 games at 25 minutes a night and most importantly get him for the Blazers it's the equivalent of them signing an all-star calibar center. The Blazers with a healthy Oden can feature two of the top five best defensive centers in basketball. The Blazers can be an extremely hard team to score on with Roy, Batum and their centers.
As a fan of basketball I want to see Greg Oden healthy. I think he has got an unfair rap and I loved watching him at Ohio State. Oden will begin the year injured but when he comes back and especially if he plays like he did last year that is at least five extra wins if not ten.
Joel Przybilla: Joel Przybilla is the only guy on the Blazers roster who was there during Nate McMillans first season with the Blazers just five years ago. Przybilla is another defensive minded center who won't score much but he sure can rebound and block shots. Last year Przybilla averaged 7.9 RPG and 1.4 blocks in just 22 minutes. He is also recovery from an injury and played in just 30 games last year.
Last year I went to a Blazers game against Minnesota and in a game where the Blazers scored 116 points the player I came away from most impressed with was Przybilla who scored just 7 points. Przybilla ability to box out defenders was amazing. He had 13 rebounds that game in just 25 minutes. I've seen Shawn Kemp, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, Greg Oden, Arvydis Sabonis and Vin Baker back when he cared all play in person and other than Rodman, Przybilla was the best at getting rebounds I had seen in person. In fact last year he started 9 games and excluding the game he got hurt in early he averaged 9.9 RPG in those starts. With Przybilla healthy along with Oden and Camby the Blazers have a good rotation at center. If you are a big man playing the Blazers you know you are going to have to work because three guys will be hammering you all game long.
Nate McMillan: This will be Mr. Sonics 11th season as head coach of the NBA. This will be his sixth season in Portland. McMillan has a 410-395 record and a 12-16 playoff record. Now McMillan's record is a bit off because he inherited a crappy Portland team and went 21-61 his first season and his Seattle teams were always very average.
McMillan enters this year as a possible lame duck coach. You'll hear how that will distract the players which I don't believe to be true. In fact his best season to date was when he was in this same position as head coach back in the 2004-05 season with the Sonics. He led the Sonics that year to a 52-30 season and won the first ever Northwest Division title. He also won the teams first playoff series since 1998 when he was on that team as a player. If players have big years in contract years why can't coaches?
I feel regardless of what happens this year McMillan won't be back next year. I feel like McMillan is frustrated with how things went this summer in particular the firing of Kevin Pritchard. Both McMillan and Pritchard helped turn the franchise around from the Jail Blazers to the guys that the city has embraced. This group is a talented young group that isn't going away. I feel like McMillan is a good coach to take crappy teams and make them good just don't know if he can take a team to the next level. NBA players especially established guys don't want to practice for three hours and have basically a drill sargent as head coach which McMillan basically is. So Portland fans appreciate McMillan while you have him because he is a good coach.
Just like last year the Blazers fan base and Paul Allen are tired of just making it to the playoffs. The expectations is to win a playoff series or else heads will roll. You already saw that with the entire coaching staff being replaced, both the general manager and assistent general manager were also replaced. The Blazers have advanced past the first round just two years since 1993. The Blazers have only been a top four seed just three years since 1993. In the NBA it is hard to take that next jump just ask the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves when they had Garnett, Houston Rockets, etc. The Blazers are trying to take the hardest step there is in sports which is go from good to great.
When healthy the Blazers match up the best with the L.A.Lakers amongst the Western Conference teams. The Blazers have three quality centers and are deep at guard. The Blazers have plenty of shooters and an all-star who has the ball in his hands late in games. Sounds like a recipe for succeess. The Blazers also have an owner who is willing to spend money, expiring contracts(Przybilla and Miller), young cheap talent(Batum), draft picks(they have bought a ton and recently acquired the Hornets first rounder) and a possible franchise building piece(Oden) to swing a huge trade. The Blazers have as much amo as anyone to make a blockbuster trade. The question is can Rich Cho do something that Pritchard was unable to do which is take a major risk that the fans won't like but help the team. Stars win in this league not depth the Blazers have depth they just need another star.
All in all, I like this team but I just don't love this team. I look for the Blazers to continue to win 50 games in fact I'll say 55 wins which is good enough to be the fourth seed in the west behind the Lakers, Zombies and Mavericks. I think the west is so tight it will come down to matchups far as who wins in the first round. This team is way better off than they were last year. Since last year the team has added Matthews, Camby, and Babbitt while losing Blake, Outlaw and Webster. The west is tough but it's time for the Blazers to finally grow up and stop using the dread "P" word and creating results. Look for the Blazers to finally win a postseason series for the first time since 2000.
I hoped you liked my Blazers season preview. I will make sure to attend a few games at Rose Garden. The Blazers crowd is at times like an overprotecting parent but the fans and the atmosphere is great especially for an NBA crowd. Well that wraps up my preview of the Portland Trail Blazers.