Blazers Training Camp Day 2 Report

The questions about different guys have been coming fast and furious. For today's practice report, let's check in on a few players I haven't yet written extensively about this week.  Disclaimer: media access is limited to roughly 30 minutes.

Greg Oden

If we were to line up NBA big men on a mobility spectrum, one end would be "looks like he was born to dominate basketball games" and the other end would be "hey, he's really tall so we're throwing him out there." On the far left you've got Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.  On the far right you've got Cheikh Samb and any other 5s the Clippers have drafted in the last 10 years.  The toughest part about watching Greg Oden last season was forcing yourself to admit that, while he looked like he belonged on the far left side of the spectrum during college, way too often in 2008-2009 he looked like he belonged on the far right side. 

Did Greg accomplish some nice things on the court last year?  You betcha.  Did he look graceful, or even comfortable, doing them?  Nope. 

I've heard all the hype in person and read all the hype in print about GO this week. I've resisted writing about him until I could see him playing some basketball. That happened today, as he lined up with the second unit (Miller, Fernandez, Webster, Outlaw) against the "starters" (Blake, Roy, Batum, Aldridge, Przybilla).

My 5 minute snap judgment on Greg: the best I've seen him look in person.  

Did he do anything that I've never seen before on a basketball court? No. Did he attempt to dunk from the free throw line like he did during the NCAA title game?  No. 

But here's what he did do: look like a basketball player rather than someone playing basketball.  He looked up to speed, in sync, well-balanced and coordinated.  Gangly was gone. Beastly was in. He's headed back towards the left end of that spectrum.

If there was one obvious highlight, it was his nice finish on a drop step to his left hand.  He took it to the basket like he was going to make it, he shot it like he was going to make it, he made it, and he ran back down the court like he knew he was going to make it all along.  There was a collective fist pump from some of his teammates and members of the coaching staff after he finished the play.  Sort of, "We are going to be dope if he can keep doing that" but also "We haven't seen this before.  We like it... A LOT."   Greg? He was d'ing up.  

After practice, I chatted with Greg briefly.  How many times was I able to write that sentence last year?  Still, I'm not sure there's any way to chat with Greg other than briefly.  He's short with his answers, pretty controlled in his reactions.  That's one of the main reasons you read so much speculation about him.

Anyway, it occurred to me while we were talking that I couldn't remember him mentioning whether he keeps in touch with the league's other young big men for support.  I asked him about that.  He gave a typically brief answer: "no." Shot down.  Time to take a new path: "Hey Greg, you know the Kings are coming into town on Tuesday.  Remember what you did to Spencer Hawes?"

A devilish smile and even some quick laughter.  

Oh, so you've had that Kings game circled, huh?  
Nah, I'm not that type of guy that circles games. I take every game the same.
Still smiling.  

A brief exchange but an interesting one: it's the second time this week I've seen Greg allow himself to laugh with a microphone in his face.  The first time came on Media Day, when a nervous reporter asked him whether he thought he could make the All Star Game given Yao's season-long injury. Greg smiled and said "Yeah, me and Andrew Bynum gonna go for that spot." The reporter barely could get out a "thank you" before he was high-tailing it away in apparent embarrassment. Greg watched the reporter leave and then looked over at me.  I was trying not to crack up.  Greg was too, and finally he allowed himself to laugh openly.  Not a derogatory laugh at all, just a "what was that?" kind of laugh.  I started laughing too, if not at the reporter then at the absurdity of Greg Oden openly laughing, something we never, ever, ever saw last year.

Looking back, it must feel good to be Greg Oden, All Star candidate and no longer the most nervous person in the room.  It must feel really good.  I'd let myself laugh too.

Do you win a starting job from Nate McMillan through your smiling?  Nope.  Greg knows that.  He was quick to agree that Joel was really bringing it to him during practice, that his competition for starting center appeared to be even stronger than he was last year.  There's still work to be done.

But both on and off the court it's clear Greg has already done some serious work.  

He will be starting sooner rather than later.

Martell Webster

One of the first things i saw yesterday was Martell well off the ground, violently snagging a defensive rebound out of the air.  I watched him shoot jumpers throughout the Summer League practices and I even posted some of the video.  A few of you noticed (if I am remembering correctly) that he appeared to be favoring his foot while shooting.  At that time he was limited in how much he could jump and he hadn't yet been cleared for full contact.  From that first moment yesterday, it's clear Martell has his bounce back.  Further confirmation came today when he leaked out on a 2 on 1 fast break with Rudy, receiving an alley oop that he slammed home effortlessly. 

Is he all the way back?  I don't think so.  During the close out defense and halfcourt drills yesterday his footwork didn't seem up to snuff. I've always thought of Martell as an average lateral defender and he certainly wasn't looking better than I remembered in terms of the positioning of his feet and the speed of his "reaction-to-action" on defense.

Nothing to be surprised by, nothing to be worried about.  If anything I would say he's ahead of where I was expecting him to be given where he was during Summer League tryouts. But still not far enough along to reclaim his starting spot. 

For more on Webster, check out this piece from Joe Freeman.

Nic Batum

I must wholeheartedly agree with Casey Holdahl who said on a recent Blazers.com Podcast with Dave and Gavin Dawson that he fully, fully, fully expects Nic to keep his starting position.  Batum improved throughout the course of last season and has improved since I last saw him in person.  

Last year he earned the nickname Nicky Barnes for his toughness in playing through injury and, despite the baby face, he's more intimidating on the court than ever.  The standout moments for Nic today came when he switched onto Bayless, first picking up him up during transition and then later after switching on a pick-and-roll.  Last year, although Nic rightfully earned kudos for his defensive abilities, you might recall seeing him overly shuffle his feet on the perimeter when he was matched up with a quicker guard and worried about getting beaten off the dribble.  Whether someone has coached that out of him or if he's simply settling in, that tendency was nowhere to be found while guarding Bayless, even when he was out on an island.  In fact, quite the opposite: he looked like a hawk circling prey, his long arms extended, his head on a swivel looking for picks, his eyes locked in on Bayless's waist.  In both instances, Bayless passed the ball rather than take Batum one-on-one.  

Nate's emphasis on defensive rebounding seemed to be heeded by the entire team.  Nic was one of a few guys who seemed to be crashing the glass extra hard.  With his length and increased strength, I wouldn't be surprised to see an uptick in his rebounding numbers this season.  I suppose it comes down to how many minutes he plays but like I said above, he seems like a no-brainer starter at the 3. 

Juwan Howard

Juwan Howard was unafraid to take and make shots when he found himself open during today's scrimmage.  He moved well and looks like he can still play.  

He's the old guy you don't want to play pickup ball against because he has all the crafty tricks.  Leaking out after Rudy blocked a Travis Outlaw shot from behind, Howard sealed Travis off from the key as the ball switched crosscourt from left to right.  All that was needed was a simple dump pass to the basket and Howard found himself with a wide open layup on the right side of the hoop.  Easy 2 points earned through sheer guile. 

Ime Udoka

Ime is competing hard but appeared confused at times, looking to the sidelines for help.  Hard to get a read on whether he or Collins will grab that last roster spot.  If Nic keeps playing like he has been, I'd lean towards Collins. I'm not sure what will end up being the deciding factor but that's what it would boil down to for me.

Kix Pix 

Here's some more sneakers.  LOVE Monty Williams's Jordans but couldn't convince anyone else to agree with me on that.  Here's the full-size slideshow with details.

Here's a nice look at Andre Miller from Brian T. Smith.

And be sure to check out Jason Quick's post regarding the conditioning test results. MILLER FAILED. 

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

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