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Tuesday Practice Report

Tomorrow night's starters: Miller, Roy, Webster, Aldridge, Oden.  

Other than that, Juwan Howard got his head bandage off and I came away with the following tidbits.

Brandon Roy and Greg Oden

There are a lot of topics that have been lost in Andre Miller's wake the last week but one of the biggest has to be the developing relationship between Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.  I've maintained since early in camp that Oden will be this team's starting center.  After the first exhibition game, Jason Quick quoted Brandon Roy practically endorsing Oden for that starting spot and nothing that's come out in the last week -- either on the practice court or in discussions afterwards -- leads me to believe that will change.  Indeed, as Joe Freeman tweeted this morning, Oden will be starting again tomorrow night.  

There have been a few lines of thinking regarding this team that I'm surprised haven't converged.  The first states that Brandon Roy needs the ball in his hands to succeed and the rest of the team will play off of him.  The second states that Greg Oden will benefit from playing with (presumably starting alongside) Andre Miller.  We should probably put two and two together here: an improved relationship between Brandon Roy and Greg Oden should both allow the team's offense (Nate's system) to run at peak efficiency and to further Oden's development. I would even go so far as to argue that Roy could ultimately be a bigger deciding factor for Oden than Miller, simply because of how Nate McMillan has focused his offensive philosophy around Roy and Aldridge (but especially Roy) up to this point.  

Although Roy is a skilled passer who puts up respectable assist totals, there wasn't a fantastic connection between the two players last year.  In fairness to Roy, I'm not sure Oden had a fantastic connection with any of his teammates.  In fairness to Oden, he was injured for portions of the season and was removed from the starting lineup so the possibility for that connection to develop was limited.

Those excuses are so 2008.  With a new season comes new expectations for both players.

On paper, these two guys -- versatile guard and physically imposing big -- should be perfectly suited for each other offensively.  Healthy now, Oden covers a remarkable amount of court space quickly.  He has a huge body and sets reasonable picks.  As I mentioned on a recent podcast, the team looks to be extending his range during camp scrimmages, even giving him the ball near the top of the key on occasion so that he can be a moving target once he swings the ball around the perimeter. While McMillan still considers LaMarcus Aldridge an offensive option nearly as potent as Brandon Roy, he's no fool: he knows dunks are better than jumpers -- even Aldridge's jumpers.  He's surely looking to integrate Oden into the offense as quickly as Oden's development allows.

As Roy and Oden have started to log more playing time together over the past week, it seems Roy is starting to truly realize that too.  Asked today about his developing relationship with Greg Oden, Brandon Roy told me... 

We've played together a lot this week. It's been good. Getting our rhythm.

Today we were going over bounce passes up high. I was asking him where he likes it. And then with me on screens, he was asking me 'how do you like the screens? You want me to trail you?'

It was good to conversate with him and talk.  

I'm looking forward to these next games, man, just to play hard and try to build a rhythm for the regular season. 

These answers, while promising, were a little surprising: despite all the progress Oden made this summer -- and there was a lot of it -- he's still at square one when it comes to the little things that end up turning good big guys into great big guys.  The ability to intuitively know where his guards are headed.    The ability to make space for his guards.  The ability to make himself a target in as many situations as possible.  The ability to demand the ball and get it.  

In two years, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Oden is doing all of those things.  But today?  He's not there yet.

But if there have been two areas of promise with Oden's development so far this camp, it's been his passing ability and -- this one might surprise you -- his hands.  I wrote about his passing after the Kings game but I haven't yet really written about his hands, partially because I'm a little wary of trusting my eyes on what was a touchy subject last year and partially because he's committed 9 turnovers in 72 minutes of preseason action.  

Numbers and self-doubt aside, there does seem to be progress. Last year, lacking in confidence and balance, Oden was regularly careless with the ball, unsure of when and where to dribble, getting stripped when he brought the ball down below his waist, fumbling passes, and even getting the ball taken out of his hands during shot attempts.  So far at camp and practice, we've seen less of that.  I would attribute this primarily to his new-found confidence and conditioning: less concerned about whether he can trust his legs and manage the pace of the game, Oden seems better able to focus on doing what he's supposed to do with the ball.  

He also seems like a better target than last year.  His hands are up more and he's digging in deeper for position (something Nate has praised). He's also doing something else better, something that Brandon pointed out to me today when I asked him how he thought Greg's hands stood in comparison to other bigs around the league... 

He has good hands. He seals so well it's like he's the only one that can get to the ball. That's the great thing. When I throw to him I feel really comfortable. It's like you throw it inside to Greg and nobody else can get to it. He can seal really well. I think Greg has good hands.

I never really played with too many other big men. LaMarcus has good hands. I think both of them have really good hands.

To Roy, the two ideas are synonymous when it comes to Oden: sealing well = good hands.  By virtue of his size alone, Oden could already seal adequately last season; it seems like half his points came from uncontested dunks, doesn't it?  But with his improved balance and court awareness, this skill could prove to be a true, consistent weapon for Oden and the Blazers, particularly if someone like Brandon -- who already appreciates the skill -- proactively helps Oden exploit the advantages it creates. Sealing shouldn't just lead to dunks.  It should lead to hooks, drop steps and, inevitably, it should draw more double teams as well.  

Tthe relationship between these two players is something I'll be watching closely throughout the early part of this season.  Development is needed and should be expected. In a best case scenario, it could get really exciting.

Brandon Roy's Weight

As has been well-documented, Roy isn't off to the best start this pre-season.  Cross his weight off the list of possible explanations.  Talking with him today, he made it quite clear he likes where he is at physically.

Nah, I weighed in yesterday at 208. I went up to about 210 but I'm back at 208. I like it though, I feel good, my legs feel really good. I think I'm at the right weight. Especially for my knees and my joints and things like that. I feel good. When I weighed in at 208, I was like great. I thought I had went up, but I didn't. The important thing is not going [up and down a lot], 205, 210.

208 was the exact weight he entered camp at.  So after roughly 2 weeks of around the clock work he's settled in pretty precisely weight-wise.

Pritchard on Udoka vs. Collins

We heard from Nate McMillan the other day on what he's seen from Jarron Collins.  KP was at practice again today so I asked him briefly how he sees the race for that last spot shaping up.  If you trust the whispers, Udoka would seem to be the odds-on favorite and some sources have even implied that he's Nate's choice.  Here's the text of my brief chat with Pritchard. Parse away.

Will that last roster spot be your decision, Nate's decision or a group decision?

It's all of us. Tom [Penn] will have an input, assistant coaches, Mike Born our director of NBA scouting, we'll all get in a room and talk about it.  We'll figure out what we think is best. We probably won't all agree, which is a good thing.

I heard that not everyone reached the same conclusion about who to keep last year, Shavlik Randolph or Steven Hill. .  What's it like during those roster discussions?  Contentious?

It's not contentious. We have too good of a relationship with all of us to make it contentious. We just get in a room, debate the plusses and minuses and look to add the best player. 

With the spot this year are you looking at anything in particular? Experience? Depth at a position?

It's a combination of all those factors. It's who is the best player. Who can fill in and help us. Who can help the young guys adjust to the NBA level. It's all those things. It's very all-encompassing. 

Udoka has seen quite a bit more playing time than Collins. Nate says he's seen enough from Collins to make his assessment. Have you seen enough to fully evaluate what he might bring to this team?

Absolutely. We know Collins. We're seeing him here every day at practice. Knows how to play. Good competitor. Very smart. Played with good systems, played with great coaches.  He's an NBA player, no doubt.

Nate praised Collins' work with Greg in the video room.  Is that potential relationship a factor here?

We like our experienced players helping our younger players. That's part of a good culture and what we want those guys to do. 

Pleasantries aside, it doesn't seem like a particularly positive indicator when you are barely playing during the preseason and yet your Coach and General Manager both agree they've seen enough.  Although the line, "he's an NBA player" did stand out.

-- Ben (