Blog Season Preview

Every year, Blazersedge participates in a national network of blog season previews.  This year is no exception.  For regular readers, there's not going to be a ton of new stuff in this preview, although I do make a win prediction at the end for your mocking and criticizing pleasure. 

Team Name: Portland Trail Blazers

Last Year’s Record: 54-28


Key Losses: 
Channing Frye, Channing Frye’s Blog, Shavlik Randolph, Shavlik Randolph’s Valued Blazersedge Contributions, Mike Ruffin, Mike Ruffin’s Minivan, Raef LaFrentz’s Expired Contract, Sergio Rodriguez


Key Additions:
 Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, A Healthy Martell Webster, Greg Oden’s Confidence, Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, No Sergio Rodriguez

 

Click through for the rest!

 

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

 

 

 

 1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

 

It was a relatively quiet offseason for Kevin Pritchard, quieter than many fans had hoped for.  No splashy draft day trades, unless you count the Sergio Rodriguez dump to Sacramento.  The true excitement came in a trio of moves and non-moves: the failed courtship of Hedo Turkoglu, the cap-busting toxic offering of Paul Millsap, and the rebound relationship scoop up of Andre Miller. 

 

Ironically, Miller, the team's third choice, addressed its biggest need – an upgrade over Steve Blake at the point guard position – better than either of the other two players.  Optimists see this as fate intervening on Portland’s behalf.  Pessimists might see this as Pritchard’s broken clock being right twice a day.  Either way, Miller’s addition gives the Blazers one of the best 3 deep point guard rotations in the league and provides the team with another proven player who can create his own shots and help develop young, budding stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden.

 

Everything besides Dre was peanuts.  Juwan Howard might fight for the scraps of backup minutes behind LaMarcus Aldridge.  The rookies might get some Developmental League burn.  Portland-area zoologists probably miss Mike Ruffin's exotic animal collection.  Rudy needs to find a new wingman when he hits Aura late night. That's about it.

 

It wasn’t the best offseason – perhaps not the offseason that Pritchard envisioned when he decided not to trade Raef LaFrentz’s Expiring Contract back in February – but the Blazers roster is better this October than last, without question.

 

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? 

 

Rebounding, offensive efficiency, depth, versatility, late-game execution.  Take your pick, there’s a lot to like about this group, a squad that will run 15 quality players deep once the roster is finally set.  The front line is anchored by centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, who combine to own the boards like Crockett and Tubbs owned South Florida criminals. LaMarcus Aldridge’s 7 rebounds per game look soft by comparison and Travis Outlaw seems to gather roughly half of his rebounds by pulling them out of the arms of one of his centers.  All those rebounds add up to extra possessions and second-chance points for the Blazers, who are loaded with solid shooters like Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez, and Martell Webster.

 

But the Blazers also enjoy a strength that not many teams can match: a proven, reliable, consistent and intelligent late-game ball-handler, Brandon Roy, who draws fouls and gets into the lane better than all but a few NBA players.  Roy’s penchant for late-game heroics – he claims with a straight face that he enjoys pressure – made for many memorable moments last year. A two-time All Star who inked a max extension this summer, Roy is playing for hardware from here on out.  He knows that better than anyone.

 

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

 

Although it might sound surprising on a team with such little roster turnover from last year, the team’s biggest weakness through 2 weeks of the pre-season is cohesion.  Adding a new big-minute point guard to the rotation has everyone adjusting. Greg Oden’s continued development has everyone from the coaching staff down re-thinking his role with the team.  Are there enough touches?  Who meshes best with whom?  What’s the optimal number of guys – from 8 to 12 – to play on any given night? These are the core questions for Coach Nate McMillan.

 

Another weakness – which will likely continue to be a weakness for years to come given the personnel – is team defense.  While McMillan has committed his team to hard-and-fast rules and a specific system, asking his players to play pick-and-roles in a consistent manner and to religiously close out on shooters in hopes of decreasing their opponent’s field goal percentage, it’s unclear whether this group – from the top down, including Brandon Roy – has fully bought in.  Some nights they do, some nights they don’t. Some plays they do, other plays they don’t.  It was a problem last year in the playoffs, as Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming were a lethal one-two punch, and Luis Scola looked all-world.  The players claim that they took to heart the importance of defense from that series, but there hasn't been a ton of evidence to support that during the pre-season.  

 

4. What are the goals for this team?

 

Anything short of a division title and the second round of the playoffs would be a disappointment.  Management, coaches and players have all set the bar that high, and they’ve done so with a confidence that borders on cockiness.  Management feels they have assembled the right personnel (and lots of it!), the coaches feel they’ve added experience and savvy to a talented group of youngsters, and the players feel like they have something to prove after getting booted out of the first round by a tougher, more determined Houston Rockets team.  

 

Pretty simple, really.

 

There are other goals: Aldridge and Oden want to make the All star team, Roy wants to be all-defense, a few Blazers reserves could be in the running for 6th man of the year, but those awards and accolades aren't the focus.

 

5. What’s up with Greg Oden?

 

Greg Oden, a player who has been off the national radar for the past 2+ years, has consistently been the brightest spot during the team's lackluster pre-season.  During multiples stretches of play, he’s been the best player on the court, something that was never said about him during the 60+ games he played last season.  He’s confident again, trimmed down and well-balanced on his legs, finishing with authority, and trusting his off-season work, which included the development of a number of simple, go-to moves around the basket.  His offensive game is less robotic and more diverse; his defense is less choppy and more instinctive.  He’s altering more shots while committing less fouls, exactly what every single fan, no matter how intoxicated, wanted to see from him last season. 

 

I have privately taken to calling him Giggles Oden, as he seems to crack up at every question or comment I make to him regardless of the setting: pre-game, post-game, after practice, or anywhere else.  Maybe I just look funny or talk funny (definitely a possibility)?  Or maybe Greg just has his mind right, after an up-and-down season spent, at times, sulking on the bench and consulting with a sports psychologist. What’s clear this fall is that Greg is back to enjoying the game. He still has work to do, there’s no question about that, but he’s back to being a player you can’t help but root for.

 

While top draft picks are expected to provide big time contributions, production from Greg Oden has been an added bonus rather than a staple necessity for the Blazers over the last few years.  2010 is shaping up to be the year that starts to change, with the potential to be the big, breakout season everyone has been waiting for. 

 

6.  Bottom Line

 

There are plenty of reasons to be bullish on the Blazers and it seems darn near every analyst is.  They’re protected against injury better than almost every team, going at least two deep at every position. They’re built to execute well in the halfcourt but they can run a little bit when needed, thanks to Miller. They’ve got big guards and little guards, athletic wings and physical wings, long 4s and big 5s: thanks to this depth and versatility, they’re far more prone to creating mismatches than getting exploited by them. They’re coming off a 54 win season, didn’t lose a single major piece and are a year more experienced than they were last season.

 

But entering this season, things aren’t quite clicking yet. And it seems like it could take some time. 

 

At this point, a little more than halfway through October, I’ll get on board with a playoff series victory (possibly 2): all the pieces are there. Although they started the summer as likely Division favorites, I’m not sure I see the Blazers emerging on top of what will surely be a heated 3-team chase for the Northwest Division title.  

 

That said, last year’s Blazers surpassed my expectations by 5 wins; this year’s Blazers are certainly capable of doing the same (if not better). 

 

A trade deadline move to find that still-missing piece and to cut loose some expiring salaries could be what this group needs to make the full, deep post-season push that it desires. Trade or no trade, the team’s offensive efficiency, rebounding prowess and the presence of Brandon Roy should make for an entertaining year. 


Predicted Record: 52-30. 2nd in Northwest Division. 4th Overall.

 

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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