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NBA Preview: Portland Trailblazers


Record:  32-50, 3rd (tie) in Northwest Division, 12th (tie) in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:


29th in the league in scoring (94.1 ppg)
27th in ppg differential (-4.3 ppg)
30th in assists
28th in opponent turnovers


14th in opponent scoring (98.4 ppg)
23rd in field goal %  
25th in opponent field goal %
24th in three-point %  
25th in steals
17th in blocks
13th (tie) in turnovers
Average offensive rebounding team
Average defensive rebounding team

Significant Additions:  
Channing Frye, James Jones, Steve "The Chick Thrilla" Blake, Taurean Green

Significant Subtractions:
Zach Randolph, Ime Udoka, Jamaal Magloire, Fred Jones, Dan Dickau, a whole bunch of negative publicity, ghosts of the past, and bad juju

Nate McMillan

Key Players

PG:  Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake
SG:   Brandon Roy
SF:  Martell Webster, James Jones
PF:  Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw
C:  Joel Przybilla, Channing Frye

Comments:  The Blazers only had three problems last year:  they couldn't shoot well from anywhere, they couldn't score enough points, and they couldn't keep anyone else from scoring, especially in transition.  Other than that, they did alright.

As with many poor teams they masked these problems by playing a grinding, slow-down game in which only their two best players (Zach Randolph and Brandon Roy) touched the ball with regularity.  Trying to milk the most out of every possession they ended up playing away from the offensive strengths of most of their young players.  The result was a season that was somewhat better than the disaster of the previous year, but not terribly productive or significant.

The sterling play of rookies Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge plus the good fortune of getting their hands on Greg Oden in the draft gave the team confidence to go an entirely new direction.  They traded away every older, less mobile player they had, including leading scorer and sometimes troubled soul Zach Randolph.  The obvious intent was to feature younger, more active athletes.  This does not necessarily equate to a full-out, Suns-style running game.  Rather the Blazers will look to take advantage of the multivalent scoring abilities of Roy and Aldridge.  They will not feature a pounding post attack, rather ball and player movement keying from those two main scorers.  They have also tried to correct their deficiency from distance, featuring Martell Webster and newly acquired James Jones and Steve Blake.  Though they are unlikely to replace Randolph's scoring ability with any single player as a group they will attempt more shots with more people from more places, hopefully with a higher percentage as a result.

Defensively the Blazers will depend heavily on Joel Przybilla to hold the middle, this being necessitated by Greg Oden's year-long absence due to knee surgery.  Last year Przybilla was out of shape, chronically late on rotations, foul-prone, and often benched.  This year he has shown up with more mobility and confidence.  He will be the key that allows players like Aldridge and Travis Outlaw to be effective rotating for help and weak-side blocks.  If Przybilla stands the Blazers have a chance at guarding the hoop.  If he cannot produce it will likely be another year of teams scoring wherever and however they want.  (Neither Aldridge nor Channing Frye would make an acceptable defensive substitute at the center position.)  Even if it goes well the new offense cannot produce enough in its infancy to compensate for the enemy scoring at will, so Przybilla becomes a vital key.  

The Blazers are likely to have a couple of critical weaknesses.  The first will be defensive rebounding.  Przybilla is stellar but with so much riding on him already you want to have more support.  Aldridge while adequate, has not shown particular proclivity in this department.  The Blazers will rely heavily on their small forwards and guards to contribute if they are to keep their heads above water.  This is another reason you won't see an all-out breaking offense from Portland.  Their wings can't leak out, they have to box out.  While assists are likely to skyrocket in a passing offense turnovers are sure to multiply as well.  This is doubly so considering the age of the team, which is incredibly young.  (Przybilla is ancient in comparison to the other regular players and he is 27.)  Backcourt defense may also be an issue.  Only rookie Taurean Green has excelled in moving his feet and he may not see the court outside of blowouts.  The Blazers do not have the frontcourt cohesion yet to compensate for a leaky backcourt.  The guards have got to stay focused and active on defense and get back quickly in transition.  While the shooting guard, power forward, and center positions are set, the other positions and the bench remain in flux.  The Blazers have four point guards they like in Jack, Blake, Green, and Sergio Rodriguez.  However they don't like any of them enough to name them the definitive starter.  Martell Webster has had a good pre-season at small forward but his success is fragile and untested against real competition.  James Jones remains an enigma and Travis Outlaw only seems comfortable when shooting copiously, which is not compatible with a starter's role on this team.  If Webster comes through the team is set, but if he falters they may search for a consistent, efficient third scorer to blend in with Roy and Aldridge on the starting five.  Finally with Oden out this team is one significant injury away from struggling mightily.  Both Roy and Aldridge are dealing with injuries already and it's still pre-season.  If either one of them or Joel Pryzbilla goes down for a significant length of time the Blazers may face a long losing jag.

It's easy to get excited about the potential of this team.  It would also be easy to skip ahead a couple years when the arsenal is fully loaded and these young players mature.  Alas that won't be possible this year.  It's a fair bet the Blazers will be more fun to watch than they have been for the last 3-4 years.  Whether that translates into significantly more wins is debatable.   Even with Oden it would have been a long road for such a young team to make the post-season this year.  Without him it's fairly certain that Portland will be playing for pride and not playoff position.  Anything approaching .500 ball would have to be considered a major success for this team.  If the wheels fall off due to injury or the harsh reality of life as a young, not-quite-fully-manned team in the NBA at least Portland fans can take solace in netting yet another nice player via the draft plus the possibility of bringing in some good overseas prospects they've stashed away.  Oh, and there's that Oden guy too.  We hear he might be pretty good.

--Dave (