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Expectations: Joel Przybilla

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Let's turn to another guy on our roster who will raise a ton of questions (at least until the season starts):  Joel Przybilla.

The Vanilla Gorilla became an immediate fan favorite three years ago with his dominant shot-blocking and feisty rebounding.  He single-handedly altered certain games with his defense.  The list of centers who can do that isn't terribly long.  If you're looking for a defensive specialist who can eat minutes and doesn't need to touch the ball (maybe shouldn't touch the ball) Joel's the guy.

The positive section should be longer than that for such a solid guy but last season was nothing short of disastrous.  First he gets kneed in the Manbacks and misses several weeks.  Then he comes back and starts but plays half the minutes he's used to due to foul trouble and coaching preferences.  Through the middle of the season they practically could have invented a new box score designation for him:  DNPM-CI  (Did Not Play Much--Coach's Indifference).  Then after amassing a less-than-heroic 2 points and 4 rebounds a game he gets injured again and shuffles off into oblivion.  He's not exactly on an upswing heading into the season.

To be honest, though, before we ask what we can expect of Joel this year we have to ask whether it matters.  Greg Oden has arrived.  I don't say that with gushing fan-man-love but simply as a matter of fact.  Oden will start this year.  If he's not starting on opening night (hard to imagine) he'll be starting soon after.  Lamarcus Aldridge is going to be an absolute minutes hog and he plays some center in a smaller lineup.  That smaller lineup is all but assured with the presence of Channing Frye.  Joel's 16.2 minute per game average last year was a major disappointment.  Barring injury or constant foul trouble from the other front line players he may not even get that many this year.

If you get past that hurdle you have to ask whether Joel can compensate for what he lacks on the court.  The most obvious drawback is his offense.  Yes he's a career 53% shooter but that's kind of misleading.  He really shouldn't be touching the ball.  He doesn't catch it well, he can't pass well, and you hold your breath when he tries to score if it's not a slam dunk.  He knows it, his teammates know it, the coaches know it, and more to the point the opposition knows it.  Every coach in the league will say publicly that they'd love to have a Joel Przybilla on their team but they're telling a half truth.  The other half of the truth is that playing with him means playing offense 4-on-5 which is a major defensive break for the other side.  Players like Zach Randolph increase the defensive burden for everyone playing alongside them.  Joel increases the offensive burden for his teammates.  That's part of the reason he's not high on the coach's list.  (And if last year is any indication he isn't.)

When Joel isn't feeling it he has a tendency to disappear even on defense.  Several times last year he was slow rotating for what should have been bread-and-butter plays for him.  Worse yet, when he's consistently behind plays he picks up an amazing array of fouls.  Add to that the fact that he's not as good of an individual defender as he is a help guy and you have a nasty trifecta working against him unless he's on time and full of energy.

One thing Joel will bring to the team that we desperately need is toughness.  He's not exactly Rocky VII: The Minnesota Mauler but he'll get in people's faces a lot more than most of the current Blazers.  That may be a key to him finding minutes, however sparse.

After last year and given the current makeup of the team I'm going to be happy with any positive contribution we get from Joel.  I think it's critical for him to come into camp in great shape and ready to leave it all out there on the court.  He needs his old quickness back if he's going to contribute which leaves no room for extra weight.  I think we could see some offensive heartbeat--albeit a faint one--if Steve Blake gets playing time alongside him.  Blake will see the cracks in the sagging defense and help Joel take advantage.  I'm anticipating a decent upswing in defensive rebounding anyway without Joel so I doubt he'll be a savior there.  His main role may be pulverizing Greg Oden in practice, though I doubt that's a job description he's going to relish.  No matter how, when, or why he gets his chance if Joel doesn't produce some tangible numbers outside of the personal foul column he's going to be glued to the bench all season long.  Which brings us around to our first question again:  will that matter or will it be an asterisk to our season?

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)