Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010-2011 Portland Trailblazers

The question: how many games is Greg Oden gonna play? The answer: who cares? The Blazers are made to be awesome with or without him. Of course they'd rather have him shatter all expectations and come through with abandon to be an MVP-caliber center, but that's probably never going to be in the cards. Honestly, Nate McMillan would be completely happy if he just got 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for 70 games.

2010-2011 Portland Trailblazers

Point Guard: Andre Miller/Jarryd Bayless/Patrick Mills
Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy/Wesley Matthews/Elliot Williams
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum/Dante Cunningham/Luke Babbitt
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge/Jeff Pendergraph
Center: Marcus Camby/Greg Oden/Joel Przybilla

For all intentional purposes, Rudy Fernandez won't be a rotation player in Portland or any other squad on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. So they've pretty much swapped out him for rugged, fit-in-the-system wing defender Wes Matthews. Along with Nicolas Batum, that's quite the perimeter defensive combo. And even in his old age, Marcus Camby is still the best defensive mistake eraser in the game. With that core plus whatever spot minute contributions come from Oden and Joel Przybilla, the rest of the lineup can concentrate on the offensive side of things. And that's good, because Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, and LaMarcus Aldridge are definitely prone to focusing on that aspect of the game a little more intently.

The lead guard tandem of Miller and Jarryd Bayless brings a nice change-of-pace component to the Blazers' offensive attack. Miller is big bodied and pounds the ball with intent and makes the team run smoothly while Bayless is a speedy attacker who can force his way to the rim and finish with power. Both guys work well with Roy as the do-anything wing scorer to complement them, and Bayless is especially glad that Steve Blake slid his way over to the champs' roster to free up backcourt minutes. Coming back from a summer resting since his surgery, Roy should be able to get back on track as an elite all-purpose scorer. He's so hard to check for the fact that he came into the pros with an insanely balanced and smooth game and has steadily improved every aspect of it. If he can keep healthy, he fits flawlessly in with this group and makes everyone else a bigger threat. The one drop off on this year's Blazer squad is going to be the long ball with the departure of Fernandez and sharpshooter Martell Webster, so Roy will have to take the initiative to force the action and create even better opportunities for this team. With a lot to prove from not being able to effectively finish out last season's early playoff exit, Roy will be up to the challenge.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the most important guy during any given Portland game. If his confidence is high then he's capable of scoring every single possession. He puts up 18/8/2/1/1 on 50% shooting as a lanky 6'11" big who can maneuver his way inside just as well as step out with considerable range. It's a nightmare matchup for pretty much any squad he faces. With all the other bigs on the team more capable of tangling it up under the basket, Aldridge has free range everywhere else to mess up the defensive schemes. He's due for an even bigger breakout year to replace Zach Randolph as a natural All-Star forward in the Western Conference, minus all the known drug habit baggage. And the funny thing is that I think a healthy Greg Oden on the floor would make Aldridge's game shine even better. Their skill sets are so complementary of one another that you would think they should vie for top front court duo in the league. But nah, they're still behind Pau & Bynum, Yao & Scola, (one would assume) KG & Shaq, (one would assume) Griffin & Kaman, (one would assume) Boozer & Noah, and (one would assume) Big Al & Okur. So on second thought, maybe they're not even close to being the best ...

I think the no-longer-nicknamed-Jailblazers should improve about 4 games to be in the mid-upper tier of the West and get past the first round as a highly competitive dark horse. Roy should return to elite form, LaMarcus should up the ante, Greg Oden has about a 51% chance of playing 50% of the season, and the rest of the role players should all continue their seamless blue collar work under Nate McMillan's direction. So there ya go.

Regular Season: 54-28
Playoffs: Eliminated in Western Conference Semi-Finals

... and Free Enes.

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