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A Look Back

Before the season we gave a rundown of every player, their assets, the challenges facing them this year, and a little bit of prognostication regarding how much they'd contribute.  Halfway through the season seems like a good time to look back and see how things have gone.  Unlike many sportscasters nowadays, who make all kinds of predictions and afterwards only highlight the parts that prove them right, I have relatively little problem showcasing where I got surprised (or fooled).  But maybe right or wrong isn't the main point here, rather how things have changed (or not) in the last few months.

The quotes from the pre-season previews are in gray.

Jarrett Jack

Jack's best intangible is his confidence.  He looks like he knows what he's doing out there and he's ready to lead.  He seldom gets rattled and seldom makes stupid plays... While his mid-range jumper is solid his long range shooting needs improvement... Similarly he needs to improve his ability to get to the hole.  He's not as quick as some guards but he should be able to bull his way inside and either finish or dish... A corollary:  with that free throw percentage he needs to average more than two attempts a game... Jack needs to show both the ability and the tenacity to stay with a variety of NBA frontline point guards on defense.  Keeping his men both in front of him and bothered will be critical to the Blazer defensive and rebounding scheme... I'm guessing another big test will be running the pick and roll.  It's a basic play but it requires some precision and good decision making from the guard.  The "jumping the dribbler" defense creates double teams that Jack will have to bail out of skillfully.  Appearances aside, it's not easy to pick this up at the NBA level where guys are hyper-athletic and plays happen so fast.  It's possible that as goes this set so will go both Jack and the team portion of our offense.

Hmmm...pretty solid on that one.  His jumper has improved and we've done well in the games when he's penetrating aggressively and drawing fouls.  The pick and roll has become a staple, but all the guards run it, not just JJ.

Brandon Roy

Brandon's biggest asset compared to most rookies is his knowledge of the game.  He's able to make the most of his abilities and he sees other guys out there too... Close behind is his ability to change directions.  He's more tricky than flat-out quick so it'll be interesting to see how he fares against experienced guards... For a guy who's 6'6" he handles the ball very well and passes decently too. Brandon will be like a second PG on the court... Roy's outside shot still leaves something to be desired, especially at the NBA level... He'll be decent almost every night, good most nights, and spectacular now and again, but he's not going to be the franchise savior this year... We haven't had such a well-rounded and well-grounded young guy around here forever.  He's going to get minutes and he's going to make an impact.  You'll love his style of play and his commitment to the little things.  Barring injury, disaster, or the team moving, he'll be a key cog in Portland for a long time.

Pretty solid there too, except he's coming a lot closer to being the savior certain nights than I thought he would.

Ime Udoka
I didn't even DO a preview on him because who knew three weeks before the season that he'd make the team?  Given that, I'd say Ime is doing one heck of a job.

Zach Randolph

His biggest strength has always been his uncanny sense of where the ball is going to be on offense.  What he does on the offensive boards with opponents all around him is like magic... Zach is a weapon from anywhere on the court.  Right now he's the only pedigreed, bona fide scorer the Blazers have.  Nobody else puts the pressure on the opposing defense like he does.  Not surprisingly he's also the only guy that commands a consistent double team... Zach is mediocre in areas he doesn't need to be, because they make no logical sense.  He's a so-so defensive rebounder despite shining on the offensive end.  He's relatively poor at shooting free throws for having the kind of range he does...  His field goal percentage is pretty bad for a top flight power forward... Zach is a non-factor on defense.   He's not built for steals or blocks and he seems to lose interest when the ball isn't in his hands.  For a guy who uses his body like an impresario on offense, he lets an awful lot of people go around and through him... He sets poor picks and really runs most offensive sets poorly unless and until he's getting the ball... His passing is inconsistent...He has fluctuating conditioning issues.  This might be part of why he doesn't hustle down the floor... It is time for us to come to grips with one fact that's becoming less and less deniable as time goes on:  Zach does not want to be here.

This is more mixed.  On the one hand several of these characteristics, good and bad, remain true and are seen nightly.  On the other hand some of them--defensive rebounding, free throw shooting, conditioning--have improved and you can also see that nightly.  What I'm most interested in is the last sentence.  I still wonder about this.  As I said a couple weeks ago I am curious to see how (and how much) he'll play after the trading deadline and after the focus switches from the record to developing for the future.  And even if that goes well, why do I get the nagging feeling that we're one more behavior incident away from him laying the "I don't want to be here anymore" bomb on P-Town?

Joel Przybilla

There are bigger and more obvious assets, but the one I want to lead with is Joel's heart.  He's intense on the court without being out of control.  He never quits on plays.  He's seldom out of position when guarding straight up.  The errors he makes are of commission, not omission... Obviously his shot blocking ability is in the stratosphere... Joel is mobile and reacts fairly well.  Taking the weight off and training in the ring were both great decisions... He may have offensive limitations, but he's devastating in the pick and roll... Number one on the challenges list has got to be foul trouble... Przybilla sometimes has trouble guarding bulky players straight up... If I'm Portland I want Przybilla starting, I want him vocal, and I want him a little angry.  I want to see 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 4 fouls out of him per night. I also bring back the pick and roll. If he could give me 8-10 points off of three dunks and another shot or two I'd be ecstatic.  I want the rest of the team to feed off his defensive energy... If everybody commits, Przybilla is exactly the kind of guy who can key/anchor a devastating defense.  I fully expect that, barring injury, within two years this will be Portland's calling card.

Yeah, OK.  What happened to THAT Joel?

Travis Outlaw

 Travis has more hops than a bunny in a brewery.  He elevates so high his seat doubles as a flotation device.  Every time Travis goes vertical he might as well be in a new area code... He's developing a couple of semi-consistent moves, most notably his turn-around jumper which, when it goes in, is a thing to behold.  He has looked more consistent on all his moves than he used to... The biggest thing hamstringing Travis' development has been his ability to pick up plays... For a guy who thrives on jumping and dunking, Travis can't get by people much... He gets tunnel vision something awful.  Some of the most ridiculous looking shots fly from his hands (the kind that say, "Please bench me now, I have no idea what I'm doing.")... You want him to create more one-man havoc on the defensive end... You never know what you'll get out of Travis one night to the next... You need to see more out of this kid.  He had a chance last year and couldn't capitalize.  He's likely to have a bigger opportunity this year.  His all-around game must pick up and if he's decided to be an offensive force we need to see more passion, consistency, and better judgment.

This is pretty much holding to form.  Fortunately we are seeing more consistency out of him and he's getting lost out there less and less.

Martell Webster

When you think Martell Webster you think shooting.  His motion and release are pure as the driven snow and twice as pretty... Less tangibly, but just as importantly, Martell has a work ethic and he appears quite coachable.  He wants to get better... A sub-40% shooting clip from a guy who's primarily a shooter ain't good.  That better rise 30-40 points this season... Despite the body, Martell lacks either knowledge, instinct, or ability to move his feet laterally... Despite his work ethic, there are some games where he just can't get on track.  When it's going bad for him it tends to go really bad... He doesn't have a clear position... There's no doubt that Martell will fit in somewhere.  The question is where.  His skill is so rare that we've got to find a way to use him.  The problem is he's likely to be the kind of player that you need to compensate for, and we've already got a few of those.  As soon as you play more than one at a time you start running into problems.

That last thought is part of the reason we're having trouble winning consistently even though many guys on our team are having pretty good seasons (for them, anyway).

Juan Dixon

Dixon was one of the few guys in our backcourt last year who could get their shot off cleanly in pressure situations.  He's deceptively quick going left and right with the ball in his hands... He has the kind of offensive game that allows him to draw fouls and he'll hit those charity shots... He's one of the only experienced guys in the backcourt... Juan is small and not horribly athletic or strong.  He has to deceive you to score... He doesn't defend well.  His quickness on offense doesn't translate into staying in front of his man...He tends to focus on his own scoring... He doesn't always get back in transition.  I know nobody wants to see Juan, but we're going to at the beginning of the year.  We need the offensive outlet, the experience, and the dribbling ability.  He's not the type of guy that will be a key player on a playoff squad, but he's serviceable for what we need right now.  (Basically live bodies, scoring, and some idea of how to play without getting completely lost or embarrassed.)

Not so much on the free-throw thing, but everything else is pretty solid.

Jamaal Magloire

Magloire is all about the rebounding.  He's a sterling offensive rebounder and gets enough defensive boards to make him legitimate... He's got an NBA body and a long reach.  He'll also bang a bit... With the exception of one season he's been very durable.  You can generally expect 82 games of effort out of him... His offensive game is limited.  For a guy who makes his bones in the post his shooting percentages have ranged from acceptable to horrible... He's a black hole... He also turns the ball over a fair bit.  You take your chances giving him the ball unless it's a dunk... He's not a bad position defender but he's not spectacular either.  He won't change the game for you on that end of the court...Beware the horrible, stinky free throw shooting... Magloire's contract is probably my favorite part of this pick up at this point... I am very concerned about what he might do to gum up our already sludgy offense... He will not provide Joel's presence in the paint on the defensive end though.  He's got to put those long arms to better use down there.

I was totally wrong.  You take your chances giving him the ball even if it is a dunk.

Lamarcus Aldridge

The most noticeable thing about Lamarcus is that he's smooth.  He moves with effortless grace that belies his height.  He's quick to elevate and has good timing.  He'll be a good transition player too, having good up and down speed for a guy his size... He has a couple of post moves already and should develop more as he works on it full-time.  His spin and release are as smooth as the rest of his game.  He may never develop a ton of flash but he looks to be one of those guys who could be clockwork dependable... The boy can rebound.  He'll be a little bit of a shot blocker too... His strength and bulk need major work before he's NBA-post ready... He's not a good passer... Neither is he a free throw guy.  We have too much of that too... He's at least a year away from contributing significantly... It's not that Lamarcus would embarrass you if you threw him out there.  He's smart and gifted enough to play decently.  This isn't an early Travis Outlaw thing.  The problem is he'd probably get you 6 points and 3 rebounds while giving up 8 and 6 to the opponents... I'm very interested to see what LA looks and plays like next summer.  That ought to be his coming out party.  Anything this year is a bonus.

Obviously he's a LOT farther ahead of schedule than that.  In this case it's a pleasure to be wrong...or at least wrong on the timing.  A ton of credit should go to Lamarcus.

Dan Dickau

Dickau has a nice long-range shot whether he's off the dribble or receiving.  You can't leave him alone...  Despite looking unassuming, Dan has a little bit of pep and style to his game.  He can score in more ways than you think... He can handle the ball and seldom commits turnovers... The jury's out on whether he's a NBA-level point guard.  The offense doesn't run as well with him in.  At heart he's more of a scorer.  This is not Steve Blake, part deux... His overall shooting percentage has never been good and has gotten downright horrible in recent years... He doesn't give you anything other than potential scoring.  He doesn't have the body to defend or rebound... I expect Dickau to see decent minutes for stretches during the year where the young guys just aren't producing.  He just can't defend people well enough to justify a solid spot though.  If even modest expectations come true for the young guys he'll be relegated to the bench.

Pretty true to form here too.

Raef LaFrentz

LaFrentz is famous for his outside shooting.  You love how this pulls opposing big guys out to cover him... His other calling card (historically anyway) has been his long-armed shot blocking.  He averaged some truly prodigious numbers early in his career... He's one big guy on our team who can actually pass a little... He's seen a lot of games and won't get rattled.  Neither does he have delusions about his role.  He'll be a good teammate... His game is a whole lot of "used to be".  His stats, especially the defensive ones, have been in the crapper the last four years... You depend on big guys to bring up your team scoring percentage.  LaFrentz won't... He's never been a great rebounder or post defender... He's not particularly mobile... I could see Raef in on a lot of game (or quarter) ending sets.  You have to respect him and that means the middle is less clogged for the dribbler coming from the top of the arc.  That's the kind of thing--limited and specialized--that's going to be his bread and butter.  He's not a big minute answer.

(sigh)  I was trying to be optimistic and kind.  Now I'm paying for it.  He hasn't managed even that much.  (Forget "limited and specialized" and just go for "limited".)

Sergio Rodriguez

By all accounts Sergio has a knack for passing.  If the roster stays the same he'll be the only naturally gifted distributor on the squad... Along with the passing comes the ability to handle the ball.  We really need someone to handle pressure and Rodriguez may turn out to be the one... He's not a volume scorer but apparently he can get a shot up when needed.  His field goal percentage has been fairly high.  One report says he also has a knack for drawing fouls... His experience is limited.  He didn't even start for his own clubs.  He has a ton to learn... As his competition has gotten tougher his stats have declined.... The book on him is that he will help the other team stay in the game as much as he helps yours.  His decision making will have to improve and he will have to become known for his solid play more than his flashy passing... He's not physically imposing. It remains to be seen whether he can take an NBA-level beating or even begin to guard bulkier opposing players.  Defense has never been his emphasis anyway... This smells like a player who--unless he buckles down hard--is going to get under Nate's skin big time... I don't really expect much from Spanish Chocolate this season.  The playing time he gets will likely be modest and any positive contributions he makes a pleasant surprise.

BZZZZT!  Thanks for playing.  Here's your consolation prize.  :::pat, pat, pat:::  Sergio has obviously exceeded my expectations by a yard or two.  He still has some of those holes in his game but sometimes his offensive contributions are so overwhelming that you don't notice them.

I also did a preview for Darius Miles.  I'll spare you the bulk of that.  Here's one sentence from it:

I have real concerns about how Miles fits into this team this year.

Moot point.  And at this point it looks like that's for the better.

All in all I don't think I did too badly.  The team seems to be pretty much on course.  I didn't think they'd have this many wins though.  Turns out maybe there their overall drive was higher than I guessed it might be.  That and the rookies are developing pretty quickly.  Let's hope there will be more happy stories at year's end.

--Dave (