Team Preview: Portland Trail Blazers
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It is amazing how tides can turn by a simple ping-pong ball. Owner Paul Allen was on the verge of selling the franchise due to lost revenue and, then president and general manager, Steve Patterson stepped down from his duties. The Trail Blazers were then struck by a bolt of fortune. Portland landed the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft with only a 5.3 percent chance and snagged all-world center prospect Greg Oden. Of course, the story doesn’t end there, as Oden, it was discovered, needed microfracture surgery on his right knee, and he’ll miss his entire rookie season as a result. Nonetheless, the future is still bright with a team that is overflowing with talented young players like 2006-07 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, 2006 No. 2 overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye who came over in the Zach Randolph deal. If the Blazers wind up with another lottery pick next year, it’s not hard to imagine them making huge strides in a hurry as they’ll also be getting Oden back and their young players will have another full year of experience.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Playing time this year will drastically change from last year considering there will be four new starters. Roy will be the focus of the team and will play the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard. The other four starters will be in some kind of rotation, so their minutes should vary from game to game. Center minutes will probably primarily lie with Frye and Joel Przybilla. Frye started for the Knicks last year and averaged just over 26 minutes per game and might see that number jump up slightly in Portland. Przybilla averaged just over 16 minutes a game, and it’s expected that he’ll be in that same ballpark this year. Raef LaFrentz is strictly a mop-up player and should not see more than 10 minutes a game.
Aldridge will see the bulk of the minutes at power forward, and a tag team of Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster will man the small forward slot, with Webster getting the start. Aldridge is slated to get around 30 minutes a game and potentially more if he continues to improve. Webster should get around 25 minutes a game, but Outlaw, who was re-signed this summer, made a strong showing towards the end of the year and will be pushing him for time. Darius Miles, James Jones, and Josh McRoberts all figure to play sparingly at both forward positions and shouldn’t see more than 15 minutes a game each.
In the backcourt, Roy is fully entrenched at shooting guard. He averaged just more than 35 minutes a game last year, and that number should increase slightly. Steve Blake will likely see anywhere from 20-25 minutes is reasonable right now. Jarrett Jack, last year’s starter, should sneak in about 20 minutes a game, and he may get more if he plays well also. Sergio Rodriguez and Taurean Green figure to see mop-up duty with Rodriguez getting the majority of that time at point guard and shooting guard, respectively.
Greg Oden - POR [C]: So much hype revolves around this man-child that it’s easy to forget he’s only 19 years old and has so much to prove before he can be stamped as a franchise player. One thing is for sure though – he has the potential to be something very special. He has the size, strength and quickness to dominate the boards and immediately improves Portland’s team defense with his ability to block shots from the weak side. His offensive game is still raw, but that will come around in time. The only problem is that he won’t be showing any of that this season as he is out for the year.
* Joel Przybilla - POR [C]: Przybilla was supposed to be Portland’s future center three years ago, but he has since battled through injuries and is now buried in the depth chart. He’s a good shot blocker, but until he can give consistent minutes day in and day out, he is not worth a spot on your roster.
Raef LaFrentz - POR [PF,C]: LaFrentz missed most of last year. At this point in his career, he is nothing more than a veteran off the bench. You can expect no more than about 10-15 minutes a game.
Josh McRoberts - POR [PF,C]: McRoberts is a solid forward out of Duke who could potentially play some valuable minutes in his rookie year if injuries occur at forward. He can finish well around the basket and brings some toughness inside. He will play sparingly in his rookie year, though, and is not a fantasy option for this year.
Travis Outlaw - POR [SF,PF]: Outlaw played extremely well the last few games of the year, which earned him a spot back on the team this year. He really made a difference around the basket with his ability to finish, and he blocked shots on the other end of the court. He is extremely athletic and always active, which should spark the team when he comes off the bench. He has steadily improved since coming into the league out of high school and figures to play a major role in the rotation. Last year he averaged 9.6 points and 3.2 rebounds a game, but those numbers are skewed since he contributed 17.5 points and 3.9 rebounds a game in his last 11 games. Expect around 11.0 points and 3.5 rebounds to go along with a steal and a block per game.
Channing Frye - POR [SF,PF]: Frye had a great rookie year but tailed off in his sophomore year as he split time with David Lee and Renaldo Balkman in New York. This year seemed to be the same story, but now that Oden is out for the year, he has a legitimate shot at starting at center or being the first guy off the bench to play the four or five. He is a decent rebounder with a consistent 15-foot shot. If he finds himself fully entrenched in the rotation, 11 points, six rebounds, and one block is reasonable.
Darius Miles - POR [SF]: Miles didn’t play a game all season last year due to a knee injury. In fact, Miles hasn’t finished a season since he was a Clipper five years ago. Portland is trying to buy out his contract and take his $26 million off the books. If Miles’ knees hold up and he doesn’t agree on a buyout, he’ll probably get mop-up minutes.
James Jones - POR [SF]: Jones comes to Portland from Phoenix to provide some outside shooting off the bench. He figures to be in the rotation at small forward but will probably be played sparingly. No more than his career averages of 6.7 points and 1.2 threes per game should be expected.
* Brandon Roy - POR [SG]: Roy will be a great player in this league for a long time. He has a jack-of-all-trades game while showing that he is a leader on and off the court. Roy went through some heel problems early on in his rookie campaign but came back strong. After missing 20 of the first 25 games, he came back to shoot 46 percent from the field and converted on 40 percent of his three-point attempts the rest of the year. He is clearly the go-to-guy in Portland. His rookie statistics were fantastic as he was an asset in virtually all categories except blocks. In his sophomore year, he will be expected to produce like many of the top shooting guards in the league.
* Martell Webster - POR [SG]: Webster proclaimed that he would be an All-Star in three years when he was a rookie. Well guess what… this is now his third year in the league, and chances are slim that he’ll get to that point this year. One bright spot of his sophomore year was that he started the last five games averaging 11.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and one three a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field. He’s currently penciled in as the starter at small forward but has Travis Outlaw, a more versatile player, breathing down his neck for playing time.
* Jarrett Jack - POR [PG,SG]: Jack produced well in his sophomore year, starting every game while averaging 12.0 points, 5.3 assists and a whopping 87 percent from the free throw line. He’s a solid defender for the most part but struggles when facing the league’s faster guards.
Sergio Rodriguez - POR [PG,SG]: Rodriguez is a flashy yet raw point guard. He is still very young (21) and has been coined the point guard of the future for the Blazers. For now, he’s not worth a fantasy consideration because he is playing behind Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack.
Taurean Green - POR [PG,SG]: Green comes from a back-to-back national championship team at Florida, where he played point guard with a lot of NBA talent around him. He’s a strong leader but erratic at times. He’s also small and gets lost defensively. There’s a strong chance he won’t make the team, as there are already three competent point guards ahead of him.