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The Key Players

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I thought I'd take a moment to give my own answer to the poll question that's been up the last few days:  Which players are most important to the Blazers' success?

The obvious answers are Lamarcus and Brandon.  That's a given.  If either one of them goes down we're going to have a very hard time making up for the huge void left in the lineup.  You may expect an extended losing streak if that happens.

Despite that, I don't think Lamarcus and Brandon can get us anywhere near 40 wins alone.  Two other players will probably tip the balance between just a "get-by" season and a successful one for us.  These two are as indispensable in their own (admittedly slightly lesser) ways as LMA and Roy.

The first of these should also be obvious:  Joel Przybilla.  It's not just a matter of him being the only fully-functioning true center on the squad.  It's what he brings to the team that nobody else does.

Joel's resurrection came at just the right time for us.  Just looking at him you can tell he's back near the top of his game.  Remember all of those horrible, "I got here late, I'm really tired, so I give up" bear hugs he gave last season?  You haven't seen a single one yet this year because he's in the right spot, energized, and motivated.  It's a good thing too, because as we saw Tuesday night the middle is a massive doughnut without him.  A quick look at our statistics so far this fall will also show you that he's our only legitimate rebounder.  I'll even go so far to say that without Joel it doesn't matter how good our offense gets, we're going to get outscored.  We need him healthy, active, and out of foul trouble.  Don't let it fool you if he doesn't average 3 blocks a game this year.  Those blocks come when he moves away from his man and rebounding position.  That's the opposite of what we need right now.  Let Lamarcus and Travis collect the helping hand blocks.  Joel is our Horatio at the bridge this year.  His minutes and his rebounds are what count most.

The second player who will make the difference for us is Martell Webster.  It's not just his scoring, it's how he scores.  You saw Tuesday night what teams are going to do to Brandon Roy this year.  He never got a clear look from anywhere closer than 20 feet.  The minute he drives he's surrounded.  San Antonio was better at it than most but this will be the pattern night in and night out.  You may also expect Lamarcus to receive similar treatment soon.  How can teams do that?  They'll pack the middle as best they can to cut off both the drive and the post.  You cannot go away from Brandon and Lamarcus completely.  You'll lose for sure if you try to run the offense through someone else or if you ask either of those two to alter their game.  However if there's an outlet--a reliable scorer who doesn't also need the middle of the court to put the ball in the hoop--the defense cannot compensate as effectively.  If that outlet can score quickly before defenders can recover all the better.  In that case they won't be able to use extra men to plug the middle in the first place.  Cue Martell's entrance.

I was very excited by what I saw out of Martell in the offense on Tuesday.  If he can continue to score confidently off of catches or quick dribbles he will be the secret sauce that makes our burger distinctive and tasty.  The fact that he and Lamarcus also showed the ability and willingness to pass makes it even more exciting.  The key to keeping defenses from locking in is having them perceive we can score from numerous positions with a variety of players at any given time.  Martell gives us that aura.  A lot of credit was given to Lamarcus against the Spurs and deservedly so, but partial credit for his scoring past the first quarter or so should also go to Martell and Brandon for commanding so much attention.  If both of those two aren't legitimate threats Aldridge never gets the chance to go one-on-one for his buckets.

We'll still look decent most nights without Przybilla and Webster at their best.  But we need both of them in order to win.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)