Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blazers 2008-09 Season Preview

2007-08 Finish - 41 wins, 41 losses, 3rd place in the NW Division, 9 games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Projected Starters:
PG-Steve Blake
SG-Brandon Roy
SF-Martell Webster
PF-LaMarcus Aldridge
C-Greg Oden

Key Reserves:
SF-Travis Outlaw
PG/SG-Jerryd Bayless
SG-Rudy Fernandez
C-Joel Przybilla
PF/C-Channing Frye

Bottom 4:
PF-Ike Diogu-energy guy (think Turiaf-lite) that won't get much PT.
SF-Nicolas Batum-Very young, very raw. I'm seeing some D-League in your future, young man.
PG-Sergio Rodriguez-Get your resume updated ASAP. I'd start here then work towards this after a few years of experience. You're welcome.

Practice Dummy:
SF-Luke Jackson-The rumor of his preseason/practice signing has not been confirmed by the Blazers' Brass yet, but either way, i cant really say much about playing 73 games in 5 years of NBA contracts as the #7 pick in the draft...other than he has a career .357% FG percentage. Maybe he failed a drug test? You know, he did go to a nationaly recognized school after all.

Season outlook, thoughts, and things to look for in 2008-09:
If you've seen the schedule for the upcoming season then you understand getting off to a great start will be difficult. Portland's first 5 games are @LA, SA at home then @PHX the next night, @Utah, then home against Houston. Starting 0-5 isn't out of the question. Oh, and 16 of Portland's first 24 games are on the road. Take that, season ticket holders. With that said...

I expect Portland to come out of the games slow and would have said that even with an easier looking schedule. the reason is that the Blazers will have three rookies who will want and need to be playing prominant roles next year and for years to come. Greg, Jerryd, and Rudy all look to be important pieces to the puzzle and look even more important as B-Roy continues his streak of injuries. A .500 record for the first 24 games would be great considering only 8 of them will be at home and of course learning to play with one another.

Portland will have growing pains but i expect them to finish the year strong and make some noise in the western conference playoff picture. With some of the lesser teams getting better i doubt it will take 50 wins to get in the playoffs next year but it will still likely take 46-49. If Portland starts 12-12 then can go 13-12 on the road the rest of the way, the Blazers could be in the thick of things given their home success. This is where I project them finishing and can really see this happening after playing with each other for a couple months. But, what will the 8 seed get you in the West? A series with the Lakers. How fun would that series be? Blazers/Lakers games have been heated since the turn of the century, this one would be no different.

Side note: A Blazers-Lakers round 1 playoff series is very possible this year.

If Portland's current roster is the one that will get them to the playoffs and beyond, one of two things will absolutely need to happen in my mind and I feel the second on this list most important (and very attainable).

First, Travis Outlaw needs to build off his breakout season and become comfortable in the 6th man role. What does he need to work on? He needs to rebound better and slash more from the perimeter if Portland is intending on giving him many more minutes at the 3 as they said they would do early this summer. The Blazers really need a defender on the wing so Travis would have to develop defensively if he wants to be part of the big 3. In reality, Travis looks to be best suited as a guy who comes off the bench and provides a spark as we seen him do last year (just ask fans in Atlanta, Memphis, and Toronto how they feel about TO). This is a roll he's been good at in the NBA and I think his ceiling isn't much higher then last season. Blazer fans, this is a good thing - he won't command more dollars then Portland is willing to pay him. 6th men are very important in this league and finding one who is able to take and make game changing shots is very limited. Some TO highlights for your viewing pleasure to follow...

Second, Martell Webster. We've all been waiting for Martell's breakout season since he was drafted #6 overall in 2005. What do the Blazers need out of Martell for him to keep his starting spot and role as the 4th/5th best player in the starting unit? Three things; the ability to hit the open jumper, be Portland's best perimeter defender, and continue slashing like he did towards the end of last season. I see no reason he can't do these things on a more consistent basis, especially knowing he will only see 25-35 minutes of court time on a given night. We've all seen him shoot the rock, we know he can do that (see below). We also know he has the ability to attack the rim. What we haven't seen is enough ability to consistently be our top perimeter defender. Because we watched flashes of this last year I think a breakout year is on the brink. I have a feeling Martell will turn out to be the 3 that Portland needs to compete at the next level.

The new additions: Oden, Bayless, Fernandez

Greg Oden's health is obviously a major concern at this point. While nobody in their right mind doubts his abilities when healthy, taking a year off of basketball activity must be incredibly hard to overcome (ask D Miles). But, this is something that can be done (ask Amare Stoudamire). With how this surgery is progressing in just the last few years I'm optimistic Greg will be back and the knee will be as good as Amare's. If so, you can expect Oden to be a huge part of Portland's success. It's very possible that he averages over 12 and 10 with a block in his rookie season. That is, if he can manage to stay on the court (no Greg, fouling 9.5 times a game during the summer league is no longer okay). Early, and I mean real early, reports are that Greg and his knee look fantastic. I'm almost as pumped as I was when I seen B-Roy standing there after winning the lottery. What the Blazers need Greg to bring to the table in his rookie season is defense, a resemblance of an offensive game, and toughness. I think Joel should be able to take care of the latter during training camp.

Jerryd Bayless looked great in summer league, winning MVP honors in Las Vegas. He proved he can score, slash, get to the rim with the ball, and play with intensity. The only problem with summer league performance is that summer league is home of rookies, D-leaguers, and scrubs (Yes, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, you're both scrubs). White I fully expect Bayless to contribute from day one with his speed and shooting ability alone, I expect it to take awhile for him to be able to run the point effectively and learn to defer to proven players on the team with NBA experience. In crunch time JB should develop into being the perfect complement to Roy. When you need a bucket late in the 4th quarter a lineup of Bayless, Roy, TO, Aldridge, and Oden sounds pretty potent. Bayless won't give you nightmares as a defender but his speed and lateral quickness should allow him to at least stay in front of most point guards in the NBA as the year goes on. Bayless should get both backup PG and SG minutes and his role will grow as the year goes on. Something like 8, 4, and 3 feels about right in his first year if given minutes. His scoring will be sporadic as he adjusts his not-so-fast jump shot release but will still make an impact on the offensive end.

Rudy Fernandez has looked both great and questionable at times during the 2008 summer Olympics. I won't break down his play by play as i've seen on some sites but i will give my opinions about what I have seen so far. He gambles on defense. Against teams other then team USA his gambling usually leads to a steal and dunk or assist. Now, i'm not saying every team in the NBA is better then all the teams in the Olympics but, I would say all the teams that made the playoffs in the west would win this tournament (excluding team USA). Like Bayless, Rudy can stroke the ball from anywhere on the court and at times, unfortunately, he knows this too. A few shots he has taken are questionable at best and at times i think he gets caught up in the moment so much that he feels he's got to take that off balance three. One thing he has done really well is pass the ball - and not just passing it to pass it, but passing the ball with a purpose to the right spot at the right time. This has been pleasantly surprising. I've loved watching his feistiness and can't wait to see him in the NBA. We've all watched the you-tube videos of Rudy dunking, passing, and shooting and understand that he is a special player. But, will he stay in the USA? Will he stay with the Blazers with the growing talent at their disposal to spell B-Roy at the 2? I hope so. Stats similar to Bayless' sound about right during his rookie season.

Let's play ball
The only thing we can be certain about is what what Roy, LMA, Joel and Steve Blake bring to the table. These rolls won't change other than small changes in minutes per game. The question is how will the new comers gel and how will the Blazers veterans respond to their new roles? Can Martell be the guy on the perimeter that Portland needs? Only time will tell. Healthy knees permitting, the future looks brighter then ever in Portland an I for one will be there to watch.


KneeJerkNBA said...

If Roy and Oden are both healthy, the Blazers could win 50 games.

They're probably still a year (and another deal) away from being title contenders but I like pretty much everything Pritchard does these days.

LeakBrewerGator said...

The Blazers should be in contention for the playoffs next season. Roy is a stud and Oden should contribute.

Now they'll be playing for Duckworth....

GB's Fav Five said...

The only problem with the Blazers in the playoffs means they will likely need to go .500 during those first 24 games of which 16 are on the road. The first 5 are brutal and to be honest the Blazers should be happy if they can win 2 of those. The good thing about having Oden as the only new starter is that Greg can jump in and be as good as Joel from day 1. That should help the learning curve out a little bit.

The 00KD situation is very sad. What makes it even more sad is that he was putting on a free basketball clinic for children. Such bad things happen to such good people and we can only hope he passed in his sleep free of suffering. RIP, Kevin.