Good day from the misty, moisty Oregon Coast. I'm taking a break from eating fishies, jogging on the beach, and freezing in the ocean long enough to take a very preliminary look at a couple of issues that are going to raise their heads this fall. Of course we'll do a complete analysis as training camp gets going but even having seen our Summer League team and looked at our talent roster I can all but guarantee a couple things are going to be pretty important if we're going to have success.
1. Can anybody in the backcourt hit an open outside shot?
When you've got names like Greg Oden and Lamarcus Aldridge in the big positions it's going to be an open invitation for opposing defenses to pack the lane big time. That means all the delightful motion, passing, and quickness we're so anticipating is going to disappear unless we react. Greg Oden doesn't hit over double teams at this stage of his career. Lamarcus will be bothered by them too...particularly in the turnover department I'm guessing. Brandon Roy can't slash if the lane is crammed with four people in various uniforms. The only way to overcome this is to have our guards pull the defense out by making them respect our shooting.
The fulcrum here is going to be Brandon. He's the main scoring threat with the ball in his hands. If he can hit open threes consistently our offense is going to flow much easier. If he struggles we may be looking at the old Zach offense without Zach's uncanny ability to break free and score. (Read: Boring, ugly, and scoring stats right down the toilet.) The point guards will also play a role (Steve Blake should help) but my guess is opponents will be more than happy to let Blake, Jack, or Sergio shoot all they want, figuring those guys alone can't beat us. Martell may be able to pick up some slack if he can get playing time. Mostly, though, I'm crossing my fingers that Brandon is working on his deep shot this summer.
2. How are we going to handle quick guards?
Unlike the first issue, I don't see that much of a happy ending for this one no matter what we do. There are a lot of quick point guards out there and most can drive and score. We've got skilled guards who have good size and can carry the load offensively but all of the regulars are semi-slow on their feet on defense. Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake will have trouble staying in front of quicker men. I just watched Sergio in Summer League and he just plain can't. Taurean Green can but he might not play. Even if he does, can he hit enough outside shots to avoid Problem #1? The issue is not just scoring but our big guys, particularly Oden, getting in foul trouble trying to help shut down the lane. Three years from now I don't see this as a problem because our shot-blocking monsters will have earned respect and will be inspiring fear. But our inexperience in the front line this year spells trouble. Foul-induced pine time makes nobody happy.
Most people are pretty optimistic about our chances for improvement but how we answer these two questions may determine the difference between 40-ish wins and low-30's. They are both things to watch.