Pre-Season Answers

I got a few e-mails yesterday pointing out that while I identified many of the potential stories and issues forthcoming in training camp and pre-season I didn't really give thoughts on the resolution of those stories and issues.  A couple people thought this curious and a couple others were dissatisfied I guess.

For those who are new here, likely coming on for the season, I'd hasten to point out that this is a slightly different place than what you might be used to.  Ben and I have never written because we love the sound of our own voice.  I've never wanted this blog to be about me or my glorious opinions.  It's about the Blazers and the conversation that surrounds them.  I am a part of that conversation, surely.  But I see my role as facilitating conversation more than dominating it.  Sometimes I will ask questions that I leave open because the comments are more fun that way, straying away from the "Dave is right!" or "Dave is an idiot!" dualism that's common but of limited entertainment and educational value.  If you look at the comments in the original post I think you'll see what I mean.  I don't think people are in the dark as to my opinions, at least not if they've been reading for a while.  But I don't feel the need to lead with my opinions all the time as if they were the point of the exercise.

Also remember that identifying important issues is more than half of the conversational battle.  Don't underestimate how much time and energy people will spend debating issues that turn out to be peripheral while keys to the season go assumed and/or unaddressed.  Framing inquiries properly is the first key to understanding more clearly.

Nevertheless, I'm game to take my shot at answering some of the questions brought forth by yesterday's post.  Just so nobody feels left out or cheated...

1.  How many minutes can Greg Oden carve out?

I said in the original post that I expect Oden to reclaim the starting spot this season, though I'm not sure when that will happen.  As long as he comes into camp in shape my bet is that he'll start the season as a starter.  I believe Andre Miller will be good for his offensive game and the extra months of getting used to the knee should make him more agile on defense.  That said, I don't expect to see shades of the dominating, league-destroying Oden until next season.  I know we've heard glowing reports this summer but I never believe those until they're translated into actual performance in real games.  In some ways this is Rookie Year Part Two with less adaptation necessary and more exploration possible.  I would be quite happy with a 30 mpg, not-fouling-out, solid defender version of Greg.  I believe he'll be in the 28-32 minute range by December.

2.  How the heck is the small forward rotation going to work?

Ugh.  Why did I ask this?  I'd say that Martell Webster will have the hardest road early on, coming back off of injury and having to squeeze his way into a crowded lineup.  But I think his experience will eventually allow him to persevere and his outside shooting will win him the starting role again.  Batum will become a heavily-used reserve assigned to defend the opponent's best scorer, much as he did as a starter last year.  Travis Outlaw will start ahead of Webster in the rotation and could come out firing because of his contract year.  Eventually he will find himself pushed more into the reserve power forward role.  At some point the trade speculation surrounding him is going to swirl hot and heavy.  Brandon Roy will also see some small forward minutes in three-guard lineups.  Nobody is going to get as many minutes as they want.

3.  Will the Blazers run more on offense?

Yes, with an asterisk.  Andre Miller is going to allow LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez to run more.  You're going to see more fast breaks off of turnovers and fortunate rebounds.  However the base offense will still be centered around Brandon Roy.  Greg Oden will figure in more this year as well.  Those both spell halfcourt.  (Oden will likely remain too bulky to run consistently.)  What you might see more of is the secondary break where the third or fourth guy down the court gets a wide open opportunity either at the bucket or from three.  This could become a staple of the offense...not rushed but still breaking. 

4.  Do we finally have a pick and roll defense that works?

Was this issue glaring last year?  Like Kate Gosselin glaring at Jon it was.  Like Robert DeNiro glaring at everybody it was.  Like Sophia glaring at fans smiling at Blazer dancers it was.  As we discussed yesterday it's going to take more than one guy to fix it.  Part of the responsibility comes at the point of attack.  Steve Blake didn't quite have the physical chops to get through or around picks in time last year and Sergio Rodriguez just stopped dead when screened.  Andre Miller is better suited for it.  He doesn't have to stop opposing point guards.  He just has to shadow them close enough that they don't get completely free with only a big man to beat.  Last year that big man was Greg Oden, which caused a fair amount of trouble.  Oden needs to be quicker and more selective.  Whether it will all come together remains to be seen.  Were I an opponent I would immediately involve Oden in pick and roll situations until the Blazers prove they can cope.  My bet is that it'll be better but not beyond regular exploitation.  Then again, even a little better might be enough to eke out some extra wins.

5.  Where do you find minutes for Rudy?

It's going to be tough.  His minutes won't go down.  Brandon may even cede him a couple in order to keep fresh if the Blazers can maintain leads.  But something's going to have to give in the rotation for Rudy to find 30+ minutes.  Fernandez is not going to be able to play small forward for extended periods because he'll give up too much weight and power to opponent threes.  Brandon can play some small forward but with Batum, Webster, and Outlaw over there he probably won't see a ton of minutes.  Perhaps the Blazers will go small when Travis slides to the four.  But Rudy might have been playing those minutes anyway.  The great hope, and the eventual opening, comes at point guard.  Either Brandon or Rudy could get a look there with an eye to developing more as Andre Miller ages.  Rudy definitely needs to pick up some ball-handling skills to play that position.  Brandon sliding to the one would open up more minutes for Rudy as well.  Either way, this is the long-term solution if there's going to be one.  Otherwise we're going to get to the end of the year and start talking about the answer to this question being "somewhere else".

6.  How much has LaMarcus grown and how much can we lay on his shoulders?

Without seeing first-hand we don't really know.  LaMarcus has always seemed driven.  He's improved each year.  It'll all depend on the work he's put in and his confidence.  The Blazers will rely on him as much as they can.

7.  Who comes to training camp in shape?

The only real concerns here are Travis and Greg.  Outlaw has a history of playing himself into condition during camp but again his contract status may rear its head and he may start early this year.  We're still getting a gauge on Oden's baseline.  What's better for him, bulky and strong or lean and fast?  I lean towards the latter but knee conditions make that hard.  We've not yet seen an unblemished Oden and I worry that we won't to start this season either.  A more in shape Oden is not out of the question though.  That's what I'm hoping for.  Speed and stamina will go a long way towards helping his game.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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