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We usually rate players in terms of talent, skill, and athleticism, all of which are critical.  But a fourth critical element that we've talked about from time to time is dependability.  This element will become increasingly important to the Blazers as they consider first playoff runs and then playoff success.  So I thought today we'd take a look at the roster not in terms of talent or skills, but in terms of certainty.

There are three aspects to the certainty variable:

  1.  How much do we know about this player?  A player may be quite dependable but we may not realize it yet because they haven't played enough.
  2.  How reliable is this guy's play?  Do you know what you're going to get from him night in and night out?
  3.  What does his ceiling appear to be?  A player with a ton of room to grow has, by definition, more uncertainty potential than a player who will probably always be a 10 minute per night guy or an ultra-talented player who has already fulfilled his potential.
We'll take all three aspects into account with each player, rating him on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 meaning dead certain about what he can bring and 5 meaning he's a wildcard.  Again this has little to do with talent.  We can be dead certain a guy has no talent whatsoever!  That doesn't mean he's a better player to have than the ultra-talented wildcard.  With each player we'll also offer something of an explanation of the things we're certain/uncertain about.  Afterwards we'll see where we ended up and how that might affect our immediate outlook.

Brandon Roy        Certainty Rating:  2

Roy is likely to be the most stable of the Blazer stars.  You know what you're going to get from him and it's good.  He'll always hover around 20, 6, and 6, give or take a point or two either direction.  He'll never lose his passing skills or his smarts, the things that distinguish him most.  His game is not predicated on pure athleticism so he's likely to age very well.  As he becomes more experienced the few ups and downs we've seen this season will smooth out. It's worth noting that one of the things that makes Brandon so valuable (and gets him mentioned among stars in this league already) is precisely this bankability.  The only thing that keeps him from rating a 1 is his injury record.  He was injured big-time last year.  He's got nagging injuries again this year.  That could throw a monkey wrench in the works.

Lamarcus Aldridge        Certainty Rating:  3.5

Lamarcus is going to be right around the "star" level talent-wise.  It could range as low as fantastic role-player or as high as offensive superstar.  His future lies somewhere in there.  At the present, though, he's too young to bank on.  He doesn't have a stock set of moves to rely on.  He's not able to bend the game to his will.  His body isn't ready either.  To be fair we're also relying on him heavily to produce in a style of offense we might not be playing as early as next season.  Adjusting to playing alongside Greg Oden may lengthen his evolution a tad if we expect him to be an offensive centerpiece.

Travis Outlaw        Certainty Rating:  4

Travis has actually made some progress this season, as he was a huge wildcard coming in.  His consistency is improving somewhat but it's still not there.  He varies significantly in points scored, shooting percentage, free throws drawn, rebounds...the works pretty much.  We also don't know if he's a small forward or a power forward.  His talent, progression, and flashes of brilliance make us fairly certain that we'll want to keep him--if nothing else to see more--but we're not able to rely on him yet.

Martell Webster        Certainty Rating:  5

Martell remains one of the biggest question marks on the team.  Some nights he looks like an all-pro.  Some nights he disappears.  Sometimes he hits the most difficult shots imaginable.  Often he'll miss wide-open jumpers.  He drives and dunks marvelously...except when he can't.  He'll grab 7 rebounds one night and 2 the next.  What is he, underrated or overrated?  Who knows?

Jarrett Jack        Certainty Rating:  3

Jack came into the season with more questions than we have about him now.  He's young so you have to allow for some of those turnovers and botched plays.  Still, he's probably showing that he's not a pure point guard in a system that taxes that position.  He is a hard-nosed scorer and a good foul shooter.  He's not a great defender so far.  He has room to improve in all of these areas but it's looking more and more like he's going to be a combo scoring guard in the NBA.

James Jones        Certainty Rating:  3

Jones also came into the season with a ton of question marks, mostly because he hadn't received a ton of playing time and because we didn't know squat about him.  We know more now.  He's a great shooter.  He has a cool head and plays fairly smart.  He'll put forth effort on defense.  He's not physically imposing and is unlikely to ever become a lock-down defender.  He's not a guy who's going to create his own shot much either.  He'll be a very nice option in an offense but never a focal point.  He'd be more certain than this--likely a 2--but he too has struggled with injuries all year.

Steve Blake        Certainty Rating:  1

What you see with Steve is what you get.  He's dependable, solid, an effort defender, a good playmaker, a nice shooter if he's left alone.  He doesn't create very well off the dribble and he'll never be a consistent scorer.  His body keeps him from being as physical as his heart tries to be.  He won't make mistakes but he's unlikely to win games for you either.

Channing Frye        Certainty Rating:  3

Channing seems fairly set in his assets and liabilities for someone so young.  He's got a fairly dependable face-up shot.  He's not a bad rebounder and usually puts for the effort.  One glance will tell you that he doesn't belong down low on either end of the court and likely never will.  His up-and-down production and playing time coupled with his age make me uncomfortable rating him as more certain.  Other than James Jones he seems the most likely to move further into predictability.

Joel Przybilla        Certainty Rating:  1

I think we're seeing everything about Joel that we need to see this year.  He's tough.  He's an excellent rebounder and a consistently good interior defender.  He struggles when he has to move too much on defense, especially out to the perimeter.  He picks up a lot of fouls.  His offense is basically non-existent.  He's going to be one of the best back-up centers in the league and likely coveted for what he can do in 20 minutes per game but he's not starting center material.

Sergio Rodriguez        Certainty Rating:  5

Sergio is the ultimate wildcard.  He's ultra-talented.  He's fundamentally flawed.  He deserves more playing time.  He's getting about what he deserves.  He's critical to the future of this team.  He's basically a non-factor.  He's a star in the making.  He's trade bait.  He can he can't.  He's got a good shot...except when he doesn't.  He can pass like crazy and turn the ball over unexpectedly.  He drives...sometimes.  He finishes well, but doesn't always want to.  Who can tell?  The only certainties are that he's young, he needs to develop his body some, and he needs to get better on defense.  You could drive a convoy of trucks, the Love Boat, and a Space Shuttle through the gap in opinions and possibilities otherwise.

Raef LaFrentz, Von Wafer, and Josh McRoberts are pretty much non-assessable at this point, either because they haven't played enough or they don't matter that much.

So what have we learned?  Our core of Brandon, Lamarcus, Travis, and Martell still has some pretty big questions.  You don't have to have everybody at a "1" to succeed but most of your main guys ought to be below a 3 if you want to contend.  We're not there yet and are unlikely to get there completely next year either.  If we do make the playoffs either of the next two years (and I think we will) it will be primarily due to talent.  That's a hard thing to do, and probably bodes well for the future when the team does settle in.

Our supporting cast is a little more predictable, though this is not always a good thing.  Sometimes you want those flashy wildcards coming off the bench and scoring 25.  I think one could debate the long-term merits of Steve Blake, for instance.  How valuable will he be if and when the core players mature?  What role, if any, do Channing Frye, Jarrett Jack, and James Jones have on this team?  Once you start to peg their game that question becomes more critical.

Here's another certain do you want to be about a guy--especially a young guy--before you consider trading him?  You have to be careful about trading guys that fall into Category 1--the guys you're uncertain about because you don't know enough about them.  Obviously the team knows more than we do as fans but still there's something to be said for seeing a guy play consistently in real games.  If a guy looks like he's going to be in Category 2--the up and down player--for most of his career then maybe you want to look at trading him for just that reason.

No matter which way you slice those issues this much is sure:  we still have plenty of questions to answer about the Blazers as individuals and as a group that is supposed to fit together.  Here's to more progress on that count in the last 24 games of the year, a ton of work over the summer, and then some tempering of this new alloy in the flames of a hot playoff hunt next year.

--Dave (