Today let's spend a little time on a couple of the more obscure guys on the roster: Juan Dixon and Raef LaFrentz. The question with both of these guys is not so much what they'll give, but whether they'll see the court enough to give anything at all.
In the excitement over the rookies and the drama surrounding the high-profile vets last season, Juan Dixon's career year went largely unnoticed. Well, it ended up unnoticed in Portland anyway. Around December and January plenty of people across the league were starting to take notice of Juan and speculating that the Blazers got a minor steal in prying him away from Washington. Dixon averaged a career-high 12.3 points, shot career bests from the field (43.5%) and the three-point arc (38%), hit 80% from the foul line, and tallied 2.3 assists and 2 rebounds per game in 25 minutes of playing time. His reward? First to get overshadowed by his buddy Steve Blake and then to get buried in Martell Mania. If Martell averages that same stat line in as many minutes this season people will be talking about his progress and speculating that with starter's minutes he'd become a star. Ironically most Blazer fans will consider Juan getting any playing time at all a harbinger of bad news. (Rumor has it that management wouldn't mind shipping him out either.) What's the difference between the two? Dixon is four inches shorter and wasn't drafted with the team's top pick.
Despite all the pre-season speculation about Webster and Roy, the guess here is that Juan is going to get a chance at significant bench minutes, if not starting, before the season gets too deep. (Provided, of course, he's still here.) Management and most fans may be eager to see him phased out, but with every other guard save Dickau having one year of NBA experience or less, it may not happen that quickly. Dixon is a more dependable scorer than either of the youngsters at this point. (We need to give Roy at least one NBA field goal attempt before we label him a dependable scorer.) Nate needs people in the backcourt who know how to play and who can take the pressure off Zach at crunch time. Nate is also going to want to keep a leash on the young guys until they've earned their minutes, and being young they'll probably go through a few ups and downs before he's satisfied. Who's he going to turn to if not Dixon? Juan may not average a steady 25 minutes per game, but don't be surprised if you see his number called a lot for 2-3 week stretches, especially early in the season.
Raef LaFrentz is the converse. Kevin Pritchard claims his acquisition was a legitimate move to help the team and not just sweetener to get Boston to part with the Roy pick. Management seems excited about the possibilities of him playing outside with Zach in the post. They figure it gives Zach more legitimate outlets. And Raef can hit from the wing, no doubt about that. He's a career 47% shooter, mostly on jumpers. He shoots 37% from long distance. Last year he played a full 82 games for the first time in his career, starting 63 of them. However he also averaged his fewest minutes per game in any full season he's played but one and tallied career lows in overall field goal percentage, free throw percentage, points scored, blocked shots, and for all intents and purposes rebounds. In other words, standing on the wing and shooting threes is about the only thing he's still doing like the Raef LaFrentz everybody remembers from the promising Denver days. Is that enough to earn playing time in this rotation with names like Magloire, Przybilla, and Randolph ahead of him and a highly-drafted rookie in Aldridge right behind? My best guess is no. Barring injury or trade, I wouldn't be surprised if LaFrentz becomes a very expensive paperweight by January. We simply don't need the veteran presence in the frontcourt that we do in the guard corps. Anything Raef gives us during his likely-to-be-sporadic playing time will be a pleasant and welcome surprise to me.
So what are your expectations for this forgotten duo? Do you think they'll make a difference? Do you think they'll even get the chance? Register your thoughts below or by e-mail.