Question via e-mail following yesterday's revised expectations post:
If the Blazers are going reach the higher limits of their potential this season, what are the keys?
I can think of a few, most of which involve forging ahead and playing the way they had planned to play in the first place without letting intermittent stars shake their confidence. But there's one key that stands out above all others. Three words: La Marcus Aldridge. He's the best, brightest--possibly the only--hope for the Blazers to excel beyond their average this year assuming Brandon Roy remains in shadow mode.
The Blazers actually have a decent supporting staff, albeit one stretched too thin by the obvious absences. They have defenders in Marcus Camby, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews. They have shooters in Batum, Matthews (hopefully), and Rudy Fernandez. Armon Johnson may be a wildcard in both categories. Camby is the clear rebounding king but the team is capable enough as a unit to support him. They've got veterans (Andre Miller in particular) and young guys, runners and halfcourt players, lefties and righties and bothies.
Nevertheless, in the absence of a 100% Roy--in an odd way even in the absence of Greg Oden as inexperienced as he is offensively--the Blazers don't have a guy to put consistent pressure on the defense. People are going to chime in and say it's a team game and I wholeheartedly agree. Take the best star in the world and put the wrong guys around him and the team will under-perform. I've preached long and hard here that marking individual skill and talent isn't enough to understand the game or a team's strengths. You have to look at how players affect each other and whose cozy fire means somebody else's night in the cold. But even in a team game offensive success depends on bending the defense. In the case of NBA basketball, that means a guy who commands a double-team or at least makes opposing defenders nervous enough to glance his way when he's single-covered. For the Blazers their list of that type of player stops at 1 right now: Aldridge. No matter how much they score as individually teams will be comfortable single-covering every other non-Roy-guy in the rotation. Only Aldridge can poke enough of a hole in a defense to make it collapse, freeing up his teammates.
LaMarcus isn't entirely ready as-is, however. Though we've seen his scoring confidence rise in the last couple of weeks (and his moves get prettier as well) he still needs more aggression, perhaps more physicality, in his offensive game. Just as importantly he has to get better at seeing the court and being able to make a decisive, floor-changing pass, upping the danger-factor of the guys around him. One of the more fascinating stories of the season will be how much of these attributes he's got in him and/or how much he can learn.
Either way it's dead certain that Aldridge will be the center of Portland's attack and that the Blazer offense rides on his shoulders. Portland's impact on the offensive end of the court will be directly proportional to his impact on the defense. Portland can still win without his best performances but they'll not excel unless he dazzles.