Special correspondent Eric writes in with his game review from California.
This is the first time I have watched a game this pre-season, and the boys in Red, White and Black did not disappoint. I was hoping to provide a fresh point of view, but alas, I will likely reiterate much of what has already been said from previous games. Since the JQ article this Sunday, there has been much controversy regarding the state of Oden. Based on what I saw, I'm not worried at all. He may not have had the most impressive stat line, but make no mistake, he altered the game in ways the box score does not reflect, and not that my view of the game is superior to that of the casual fan, but you really have to watch him to appreciate how he impacts the game. When he starts establishing post position, the weak side defender, or in Sacto's case, their PF, would always be ready to rotate over, in essence, even before GO gets the ball, he has 1.5 guys on him. The beneficiary of this defensive tactic was LMA, and whoa, is this guy a stud or what. More on LMA later, but he's definitely a 20 pt scorer. When GO did get the ball, it was deja vu ala Shaq. The Kings sent 1-2 help defenders, the result either being a Hawes foul, or later in the game, GO was showing his passing prowess. In fact, in two sequences he received passes in the post and immediately, in flow, sent the pass out for wide open looks. He's 5-7 years ahead of Shaq in this respect. And, he's a better FT shooter than Shaq, making the Kings pay for their double-teams. Defensively, he was fine, blocking and altering shots, and on rebounds, though he did not have many defensive rebounds, that I could recall any way, the way he takes up space and occupies would-be offensive rebounders, makes it easy pickings for his teammates. I love this kid, and once he gets in game shape, he'll have an extra 2-3 inches on his vertical, meaning he'll have more swats and alterations, and he'll be able to get more dunks in traffic. I'm terrible at predictions, but I'll go with 16/9/3 for his rookie stats.
LMA was a beast. He is truly becoming automatic from 12' - 18', and that's either facing up or with his turnaround J. One other GO note: on one play, LMA's man was half rotated toward GO, LMA cuts, Roy recognizes and hits LMA for a layup and one. Beautiful play, and no way LMA gets that with Pryz in the game. Other than his shot being automatic, the biggest improvement I see in LMA's game is his ability to absorb blows and still finish.
Rudy will be an absolute joy to watch. Not sure how the rotations will work come regular season, but Nate absolutely has to have him on the floor for at least 30 minutes. In the small lineup with Roy and Blake, granted, he had troubles with Kevin Martin's quickness, and when they switched him to Salmons, he had problems with his strength and driving quickness, but again, there's not a lot of teams that have a pair of wing defenders to keep up with those two. Anyhow, other than the ally-oop from Sergio, what impressed me the most was his floor leadership -- the guys respect him greatly already. One nice moment for me was when a FT was being shot, and the camera flashed by Rudy and Roy talking defensive strategy (from what I could tell), the two generals were gesturing and pointing to one another, and it was great to see. The other intriguing lineup was with GO, LMA, Trout, Roy and Rudy, and the Kings announcer opined that this was the Blazers best lineup, and I can definitely see that playing out in the regular season.
Other quick observations: Batum will be a nice player in a year or two. His length on defense is telling, but he was schooled big time by Martin on 3 sequences in a row. He's active, and you can see how he could be a thinner version of a Jerome Kersey with his hustle plays. Blake looked his steady self. Trout is still figuring out how he fits in, but there was a sequence with him and Rudy doing some damage on consecutive plays, and that was pretty. Joel and Channing were fine, and they will be steady in their 15 minute stints. Not much more can be said of Roy other than, he's the man. Bayless did not see much action, but one play stuck out to me as to why he's not ready to be a full-time PG just yet. He got the ball from Joel, just off the left block, and started driving to the lane. Help defenders rotated over, and Rudy was wide open for a 3 (Rudy was on fire at this stage). Rudy motioned for the ball, but Bayless thought he could penetrate into the lane, hesitated a second, and then passed to Rudy, but by that time, Rudy's man recognized that other help defenders were cutting off the drive, slid back to Rudy, and was able to get a hand in his face, causing him to miss. If it were Blake, Sergio or Roy, the pass would have been made instantaneously and Rudy likely would have drained the wide open 3.
All in all, a well controlled game by the Blazers. The Kings kept coming at them, but the Blazers were always in control. The passing was crisp, and everyone was playing unselfishly. Don't be surprised if GO also averages 2-3 assists a game, he's that good. 8 more days!!