Deep Playoff Run

The Blazers have great prospects for a deep playoff run this year.  

Remember how our incredibly young team played last year in the face of what many call the most difficult schedule ever.  54 wins.  This with our starting small forward out for the season and our #1 draft pick center coming back from microfracture surgery, out of shape, and suffering from several injuries during the season.

We had 3 rookies contribute significantly, and the jump to second year is often the greatest. Rudy hit the most 3 pointers of any rookie ever, and Batum was a surprise defensive stopper assigned to guard the league's elite.

Our franchise guard -- Roy -- had a season that only Jordan, Kobe, and Carter have equaled in terms of high output, mistake free ball.  He is one of 17 guards in all NBA history to make 2nd team all-NBA in his third season.

Our franchise center -- Oden (ludicrously labeled a bust by many) -- despite his injury and shape issues, had rookie year offensive rebounding percentages that were equal to the rookie years of Rodman and Moses Malone, and better than those of Buck Williams and Barkley (the 4 best O rebounders of the last 35 years).  And his O rebound % was higher than Dwight Howard's last year.

Finally, look at how we played during the stretch run last year.  Over the last 10 games of the regular season, we played incredibly well, and much of this was defensive, not the efficient offense we heard of all year.  These are just the defensive stats:

    * #1 in opponents points allowed (wide margin)

    * #3 in opponents field goal percentage

    * #1 (tie) in opponents 3 point percentage

    * #1 in opponents assists allowed (wide margin)

    * #1 in opponents rebounds allowed (wide margin)

To this, we add Andre Miller, the best free agent point guard (Sportsline), a savvy vet who is one of the better assist men in the league.  He is a long term starter, and played 75% of point guard minutes for Philly last year.  Point guard was a weakness for the Blazers last year, with a positional net PER of -0.2.  Philly had a point guard positional net PER of 3.8 (3rd in league), which is about the same PER advantage the Blazers had at power forward (LaMarcus/Travis).  So this is a very significant upgrade to the team.

Before adding Miller, we had the following positional net PERs:

PG  -0.2, 16th in league
SG  +6.1, 3rd in league
SF  +2.7, 7th in league
PF  +4.0, 2nd in league
C    -0.8, 16th in league

So we covered quite well one of our weak PER areas, bringing in the PG from the team with the 3rd best net PER in the league.  Blake played 55% of PG minutes with a net PER of +1.2, so he outplayed his opposition.  It was our backup PGs that take our rating negative: Sergio (30% of PG minutes at net PER -1.1) and Bayless (11% of PG minutes at net PER of -5.9).  

The other PER "weakness" is center, but we have the #1 rebounding center position in the league, and this advantage is likely to increase as Oden stays on the court more.

The surprise our ranking in net PER from the SF position.  We were ranked 7th last year.  This is misleading, as Roy played 25% of our SF minutes with a net PER of +18.3 (phenomenal!).  Batum played 35% of SF minutes with a net PER of -1.6, and Travis played 37% of the SF minutes with a -3.1 PER.  Of our "true" SF, Batum should improve, and Martell is back, replacing Travis.  Martell's net PER in 07/08 was -2.7, so not much difference in net PER from Travis.

Finally, our subtractions were minimal: mainly Sergio (backup point guard with 31% of point guard minutes last year) and Frye (3rd string power forward with 19% of power forward minutes),

We should be able to field a starting team with mostly strongly positive net PERs (82games):

Miller + 2.9
Roy + 9.4
Batum - 1.6
Aldridge +6.1
Oden +2.8

Our backups would be:
Blake +1.2
Rudy +4.5
Martell -2.7
Travis +3.1
Pryz 0.0

I imagine we will play more Rudy at SG (net PER of 4.5) and have Roy play more SF.  While Roy's net PER at SG exceeds Rudy's by a lot (9.4 vs 4.5), Roy's net PER at SF exceeds anyone we've got by a far cry.  This would give us the following team, which is probably our 4th quarter closing team::

Miller + 2.9
Rudy +4.5
Roy +18.3
Aldridge +6.1
Oden +2.8

Roy's surprising strength at SF deserves some comparisons with the league's best (showing % of team's minutes at that position and net PER)

LeBron as SF: 56%, +20.8

Roy as SF: 25%, +18.3

Wade as SG: 67%, + 17.0

Kobe as SG: 72%, +14.1

Howard as C: 71%, +12.8

Roy SF/SG: 72%, +12.5

Roy as SG: 47%, +9.4

Anthony as SF: 54%, +8.2

Pierce as SF: 72%, + 5.7

This makes the Roy as SF idea all the more intriguing.

Let me now address our competion's "adds."  The Lakers added Artest (net PER 5.3), big upgrade from Ariza (net PER 0.8).  Took an average position and made it strong.  The Spurs added Jefferson (net PER 3.4) big upgrade from Finley (net PER -2.6).  Took a weak position and made it pretty good.  So both of these teams got much stronger at the PF position, now our weakest position.

So we are poised to be an improved team, but our competition improved as well.  We have strong prospects of making a deep playoff run, but it won't be easy.  Go Blazers!

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