Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smooth Transition in Portland

Franchise players are tough to come by. Many teams don’t have one and thus struggle to get victories against upper echelon teams. Brandon Roy has led the injury-plagued Portland Trailblazers for the last five seasons. He was the best shooting guard in the league behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

The Blazers are coached by ex-NBA player, Nate McMillan. Last year, the Blazers were so banged up with injuries, McMillan joined his depleted Blazer team in scrimmage just to have ten bodies out there. Unfortunately, McMillan ruptured his right Achilles tendon; perhaps underestimating the speed of the game or forgetting the fact that he hasn't been in the league in years.

Losing players due to injury is part of the game, but Portland has been very unlucky in this department. Greg Oden, the first pick in the 2007 draft (incidentally chosen ahead of NBA scoring leader, Kevin Durant), has missed more games than he has played during his short career.

Brandon Roy has proven to be a great leader, and a clutch performer throughout his NBA career. He was undoubtedly the face of their franchise. Unfortunately for the Blazers, injury struck again this season, but this time to Brandon Roy. He was put on the shelf and missed 34 games with injuries sustained to both his knees.

When a player of Roy’s stature goes down, it becomes somebody else’s opportunity to step in and fill the void. Fifth year player, LaMarcus Aldridge has taken this responsibility on.

Aldridge is the Blazers leading scorer, and go-to guy down the stretch. Aldridge has a great face-up jumper, so defenders must close quickly. He has tremendous speed for a man of his size, helping him burn by his slower-moving defenders.

This year, Aldridge has expanded his game, becoming a dominant interior presence that every good team needs. He quietly leads the league in converted alley-oops, unannounced to the basketball world outside of Oregon.

Aldridge averages just a shade under forty minutes per game (second most in the league, right behind Monta Ellis). Aldridge has the perfect mix of both the inside and outside game. He is an unselfish leader, and when the double-team comes, he is a willing passer.

Sadly for Aldridge, all of his fantastic play did not lead to an all-star selection. In all fairness, there are a lot of great big men in the West; still, his omission was a travesty. Instead of complaining, Aldridge just continued to put up monster numbers (winning Player of the Month honours for February in his tough Western conference).

Aldridge’s growth as a player has kept the Blazers in the playoff picture. He has had lots of help from unheralded players, such as Wesley Matthews. Matthews, an undrafted player, has started most of the season in Roy’s place at the shooting guard position. He is a hard-nosed player, and tough defender.

Joining Matthews in the backcourt is Andre Miller. Miller has quietly put together an incredible career. He leads his team by example. Miller led the league in assists in 2001 playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is 14th on the all time assists list. As long as there is not a lockout in 2011/2012, he will pass Tim Hardaway early next season for thirteenth place.

Miller isn’t the quickest guard, but he uses change of pace better than any other point guard in the league. Even though Miller is only 6 foot 2, he will take whoever is guarding him into the post, whether the defender is shorter than him or not. He has been incredibly durable, playing in 632 straight games (before a suspension stopped that streak earlier this season).

Nicolas Batum, is a young player with tremendous potential. In the next few seasons as he hits the gym, I expect him to make the All-Defensive team. The Blazers also generally start Marcus Camby, a fifteen year veteran, at the center position. Camby knows his role as a defensive anchor, and plays it to perfection.

At the trade deadline, the Blazers managed to pick up Gerald Wallace from the Charlotte Bobcats, without losing any of their key players. Wallace is one of the most versatile players in the league, at both ends of the floor. As Wallace has gotten more acclimated with the system, he continues to take on a bigger role. He makes the Blazers a very dangerous team.

Brandon Roy has now returned to the Blazers, albeit in a different role. Roy comes off the bench, and has started to play some minutes as the back-up point guard. He has restrictions on the amount of minutes he can play. In limited minutes, he still shows flashes of his old explosive self and can be a potent fourth quarter scorer.

Another Blazer contributor, is Rudy Fernandez. Fernandez is a complete wild card. You never know what you might get. He is an unconventional, European player, that surprised a lot of people (especially Dwight Howard), while playing for Spain in the 2008 Olympics. (Here is a rarely seen highlight).

The Blazers will rely on a tight rotation of these eight players to hopefully take them deep into the playoffs . The heavy load will fall on Aldridge, but as he has proven many times this year, he will handle it with no complaints.

One thing is for sure: the Blazers will be a tough out this year. None of those top four teams with home-court advantage want any part of them in the first round. No matter how well they do in this year's post-season, they will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come.

Aldridge, the Blazers new franchise player, was an all-star snub. If there is any justice in the league, he will be acknowledged at the end of the season, by taking a deserving spot on the All-NBA Third team.

1 comment:

  1. The last time I watched the blazers they had at least two convicts sitting on the bench. The time before that they had Clyde Drexler.

    I guess they are not a team I have ever cared for in the past. Maybe I should check them out now.