Recently over on Barrett's Blog, I indulged in a position-by-position breakdown of the Blazers and why I though we should stand pat until the end of the FIBA games. These posts were spread out primarily over the month of August. Enjoy.
Depth: Miller, Bayless, Roy
The majority of the minutes at PG should go to Jerryd Bayless. If you'd kindly remove your hand from my throat, I'll explain...
Whether or not you think JB is the mythical Point Guard of the Future Bom, bom, bommmmm (PGotF), the team has invested heavily in developing his game to fit the mold. Statistically, it's working. Upper Left Corner recently wrote an informative Fan Post regarding Jerryd's progress called Rethinking the Point. Because of how well ULC crafted his essay and how tireless a champion of Bayless he has been, I encourage y'all to read Rethinking the Point, as well as some of the comments that follow.
Of particular interest are Jerryd's stats in the playoff series against the Suns. ULC writes that JB was, "...shooting 40% from 3 pt range; posting a AST% of 28%, a TO% under 10, an AST/TO of 3:1". While the six game series offers a very small sample size, it gives an idea of how well he plays under pressure. His performance in these areas (especially 3pt. shooting) indicate that he could become the floor-stretching point guard this team needs.
To get a definitive answer to whether or not JB is the PGotF, he needs minutes. More than that, he needs playing time with Roy, Batum, and Oden. I think Andre should start, but Bayless should be brought in pretty early to get some run with the core. If it works, keep increasing his minutes throughout the season, slowly working Andre out of the system. If it doesn't work, put together a trade package sending Bayless to a team that can better fit his skill set, bringing in the next candidate for PGotF. Personally, I have faith that he will succeed. In a few years, the Jerryd Bayless/Armon Johnson one-two punch is going to knock the NBA's teeth out.
Rotation: Roy, Mathews, Batum, Bayless
This looks funky, and I might be jumping to conclusions regarding Batum's ability to play the 2, but I think he could take advantage of some mismatches there. I put Bayless at the bottom because if he can't swing it at PG, the team shouldn't be bending over backwards to give him Brandon's minutes.
Brandon's backup is a tricky issue. The Spaniard's grumbling has simplified things substantially, but there's no guarantee that won't be Wesley in a couple years, thinking he deserves more meat than is on the bird. The key to keeping our new backup happy will be his ability to play other positions. This leads to problems of it's own as his second position is SF, where there are two very talented young men in Batum and Cunningham. Luckily, they can move around too, but where does it stop? At what point do you just want your SF to be a SF, SG to be a SG, and your backup to be a backup?
To answer these role questions, time is needed. These guys need to work out the kinks together and figure out where they can make the best impact. Nate needs to tinker with lineups and looks. Roy needs to adjust to either fewer minutes or the point guard position. As much as I was hoping that this season would start with some clearly defined roles, the Mathews acquisition has thrown that all up in the air.
Many have come to the conclusion that Rudy has got to go. I agree, but I maintain that the team can get better value for him in a different climate. I think a lot of teams are reeling right now from an exciting summer and are not looking to be one of the "losers" of the off season.
Rudy is a good player and should not be "Sergioed". There is not a real need to get rid of him, and his stock will only rise as time goes on. I believe he's primed to make another splash in the FIBA competition, which should get some GMs salivating. Let them sweat. Let him sweat. Let everybody work themselves into a frenzy as news that he's unhappy continues to spread until trading partners know that any deal with Portland will have to include Rudy.
The other side of this is, you never know. Last season the team should have dumped "Rise With Us", and replaced it with "Them's the Breaks", or "Challenge = Opportunity". In other words, a time may come when the Blazers need number 5 again. It sure doesn't hurt to have the dude around (cheap, cheap, cheap!), his attitude just makes him unreliable. The easy answer to that is not to rely on him. There are certainly others in line...
Rotation: Batum, Batum (he's that good), Mathews, Cunningham
Small forward is strait up the most solid position going into this season. Provided everybody stays healthy, there should be nothing to worry about with these three. I don't know much about Mathews' game, but Batum and Cunningham are rapidly improving players with great minds and bodies for the game.
I cannot get over how impressed I was with Dante's rookie season. He demonstrated why four year college guys have a leg up on drop outs--he already looks like a polished rotation player. If DC can continue to grow his game, I think the Blazers should do whatever they can to keep him on the floor and lock him up long term. I don't have a preference as to whether he develops into more of a SF or a PF, as I think he's capable of either. There will be more minutes at SF for now but if LMA continues to stagnate, he might find a hungry Dante gobbling up his playing time. As we all know, the way to Nate's heart is through his defense and DC has certainly put in the time there.
Dream Rotation: Camby, LMA, Cunningham
Actual Rotation: LMA, Camby, Cunningham
Sometimes I think I'm too hard on LaMarcus. After all, he is a gifted player with a silky smooth mid-range game. Also, last season he was forced into a role that highlighted his weak spots due to The Plague of '09. Perhaps Oden will cover up those spots and I'll go slinking off into the night to spread my wicked lies elsewhere...but here's the beef: LMA is an awful passer. How does Oden fix that? Furthermore, how is Oden supposed to flourish if he's being fed in part by atrocious entry passes from the PF? This is why I think Camby should start.
Camby's high post game is super crafty. Not only is he a crisp passer, he can bury that wind-up jumper if he's given the space and time. Camby is also what I'd call a Tactical Rebounder, which compliments Oden who I'd call a Proximity Rebounder. Basically, Oden snuggles up to the basket, snags all the close bounces and stuffs in the thunderous put-backs, whereas Camby seems to stay ahead of the play, carefully positioning himself for the long bounces.
Personally, I don't subscribe to the idea that there are some skills that players can't learn, so I'll not count LMA out, but I do think he needs some motivation. Maybe losing his starting spot to an old-timer will inspire him to clean up his passing game. Who knows?
The problem with this idea is long term chemistry. Camby is likely gone after his contract, leaving a gaping hole in the front line. If a replacement hasn't been groomed, that could be a major setback. All the same, I'd hope that in a couple years our core will be experienced enough to find a groove with anybody.
Rotation: Oden, Przybilla, Camby,
Our only option going forward for this position is simply to have faith and hold the course. The Oden/Przybilla tandem is the best center duo in the league. Their health is all that stands between this team and complete dominance. Unfortunately, that's been a pretty massive gulf recently. So much so that the Blazers had to go out and hunt down a short term replacement. It's a good thing they did too...
I think this season Camby should be getting most of his minutes at power forward, but having him around helps to ease my center concerns substantially. I don't think we're in for another run of bad luck, but it's great to have such a quality big man that can fill the gap were something to come up.
It's mainly Oden I'm worried about. Joel had a bad injury, then suffered a freak accident, but is already on track to start the season. I don't know where folks get off saying he's injury prone. Sure, he gets hurt too, but he bounces back and plays through the pain. At the start of the off season, I toyed with different ideas involving his expiring contract, but at the moment I don't see anyone out there that would impact the team like Joel does. He may not be the heart of the roster, but he sure as heck is the guts.
Oden is a different story. His history is not encouraging. I think he should be handled with kid's gloves during the regular season, sitting for stretches to ensure that he's primed for a deep playoff run. It's all fine and good to say that a player should stay in rhythm, but Greg Oden is not a typical player--he's a titan with very serious health concerns. Extreme care must be taken in his management, because come playoff time there's nobody that will stand up to Old Greg. Think Godzilla. Think mushroom cloud. Turn the dials on your awesome machine up to "totally" and prepare to have your face melted off and your shadow burned to the wall in a cacophony of blocks; a blizzard of put-backs; all to set to the tune of a shattering backboard.
End of the Bench
Rotation: Babbitt, Pendergraph, Armon, EWill
With any luck, none of these players will sniff the court this season. If any of them get run beyond Garbage Time, something terrible has happened.
The guards are looking at an unbreakable starting PG, an unshakable starting SG, and three hungry youngsters clambering to get minutes behind those starters, all of which have seniority over the rookies. I have a very high opinion of Armon Johnson based on what little I've seen, but I'm not so high on him that I'd want to see the dude in the regular rotation at the expense of Bayless or Miller. He's good, but still raw.
Elliot is mystery. All I've got to judge his potential on are some freakish stories about his jumping ability. Of the rookies, Williams' future is the least certain. It will take the complete breakdown of Bayless, Mathews and Rudy to get him on the floor. There is no expiring contract ahead of him on the depth chart, nor any doubt concerning the starter's place on the team. Furthermore, his absence on the Summer League roster denied him the opportunity to prove himself. If he doesn't blow the doors off in training camp, it should come as no surprise to see him packaged with Rudy later on this year.
Babbitt has the most hope to see time this season, but I pray he doesn't. It's not that I dislike the dude, but if he's playing that means that Nic's hurt, Dante's tanking, or Mathews busted. Those three have proven themselves to be rotation-worthy players through hard work on the defensive end and enough offensive production/potential as to not be liabilities. Babbitt's work in Summer League (believe me, I wish I had more to judge him by) was very Martellish. It took him way too long to find his touch. Even with his old pal Armon feeding him, it wasn't until the end of the competition that I saw anything noteworthy. What I saw was about what I expected: good shooting, and a desire for rebounds. That inside game he liked to throw around in college evaporated in the face of big, mean NBA-caliber talent and with it went his confidence. I think we've got a headcase on our hands. In a few years that might work itself out, but I'm not crowning him 6th man of the year any time soon.
Pendergraph was the letdown of the Summer League roster. I expected him to have polished up his game a little, especially in the foul department. I like his attitude and desire to be a presence on the floor, but if he doesn't learn some craftiness, he's just another thug. I was very disappointed to see that the dimension he's working on adding is a jab-step jumper. I must have seen three or four of those over the course of the competition, and I don't think any went down. If he adds anything to his game, it should be cleverness. Offensively, I don't think he needs to reinvent the wheel. He's a slammer and a jammer--that's it and that's fine. All the Blazers will ever need from him is to pop in, rough some fools up, jam it home on some alley-oops, and sit back down. Keep it simple. Jeff just needs to be Jeff, without so many fouls. If he can do that, he'll find some minutes. If he can't, no biggie--he's an end-of-the-bench guy. The future of the Blazers rests on other shoulders.
That's that. I hope y'all liked my little opinion piece. Feel free to rip my conclusions apart in the comments!