Friday, July 2, 2010

One Year Anniversary Holy Backboard Podcast

It's the one year anniversary of Holy Backboard and our latest podcast is up! We talk draft grades, rookies, free agency, summer league and more. Check it out! July 1st Holy Backboard Podcast

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Greg Oden

Throughout the first month of the season, Greg Oden was playing like an All-Star, leading the team in rebounding (8.2 per game), shot blocking (2.3) and played with a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 23.1, good enough for 8th in the entire league. Finally, the stars seemed like they were aligning in Greg’s favor to help him live up to the hype of being the #1 pick. But it wasn’t meant to be in 2010. While going up for a loose ball against Houston on December 5th, Greg’s kneecap broke in half. The injury would be Greg’s fifth since exiting high school and has put a stranglehold on his professional career with the Trail Blazers, only allowing him to participate in 82 games over the span of three years. With the heart of champion and mentality of a fighter, there is no doubt Oden will once again bring the Rose Garden faithful to life with rim rattling jams and game-changing swats into the third row, but what can he work on this summer to ensure his presence is felt?
  1. Defensive Timing
  2. Although Oden was extremely effective during his time on the court, his time was limited due countless, avoidable fouls. Throughout his two years playing with Portland, Greg has averaged 3.9 fouls per game in only 22.1 minutes of action, resulting in being whistled for a foul every 5.7 minutes. Not only do quick fouls take him out of the game, but it disallows any sort of rhythm to set in. What’s the cause of such foul trouble? Smaller guards would get by their perimeter defender and would take the ball right into his body. No one expects Oden to be able to keep up with the Tony Parker’s and Aaron Brooks’ of the world, but instead of challenging them at the point of attack, which draws the first contact, Greg could let them drive by and alter the shot from behind with his length. All of this sounds easy enough, but unfortunately, another setback of being sporadically out of action is a loss of timing.

  3. Post Moves
  4. The art of the center is a dying breed in today's NBA. Gone are the days of Hakeem Olajuwon's 'Dream Shake', an array of ball fakes and quick footwork used to score at will on his opponents down low; instead replaced with centers who are viewed as offensive liabilities whose only job is to rebound and defend the paint. Currently, only Yao Ming breaks the mold of today's seven footer, capable of putting the team on his shoulders offensively in the post. With a lack of skilled centers floating around NBA rosters, the importance of possessing someone of that size and stature to do be a force on both ends of the court is invaluable to a franchise.

    While Greg is already at an elite level defensively (3rd in blocks per game, 9th in defensive rebounding rate), outside of put back slams or occasional jump hook across the middle, his offensive arsenal is still a work in progress. Like LaMarcus, adding a go-to move in the post would do wonders for both Greg personally and his teammates, as they would reap the rewards of an unstoppable low post move from the big fella. In the middle of the 90’s, Houston essentially won back-to-back championships with this strategy of putting Hakeem on the blocks and daring the defense to decide how they wanted to test fate. Does a team leave Oden alone in the paint, ready to operate on-on-one or do they throw the double team at him and leave shooters open on the perimeter ready to dial in from long distance?
Don’t expect a barrage of jaw-dropping post moves out of Oden right away, but if he’s able to work on his timing on defense and stay on the court for 30+ minutes a night next year, the Trail Blazers should be the favorite to dethrone L.A. out in the Wild West. Given his physical attributes, Greg is a player unmatched by few in this league, on par with Yao and LeBron when it comes to most difficult to game plan for. If healthy, his presence alone will bolster the Trail Blazers from middle of the pack in the NBA to the upper echelon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Breaking Down The Draft

After the dust had settled, Portland ended up with four new players on their roster and had to say goodbye to a longtime friend. All in all, the 2010 NBA Draft was just like others in recent history, filled with speculation, trade rumors, and big moves to reshape the landscape of the Trail Blazers for the upcoming season.

The major splash of the night came about an hour into the draft when Portland came out of nowhere to snag Luke Babbitt, a 6-9 small forward out of Nevada. It wasn’t unexpected that the team moved up in the draft, which was the thought all along, rather the player who they ended up acquiring. Many rumors had Portland linked to a player such as Paul George, or big man Patrick Patterson, but Babbitt’s name came out of the blue. Maybe even more shocking than obtaining Babbitt was the player Portland sent away to the Wolves. Everything leading up to the draft had Rudy Fernandez as the bait which was to lure in a coveted spot higher in the draft, so when it was made clear Martell Webster was the one dealt, it came as a surprise. I had thought with his three remaining years, teams would shy away from his contract.

As sad as it is to see Webster leave, a change in scenery will do Webster wonders. While he thrived during the month of January, leading the NBA in 3-point field goals made (42); he did so as the starting wing, playing 35 minutes night due to the absence of Batum and Roy. Unfortunately, he won’t have those opportunities here in Portland with both of those guys coming back healthy. By trading Martell, the Trail Blazers lose one of their best perimeter defenders but felt the need for a pure scorer off the bench was higher on the priority list. Insert Babbitt.

With his ability to shoot either off the dribble or spotting up, Babbitt shouldn’t have a problem getting his shot off at the NBA level. When Luke gets his man in the triple threat position, game over. He uses the jab step better than any collegiate prospect in this year's class, which allows him to create additional space as well as keeping his defender off balance. Along with his prototypical small forward height, Babbitt defies the stereotype that ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ by measuring a maximum vertical leap of 37.5 inches, sixth best out of all draftees, and higher than other swingmen taken ahead of him such as Wesley Johnson (37), Al-Farouq Aminu (33.5), and Gordon Hayward (34.5). Taking all of this in, it seems like Luke should be able to come in right away and fill the void of scorer off the bench, vacated by Travis Outlaw. More important than any jab step or vertical leap is his attitude. While making the media rounds today, time and time again, Luke reiterated he wanted to earn everything himself; a breath of fresh air and undoubtedly will gain the admiration of the Trail Blazer fan base.

While this trade was being announced, it felt like a game of ‘Red Light, Green Light’. First Ryan Gomes was involved in the deal, then 10 minutes later he wasn’t, and then he was again. At this time, the team doesn’t know if they’ll waive his partially guaranteed contract, try to trade him to other teams looking to save a little money, or keep him on the roster. Management has until tomorrow to make the decision. Obviously, he’s a solid basketball player who’d be able to back up Nic at the 3 or play some power forward in spots given his toughness (5.7 career rpg). With that said, as it stands, our roster is already at 14 players and the team did just trade their bench defender for another small forward, would it be overload carrying Gomes as well?

After Portland got through wheeling and dealing, it was time to make their pick at #22. Reports earlier in the week leaked out they were targeting Memphis’ Elliot Williams, but after so many famous KP smokescreens put out in the past, this rumor was treated as such. But this was no diversion, Williams was a guy they had been eyeing for a long time and wasted no time selecting him as he was still on the draft board.

Elliot was widely regarded as not only the 2nd best shooting guard in this year’s draft but also the 2nd best athlete overall. Similar to Jerryd Bayless in the sense he is an attacking guard who rarely settles for the jump shot as evidence by averaging 7.5 trips to line his sophomore year at Memphis. With Jerryd Bayless proving himself as a point guard in last year’s playoffs against Phoenix and Webster’s departure, all of a sudden reserve minutes behind Roy are available. Given his natural athleticism and willingness to play defense, Coach McMillan has to be salivating at the chance to work with him in hopes of molding Elliot into a defender of the caliber of a Martell Webster. Really the only negative I can think of when it comes to Williams is the fact he won’t be able to play in next month’s Summer League due to banging knees with other draftee during a workout. No need to worry Trail Blazers fans, the injury is not serious. The team is just taking precautionary measures to ensure he has a healthy rookie campaign.

With their final pick at #34, acquired for #44 and cash consideration, the Trail Blazers stayed true to their philosophy of taking the best player available and grabbed Babbitt’s teammate at Nevada, Armon Johnson, a 6-3 point guard regarded as one of the toughest players in the class. At the time I was pulling for us to swap picks with the Kings who had selected a falling Hassan Whiteside or simply picking Solomon Alabi, both big, 7 ft. project centers who could pay big dividends in the future but with Whiteside’s character issues and Alabi testing positive for Hepatitis B, the red flags were too vivid to ignore.

Much as I do after every draft, I go onto YouTube and find video of the prospects and read up on all of the scouting reports. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to get excited about Armon and after meeting him in person for his press conference, that feeling was only compounded more so. Like Williams, Johnson is an athletic freak, measuring the 4th highest vertical at the combine (38.5 inches) and possessing an intimidating 6’8” wingspan, which has the talent capable of becoming one of the most suffocating defenders at the point guard spot, along the same lines as a young Greg Anthony.

In the end, if you're a Trail Blazers fan, I don't know how you can not be thrilled with the results of draft night. The biggest need of a pure scorer off the bench was filled by Babbitt, added another player who looks to attack the basket first, shoot from the perimeter second in Elliot Williams, and could find a diamond in the rough with Armon Johnson. Although the roster seems overcrowded now, these selections set the team up perfectly to make a consolidation trade.

Overall Grade: B+

Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 NBA Mock Draft

*Updated June 24*

# Team Player Position School Age
1 John Wall PG Kentucky 19
2 Evan Turner SG Ohio State 21
3 Derrick Favors PF Georgia Tech 18
4 Wesley Johnson SF Syracuse 22
5 DeMarcus Cousins C Kentucky 19
6 Ekpe Udoh PF Baylor 23
7 Greg Monroe PF Georgetown 20
8 Al-Farouq Aminu SF Wake Forest 19
9 Luke Babbitt SF Nevada 20
10 Ed Davis PF North Carolina 21
11 Patrick Patterson PF Kentucky 21
12 Paul George SF Fresno State 20
13 Cole Aldrich C Kansas 21
14 Gordon Hayward SF Butler 20
15 Xavier Henry SG Kansas 19
16 Avery Bradley SG Texas 19
17 James Anderson SG Oklahoma State 21
18 Daniel Orton C Kentucky 19
19 Solomon Alabi C Florida State 22
20 Elliot Williams SG Memphis 20
21 Kevin Seraphin PF France 20
22 Hassan Whiteside C Marshall 20
23 Larry Sanders PF/C VCU 21
24 Dominique Jones SG South Florida 21
25 Eric Bledsoe PG Kentucky 19
26 Devin Ebanks SF West Virginia 20
27 Damion James SF Texas 22
28 Craig Brackins PF Iowa State 21
29 Terrico White PG/SG Misissippi 20
30 Trevor Booker PF Clemson 22

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Andre Miller

Sometimes the best really is saved left for last. After targeting not one, but two other players in free agency, Portland finally "settled" on Andre Miller in late July. At first, the marriage between the two seemed vexatious at best: a ball-dominant guard, not known for his ability to hit the open jump shot, playing alongside Brandon Roy and with an established point guard in Steve Blake already on the roster? The relationship figured to end before it even got started, but everything changed after a mid-season, heated altercation between Miller and Coach McMillan over a late-game decision the previous night. Headlined by a career-high 52 point game in Dallas and keeping his NBA "Iron Man" streak intact, even more impressive considering the amount of games the team missed totaled over 300; Andre was able to lead the squad to a 50 win season and another playoff berth. Although Miller was arguably Portland's team MVP for the 2010 season, he'll once again have to silence the critics who insist he isn't the man for the job.
  1. Jump Shooting
  2. Throughout his 11 year career, there haven't been very many hurdles in Andre Miller's way he hasn't been able to clear: stature (6'2", 200 lbs.), court vision (career 7.2 apg average), and durability (612 consecutive games played). Even though everything about his game screams consistency, his outside shot has not followed suit. Despite playing the fewest amount of minutes since his rookie year (2500), Andre attempted the third most three-pointers in his career (80), connecting only 16 times. No, ‘Dre didn’t all of a sudden become infatuated with the long ball; it’s a product of being the point guard in Nate McMillan’s offense.

    To say it’s impossible for a 34 year old player to abruptly become an adequate long-range shooter after so many years of subpar results would be inaccurate. Just look at Jason Kidd. Kidd, much like Miller, was maligned his whole career for not possessing a jump shot, even to the point where he was referred to as “Ason”, because he had no J. Through hard work and strenuous repetition in the gym, Kidd has transformed into one of the better three-point shooters in the league, knocking them down at a 40% clip or better each of the past three years. With both players having comparable shooting techniques (flat footed, ball placement in front of face), it wouldn’t be wise to doubt Andre Miller becoming a serviceable three-point shooter.

  3. Chemistry

  4. It’s never an easy transition for a player to make, coming over from one organization to another. There are different styles of play, philosophies, and new players to gel and create chemistry with on the court, especially when that player is the lead guard. Being a point guard brings added responsibilities and needed instincts in order to succeed. Not only are they held accountable for their own play, but their primary objective is to get everyone else involved and know precisely how, where, and when each of their teammate likes the ball placed. But ball placement is only half the battle. A simple head nod from a wing player could mean they’re taking off back door or want a lab pass throw in their vicinity. They’re obligated to memorizing these non-verbal gestures and recognizing them in the heat of the moment.

    Learning the ins and outs about his teammates is only one piece to the puzzle for a newly transitioned point guard. Andre must also adapt to an entirely new playbook and figure out how to carve his niche into the offense, finding out exactly where he’ll be able to pick and choose his spots to operate. Given the talent and depth of this current Trail Blazers roster, he’ll have to feed plenty of others first before he can think about himself; quite a daunting task for a player on a new team, playing under a new coach, and living in a new city. Taking into consideration everything that transpired over the course of the season, it’s remarkable how well Andre was able to fit in. If the team stays relatively healthy, there’s no doubt the fans, media, and organization will get to see the true impact Andre Miller can have on the Portland Trail Blazers.

With a finely tuned jump shot and a healthy group of teammates surrounding him, don’t be shocked if Andre makes a serious push for his first ever All-Star appearance as well as being the ringleader of team pushing for 60 wins.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Rudy Fernandez

Coming off a sensational rookie campaign which saw him break the single season three-point record for first-year players (159), Rudy Fernandez's hopes of a successful sequel in 2010 were thwarted with an assortment of injuries, ranging from a needed microdiscectomy to relieve pressure on a nerve in his back to strained quadriceps. Both obstacles kept Fernandez out of action for multiple games at a time, making it hard to establish a rhythm; he struggled with inconsistencies all season long. The toughest pill to swallow had to be the timing of the injuries. Just as he was on the cusp of hitting his 2009 stride, as evidenced by exceeding his seasonal averages in points (10.4), field goal percentage (.423), and three-point shooting (.471) over a span of a 14 game stretch directly after the All-Star Break, he incurred yet another setback on March 20th. Were injuries solely to blame for the sophomore slump or was there more to it?
  1. Shooting Off The Dribble
  2. Already renowned as one of the best pure, spot-up shooters in the league, Rudy Fernandez is a threat to the opposition any time he is left open, garnering the attention of his defender. For Rudy to become a more complete shooter and accumulate more of his defender's awareness, refining his ability to shoot off the dribble will be necessary to achieve both. It's been said the best way for a shooter to get into a groove is to simply see the ball go in the basket. If all that's attempted are long-distance three-pointers, the chances of finding a rhythm in that particular way is slimmer than putting the ball on the floor and taking it hard to the basket, either resulting in a trip to the foul line or a lay-up.
  3. Limit Turnovers
  4. Taking a quick look at the turnover leaders this past season in the NBA, many familiar faces rank high on the list: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade. There's no secret the players with the ball in their hands the most also have the highest frequency of coughing it up, so in retrospect, Fernandez's 1.2 turnovers per game isn't anything to scoff at compared to Wade's league-leading 5.2. And while Rudy thrives in the open court, taking and making the crowd-pleasing play, there's always those few head-scratching moments he can instill upon the game. While a few questionable decisions are inevitable, Rudy's "controlled-chaos" enamors the fans and engages his teammates, because creativity is being generated, the intent was correct, and the majority of the choices made lead to prosperous outcomes.

By reducing his turnovers and enhancing his offensive repertoire, Fernandez can further interject more spirit and zeal into the game, significantly strengthening his role on the team and making the case for most dynamic 6th man in the NBA.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Dante Cunningham

When a 54-win team selects a player in the second round, many fans and media members simply shrug it off as a bench warmer or Summer League roster filler, but right from the start, Dante Cunningham let it be known he would be no afterthought. Even after one quarter of Summer League play, it was evident Dante would find his way onto the court one way or another. Over the course of the summer and into his rookie campaign, Cunningham used his silky smooth mid-range jump shot, versatility to play either forward position and high basketball intelligence to absorb the absence of Travis Outlaw once he went down with a broken foot. Highlighted by a vicious, retaliation slam on Amare Stoudemire and a noteworthy .495 field goal percentage, the future looks bright for Dante in the Rose City, but how can he crack the rotation?
  1. Jump Shot
  2. Usually when something isn't broke, there isn't a need to fix it. Dante's jump shot is far from broke but like all role players, a niche must be carved out in order for them to thrive in this league. Last season his role was to only play sporadic minutes when needed, such as the case when injuries or foul trouble transpired, but if Cunningham wants to continue his growth and progression as an NBA player, he must master his craft. When people look in the dictionary under "mid-range jump shot", Dante Cunningham's picture should be shown. There's absolutely no doubt Dante will be hard at work this summer, trying to transform himself into the marksmen from the outside he's capable of becoming as shown from his pre-draft scouting report:
    His work ethic and desire to improve cannot be questioned ... He transformed himself from a scrappy, hustle, workingman's player into a polished offensive player and top scoring option on a final four team ...
  3. Perimeter Defense
  4. Given his 6'8", 230 lb. frame, Dante is big enough to battle in the paint with the power forwards, yet agile enough to stick with the small forwards on the perimeter. His adaptability gives him the opportunity to play in Coach McMillan's system where he [Coach] demands a lot out of his forwards on both ends of the court but mainly on defense, as his philosophies are heavily based on his players being able to defend an array of positions in many difficult and unfamiliar situations. The most frequent of these challenging situations is the switching of the pick and roll. For Dante to become one of the primary reserves Coach calls upon, he should learn from one of the best at playing outside their comfort zone, his own teammate, LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as finding a way to get a little more quicker to disrupt the wiry, nimble guards of the NBA.
With Juwan Howard entering his 17th NBA season and the departure of former backup forward, Travis Outlaw, the time for Dante Cunningham to grab a spot in Coach McMillan's rotation is now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Marcus Camby

Immediately after being traded to Portland near the trade deadline, Marcus Camby made his impression felt. The 6'11", 220 lb. 14 year veteran helped shore up a depleted Trail Blazers front line, ailing from the injured departures of Oden and Przybilla. Down the stretch run of the season, whatever the Trail Blazers needed from Marcus on any given night, he provided it. Whether it was his memorable 30 point, 13 rebound performance in victory against the Thunder, inspiring the crowd to serenade him with chants of "Mar-cus Cam-bee" all throughout the Rose Garden arena or his uncanny veteran leadership. With the health status of the other big men still in question, Camby will definitely be called upon again this season to shoulder the load. What can he do this summer to ensure his impact is prolonged on the Trail Blazers?
  1. Free Throw Shooting
  2. There's no doubt the big men of the NBA take the most punishment under the boards and with all the gouged eyes, elbows thrown, and rakes across the arm come free throw opportunities. Although Camby doesn't make a living at the charity stripe as implicated by his career-high 4.19 attempts per game, which took place during his rookie year and 1.35 attempts during his 23 game stint with Portland, the worth of a big who can hold their own at the foul line is invaluable. How much more dominant would players such as Shaquille O'Neal (.527 career free throw percentage) or Wilt Chamerlain (.511) be had they been able to knock them down at a reasonable clip? Now, no one is comparing Marcus to two of the greatest centers in NBA history, but refining his 58.1% free throw percentage should be a priority this summer. If he can hover around 70% for the upcoming season, Portland's 21st best scoring offense (98.1 ppg) could eclipse the century mark for the first time under Nate McMillan's tenure and overall since 1995.
  3. Jump Shot
  4. Even with an unorthodox form on his shot, Marcus possesses great touch for a man of his size and stature. Throughout his career, one of Camby's offensive essentials was his patented top of the key jumper which aided his .471 career field-goal percentage. Camby's versatility on offense allows him to play along side Oden as a power forward or Aldridge as a center and allows for optimal spacing in Coach McMillan's offense. At age 36, the question becomes how many more miles does he have left in the tank? Defense and rebounding will always be staples of his game until the day he retires, but to ensure that he will still be able to keep the defense honest with his mid-range shot, a lot of repetition over the summer shooting jump shots should do the trick for the upcoming season.

By becoming more consistent at the charity stripe and maintaining his jump shot, Camby can stake his claim as a top 10 center in this league. With the center position evolving into a dying breed of today's NBA, the Trail Blazers are fortunate to have a player of Marcus' size and caliber holding down the fort in the middle.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Jerryd Bayless

Logging only 65 minutes and appearing in 53 games during his rookie year, Jerryd Bayless was determined to make a bigger impact on the Trail Blazers in 2010. But after the team brought in a free agent and fellow point guard Andre Miller, it was unsure just how much playing time he'd be able to muster by being 5th on the depth chart amongst the guards. No one took advantage of the injury-plagued season more than Bayless. In a one week span right before Christmas, Jerryd showed why he was a heavily coveted lottery pick in 2008, scoring 29 points in 29 minutes in a comeback victory over the Suns and then six days later, with Brandon sidelined, scored a career-high 31 to upset the Spurs in San Antonio. With Roy out again to start the playoffs, it was Jerryd who once again rose to the occasion, averaging 13.5 points, on .431 field goal shooting, 4.0 assists, only 1.3 turnovers, and saw his three-point percentage increase from .315 during the regular season to .400 this postseason. The flashes of brilliance were evident in 2010, but how can he sustain his lightning in the bottle outbursts over the duration of an entire season?
  1. Long-Range Shooting
  2. One of the prerequisites to playing successfully alongside Brandon Roy is the ability to spread the floor and knock down open shots, disallowing the defense to swarm Brandon at every given chance. Jerryd had some success keeping the opposing defenses at bay, but it was mostly sporadic as seen from his shooting percentages of .414 and .315 from the field and three-point range respectively. Granted the NBA three-point line is four feet further away from the basket than in college [23'9", 19'9"] and professional level defenders are a different animal than the ones Jerryd saw at Arizona, but he was a great perimeter shooter in his lone season in college proven by knocking down .458 from the field and .407 from downtown, prompting these rave reviews from NBADraft.Net in his pre-draft report:
    Gets great lift on his jump-shot, with range well out to the NBA three. His pull up jumper is magnificent; with the elevation, balance, and quick release, he is virtually able to shoot whenever, and over whomever he desires

    Jerryd didn't all of a sudden forget how to shoot a basketball. The discrepancies in percentage can be attributed to time spent on the floor. There is no coincidence he played his best basketball when he saw 20+ minutes of action, because he is a rhythm player who takes time to get into the flow of the game. After his remarkable play against Phoenix in the playoffs, consistent minutes for the 2011 look promising, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees in the league. If Bayless can continue to be the gym rat that he is widely recognized as and continue to work on his jump shot, either off of the dribble or spotting up, it may not matter how frequent he sees the court, because he'll produce regardless.
  3. Court Vision
  4. Known for his fearless drives into the lane, teams have now keyed in on Bayless when he enters the game and catered their defenses to deny him access to those buckets which get him energized. Having the target on your back can be both a gift and a curse, but a way for Jerryd to make teams pay for sending the house at him as soon as he makes his move towards to goal is to hit the open man, spoon feeding them with a wide open dunk or jump shot. Running the pick and roll and finding shooters in transition are turning into strengths for Jerryd, but too many times this season saw him seemingly go straight to the hoop without a plan in mind to execute. If Bayless attacks the film room relentlessly to study when and where the openings will occur as soon as the defense doubles him, just as he does with any other basketball-related activity, there should be no doubt he'll be able to piggyback off of his impressive playoff run, which included an astounding 3:1 assist/turnover ratio.

With the addition of a more consistent jump shot, Bayless fills the void of dynamic scorer off the bench and by adding the ability to find the open man in traffic, it completes his game offensively. Along with his defensive intensity, he can now make the transition from role player to the next great, young Trail Blazer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: Nicolas Batum

After missing the team's first 45 games of the season due to shoulder surgery, it was questionable just how much progression Nicolas Batum could make out of a shortened season. It didn't take long for the second year forward from France to let it be known that he wasn't satisfied with his rookie production. In just his second game back from injury, Batum showed off a new and improved offensive repertoire, which included a quicker release on a more accurate jump shot as well as the ability to shoot off the dribble. Along with being the team's most suffocating perimeter defender and a highlight real waiting to happen with his patented chase-down blocks, Batum saw his offensive numbers spike up all across the board in 2010. His points nearly doubled from 5.4 to 10.1, he lead the team in three-point percentage at 40.9%, shot 84.3% from the foul line, and improved his field goal shooting nearly 7% from .446 to .519. He has already showing signs of becoming the next great small forward in this league, but what is most vital to achieving that goal this summer?
  1. Gain Weight
  2. Along with being the team's top wing defender, Batum is also the most versatile. Outside of guarding centers, he has proven to be capable of guarding an array of players, from the extensive 7'0" Dirk Nowitzki to the accelerated 6'0" Chris Paul. Although the spectrum of players he's able to shut down on a nightly basis is immense, there is one prototype which gives Batum fits, the strong, bulkier small forwards of the league. Guys such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony use their size and brute strength to over match Batum's 6'8", 210 lb. frame.
    Batum's God-given wingspan of 88 inches, normally used to disrupt and suffocate his prey, is taken out of the equation when trying to guard players of over 230 lbs., because of their ability to do all of their damage down low on the blocks and muscle their way to the hoop and/or the foul line. A player everyone compares Batum's potential to, Scottie Pippen, had the same physical attributes as Nico (6'8" tall, 87 inch wingspan), except he played around 225 lbs. To allow these comparisons to come to fruition, Mr. Batum should become friends with the weight room this summer as soon as his shoulder heals up 100%.
  3. Ball Handling
  4. With fellow Frenchman Tony Parker missing out of last year's action with the French national team, Nico was able to run the show as the lead guard for most of the summer, enhancing his already multifaceted game to take on the role as point-forward. Portland didn't implement too many sets with Batum handling the ball, probably due to him missing nearly five months of action and wanted to get him settled in before throwing too much his way, but the flashes of his skill level were clearly evident, especially on the break. As was the case last year, Parker will not participate this summer at the World Championships, leaving the majority of the point guard duties up to Nicolas once more. Adding another summer of full-time ball handling under his belt, primarily against great competition, could really vault Batum into the stratosphere and give Coach McMillan multiple lineup options with his newly found ability to play the point for stretches during the game.

Considering the amount of lethal scorers in the NBA at the small forward position, players of Batum's defensive caliber are at a premium and if he is able to put on muscle, it gives the Trail Blazers an answer to all of the aforementioned scorers. Not only would he be able to stymie them defensively, but if he can craft his ball handling skills, it will force them to defend him on a regular basis.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blazers Improvement '10: LaMarcus Aldridge

Standing 6'11", weighing 240 lbs, and the agility of a guard, there is not much physically the L-Train can't do. His feathery mid-range jump shot has become a staple of the Trail Blazers offense and his quickness from end line to end line has made him a lethal weapon for Portland to exploit on the fast break. Defensively, he is as versatile as they come from the power forward position, strong enough to defend bigger forwards down on the blocks yet agile enough to stick with nearly anybody on the perimeter. He is a big reason why Coach McMillan is a firm believer in switching on defense, because he has the skill level to hold his own out top if a switch occurs on a pick and roll. Like all players, there is always something to improve on during the offseason and here's what LMA should be doing to prepare for his All-Star campaign in 2011.
  1. Face Up Game:
  2. What separates the likes of Nowitzki, Bosh, Gasol, and Amare from the rest of the pack? They each have the ability to not only play with their back to the basket but also take their man outside, turn and face them up, and work out of the triple threat position by either shooting the jump shot, finding the open man, or dribbling hard to the hole. Now, LaMarcus is two-thirds of the way there. He has better than average court vision for a man of his size and doesn't hesitate to knock down the 15 ft. jumper, but to be the complete power forward and earn those multiple All-Star appearances, he'll need to work on his ball-handling this summer. He has the quick first step and agility to pull it off.
  3. Go-To Move:
  4. Given his already long frame at 6'11" and even longer wingspan, spanning 89 inches, coupled with the high release of his shot, he is virtually unblockable in the post. Too often though I feel he relies on the turn-around to bail him out down low. Even though it rarely gets altered, the degree of difficulty is higher than something going towards the hoop. Every great big man in the past and present has had a patented signature move they called upon when buckets were needed. With his soft touch, I'd like to see Aldridge make his baby hook across the middle of the lane, his move he dials up when Portland needs a basket. Get deep position, take a couple of dribbles, turn and fake one way, go back the other way, and finally put the ball in the air. He's a career 48.9% shooter so making it on a regular basis, shouldn't be a problem for LA.
By adding these two moves to his offensive arsenal, Aldridge now becomes impossible to defend and catapults him into elite power forward territory. With a few icons of the post now on the downside of their primes [Duncan, Garnett] as well as a few hitting or eclipsing the age of 30 [Gasol, Nowitzki], the time to take the torch from the others is now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HolyBackBoard Draft Look Ahead: Version 4.0

Now that the draft entrants are set after the May 8th withdrawal deadline has come and gone and Portland's picks are set in stone after tie-breakers were held, it is time to update the top 5 prospects the Trail Blazers should realistically be targeting. For the second straight season, Portland reached the 50 win plateau as well as being bounced from the first round of the playoffs, this time at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. As the season headed down the stretch, it became clear this squad had a few glaring needs, such as another scorer off the bench, preferably a 3-point assassin or a big, bruising power forward to relieve Aldridge. The combination of losing three separate tie-breakers for draft positioning and a late-season surge, presumably in large part to the acquisition of Camby, took the Trail Blazers further away from the lottery than I expected, forcing a huge overhaul in the entrees the team should be eying. The Trail Blazers own the 22nd and 44th picks in the 2010 NBA Draft.
  1. C-Hassan Whiteside: Marshall

  2. For the next two seasons, at least, Portland is set at center, but that all rests on the shoulders of 36 year old Marcus Camby. Seeing both Oden and Przybilla go down with knee injuries this past season has made another center, for insurance purposes, a top priority. Hassan Whiteside is a Freshman eligibility wise, but due to being born in '89, he's two years older than the average Frosh. Everything physically a team would look for in a center, Whiteside attributes: height (7 ft. tall), length (7-6 wingspan), agility. Compared to our own Camby, Whiteside is an elite level shot blocker, averaging 5.4 blocks in only 26 minutes of action to go along with 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds. Why then is nation's leader in blocks mocked to go late-lottery at best? Questions of a poor work ethic combined with a lack of a true offensive game, make him one of the rawest prospects in the draft. Normally in the past Portland would stay away from those red flags, but we have the culture in place to instill a strong work ethic upon him and bring him along slowly as he sits until Camby is ready to ride off into the sunset.

  3. PF-Ekpe Udoh:Baylor

  4. One of the players who improved their stock most in the NCAA Tournament was Baylor's power forward Ekpe Udoh. Although Udoh doesn't display a great offensive game, he wouldn't need to be the savior for the Trail Blazers, who are just looking for a backup 4 to spell LaMarcus. Even without a true offensive move, he still put up 13.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and a fifth best 3.7 blocks per game. What he lacks in traditional post-moves, he makes it up with a lightning quick first step for a person of his size (as seen by the video below), which aids him in getting to all the loose balls, and at 6-10, he loves to shot block and can do so with either hand. Udoh is the perfect fit for what the Blazers are looking for in a bench player and as shown by his progression from his two years at Michigan to where he is at now, not only does there seem to be more potential in his game but a strong work ethic is engraved in him as well.

  5. C-Larry Sanders:Virginia Commonwealth

  6. Yet another long, lanky big man makes the list, this time it's VCU's Larry Sanders. Relatively new to the game, Sanders has only been hooping for five years and accompanied by his 7-7 wingspan, it has allowed for him to become one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Anytime a 6-10 big man has abnormally long arms, is still relatively raw in a basketball sense, and already has an instinct for blocking shots, has to be looked at with great consideration come draft time. Over the course of his Junior year, Sanders lead the 27-9 Rams in scoring, rebounding, and blocks with averages of 14.4, 9.1 and 2.6 respectively. Compared to a former Trail Blazer, Theo Ratliff, Sanders would most likely be a one-trick pony in the league, but with their starting unit set for the foreseeable future, the Blazers need to find players who can carve out a niche for themselves. Just like with Whiteside, there would be no rush in putting Sanders on the floor right away. Working on his game on a daily basis with Bill Bayno could do wonders for Larry and the Blazers could reap those rewards down the line when a center position opens up.

  7. SG-Dominique Jones:South Florida

  8. The most glaring weakness on the Trail Blazers roster is a pure scorer off the bench, something missed since Outlaw was injured, then traded. Players such as Outlaw, Crawford, Terry, and J.R. Smith all have the ability to change the complexion of a game in a split-second with their firepower off the pine. A player in Portland's draft range who could fill that void, could be South Florida's Dominique Jones. As a 6-4 shooting guard, Jones is likened to Detroit's Rodney Stuckey, with his skill set allowing him to bring the ball up the court and look for the open teammate or go into all-out attack mode. Averages of 21.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 3.6apg were impressive enough to garner 1st Team All-Big East honors in arguably the toughest conference in America. Similar to Bayless in the sense he not only plays with the same chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, but Dominique works hard in practice, busts his butt defensively, and is relentless in getting to the line, shown by his 8.5 free throw attempts per game.

  9. SG-Avery Bradley:Texas

  10. Bradley's one and only year at Texas didn't turn out exactly how he would have liked as seen by his averages 11.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 2.1 apg, his team going from #1 to unranked, and ultimately bounced out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But there is no mistaking his talent. At 6-2, he is strictly an off-guard, not possessing enough point guard skills to run the show, but think along the lines of Eric Gordon/Monta Ellis, players who can fill it up quickly off the dribble as well as spotting up. Like our own Jerryd Bayless, his athleticism allows him to finish at the rim ferociously. Unlike those two previously mentioned, Bradley is a suffocating defender, even being singled out as the top perimeter defender in the draft. Looking at small guards doesn't mean Portland should look to replace Bayless, rather these players in particular, would compliment Bayless on both ends of the court. Defensively, either Bradley or Jones would pair with Jerryd to trap, fluster, and agitate opposing guards and on offense their shooting ability would spread the floor and allow Jerryd to operate a bit more freely.

2nd Round Steals
  1. PG-Jerome Randle:California
  2. SF-Da'Sean Butler:West Virginia
  3. PF-Jarvis Vanardo:Mississippi State

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2010 Offseason: Playing With House Money

Although everything turned out for the best in the end, no Trail Blazers fan will ever forget the rocky, unsettling start to the 2009 summer. Portland had around $9 million in salary cap money to throw at numerous free agents as well as having the extensions of both cornerstone players to hammer out, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. The pressure was on. Cap space isn't like many things in life, it can't be carried over or reused, either you use it or you lose it. Maybe more vital to the team's success in the 2010 season was locking up both Roy and Aldridge long-term, preventing a season of uncertainty as either could have been a restricted free agent come July 1st, 2010. With all those variables in place, not even factoring in the draft, it was an offseason of sitting on pins and needles for anyone associated with the Trail Blazers worldwide and it got started off on the wrong foot.
After Portland management targeted Hedo Turkolgu as their #1 free agent, all looked well. Hedo visited the Rose City and a 5 year/$50 million deal seemed inevitable, even being announced on as a done deal. In a flurry of changes, it appeared Hedo would be heading north of the border to play for the Raptors, his wife choosing the Turkish culture of Toronto over Portland. A lot of people were divided on Turk from the beginning but swinging and missing on your top choice was not a good omen and voices of Portland not being an attractive free agent destination began to creep back in. A week or two passed and the Blazers pounced on Paul Millsap, the only problem is their money was tied up for a week as Utah had the allotted time frame to match the offer due to Paul's restricted status. After much deliberation, Utah matched, stating they would not be bullied by any "toxic" offer. Even though Millsap would have been a huge addition, it did force Utah to ultimately give away Ronnie Brewer and Eric Maynor in order to stay under the luxury tax; a direct correlation from the offer sheet Portland gave Millsap. Finally, KP snagged Andre Miller to a reasonable 3 year/$21 million deal in July, proving you don't always have to be the first option to be the best option.
If the free agency fiasco wasn't enough trauma to endure during the summer months, the prospect of not having either star extended was looming on the horizon. Signing Roy to a 5 yr/Maximum extension was a no-brainer, right? To many fans and media members, it should have been done in a day or two and then quickly move on to Aldridge. A holdup over an early termination player option after the 4th year was causing all the hoopla. Radio interviews by Roy, sounding unsure of his future in Portland, left a lot to be desired in the hearts of BlazerManiacs. Could the unthinkable happen? Could Brandon Roy be unhappy in Portland and eventually leave the franchise he recently saved? After holding their collective breaths for two months, the entire city exhaled on August 6th, when the extension was signed. Roy was supposed to be the easy one though. It was Aldridge's contract everyone was worried about. Andre Bargnani had just received a 5 year/$50 million extension and surely LA is a much better player, so what does that say about his market value? To no one's surprise, talks stalled and it was assumed a deal just couldn't be reached. Fans were chanting "Cut the check" during Fan Fest as well as early pre-season games. Everybody was restless. But just 10 days before the Halloween deadline, a 5 year/$65 million agreement was reached, momentarily putting Blazer fans at ease, that is, before the news breaking of Batum missing half the season and the rest, as they say, was history.
Why am I bringing up the past? Only to remind all of you about the roller coaster that was the '09 summer. This year, take a more relaxing approach to the draft, free agency, and don't worry about contract extensions. Portland has already handled the big business, inking Marcus Camby to a 2 yr/$21 million extension, keeping him in the Rose City to finish out his career. Anything else added to Camby's re-signing is cherry on top of the sundae. Coming off a 50 win season and first round exit, normally urgency would be high after another early bounce out of the playoffs, but the Blazers had integral championship puzzle pieces injured, either for the season or physically being well below 100%. Injuries are something no one should dwell on, because they are out of everyone's hands. With that said, all the Trail Blazers need to do this summer is get healthy and address the need of another bench player, whether it be a long-range assassin or a punishing, rebounding machine. In his arsenal, Kevin Pritchard obtains the 22nd and 44th picks in the 2010 Draft, along with the ability to have owner Paul Allen purchase another pick if deemed necessary, as well as the 5.8 mid-level free agent exception. We have minimal needs and one of the best management teams in the biz. Enjoy this ride.

Monday, May 3, 2010

2010 Offseason: Addressing Team Needs

Now that we have seen Portland go one and done in the playoffs for the second straight season, some team needs still need to be addressed. The biggest difference between this year and last has to do with the plethora of veteran leadership provided by Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, and Juwan Howard, which allowed Portland to withstand the array of injuries as best as possible by winning 50 games again, and reaching the playoffs in the hotly contested Western Conference. Out of necessity, the trade which brought in Marcus Camby turned a couple of strengths into liabilities at times down the stretch of the 2010 season. Blake and Outlaw provided a solid, sturdy second unit for the Trail Blazers, as well as long-range accuracy, but those strong suits of the team had to be left by the wayside as Portland had bigger holes to fill, such as providing Aldridge and Howard with some help up front. No one questioned the trade for Camby then, nor do they now, but the voids left by Blake's steadiness and Outlaw's gunner mentality still have yet to be filled.
Here are a list of needs Pritchard and Co. can target this summer to help take Portland to the next step.
  • Bench Scorer:
  • What do all elite teams have in common? Either a cohesive bench unit or a 6th man who can come in and heat up in an instant. Detroit in the 80's had Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson, Toni Kukoc for the Bulls in the mid-90's, and more recently, Manu Ginobili of the Spurs earlier this decade. Although he wasn't at any of the aforementioned player levels, Travis didn't need any time to heat up and was good for about 13 points a night and could be counted on to make shots in the clutch. Jerryd Bayless showed signs of becoming a dynamic scorer off the bench, but a couple factors negate this thought. First, he needs more than just a few minutes to heat up. He is a rhythm player who needs minutes in bunches to get into the flow of the game. Also, I'm not sure we want our point guard being the one doing all the scoring and I don't think that's what the coaching staff is grooming him to be. Bayless' future is definitely with this team, but I'd like to see us acquire a wing player to play alongside Jerryd and Martell on the second unit. While Jerryd is trying to make a name for himself as a distributor, Webster is doing so as a defensive stopper. A three guard bench unit of Bayless, Webster, and [insert scorer here] seems to fill all roles to a tee and could catapult us into elite status.
  • 3-Point Specialist:
  • Again, with Blake and Outlaw gone, our long-range accuracy went as well. In 2009, Portland shot 38.4% from beyond the arc but saw it plummet down to 35.5%. The discrepancies in shooting percentage could be just another fallout from the injuries as guys such as Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw (pre-trade) were either hurt for prolonged periods of time, in Outlaw's case or just constantly dinged up as was the case for Fernandez, but Coach McMillan wants to see another shooter added to the mix regardless. While Batum has turned himself into quite the marksmen from downtown, (40.9%), I still feel like once he subs out of the game or is having an off night, our long-range shooting goes out along with him. Maybe this is where Portland kills two birds with one stone, in the sense they acquire a instant offense scorer off the bench who happens to be extremely accurate from 20 ft. and beyond.
  • Bruising Backup Forward:
  • What did the all the great Blazer teams of season's past have that we don't currently attribute? A big, strong, take-no-prisoners, power forward. Although the title team had Maurice Lucas, the 90's had Buck Williams, and the millennium squad featured Briant Grant as starters, the current Trail Blazers already have their starter at the 4 spot firmly entrenched for years to come in Aldridge, who's inside/out combination is a perfect compliment to Oden. The only issue is that too many times did the starting big men check out of the game only to see the opposition clean house on the boards. It makes even more sense considering the division in which Portland participates in. The Thunder have young buck Serge Ibaka, Utah possesses one of the best backup forwards in the league in Paul Millsap, Minnesota has one of the best pure rebounders coming off their bench in Kevin Love, and Denver has Chris "Birdman" Andersen who is willing to give up his body on any given play as long as it benefits the team.
    As the team stands, when healthy, they are loaded and a force to be reckoned with. All the essentials are there for contention. Superstar? Check, Brandon Roy. Veteran leadership? Check and Check, compliments of Camby and Miller. Robin to Roy's Batman? Yes sir, LaMarcus Aldridge. Perimeter defense? Most definitely, thanks to the progression of Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster. Interior defense and rebounding? No doubt about it with Oden and Camby manning the middle. Young talent? Bayless, Cunningham, and Pendergraph would all agree. The team doesn't need much, but with their mid-level free agent exception to go along with two picks in the upcoming draft, the Trail Blazers have the resources to turn some of these weaknesses into strengths in a big hurry.

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    It's The Offseason, What To Do Now?

    The 2009-2010 Trail Blazers season has come and gone and the prospect of no Blazers basketball for six months is now looming upon us. Some may get their hoops fix by watching the rest of the NBA playoffs play out for the upcoming six weeks, but if you're like me who only has an NBA allegiance when Portland is in the mix, the rest of the playoffs just doesn't fit the bill. Chances are if you aren't a baseball, golf, or racing fan, taking part in watching professional sports will have to be put on the back burner until the leaves start to change colors in the fall. Now with nights freed up and the summer coming up just around the bend, what hobbies or activities are there to do or take part in? If you still want to keep the Trail Blazers in your mind during the off-season, here are a few suggestions. For all of the readers out there, I offer up three selections, destined to bring back memories of the glory years. Up first is The Long, Hot Winter, a narration of the 1990-91 season told through the words of Coach Rick Adleman with Dwight Jaynes. After Rip City had returned the year before with a Western Conference Championship, fans wanted more and more Trail blazers coverage. The book is a very quick and easy read, which takes you through the highs and lows of the 63 win Portland Trail Blazers. For a fan such as myself who was only 5/6 years old during that season, going back now and reading it, gives you a whole different perspective on what was actually going on. Against the World, written by Kerry Eggers and Dwight Jaynes who covered the team religiously, takes the reader into an even more in-depth look at the 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers. Due to having actual members of the media putting together this piece, instead the head coach, the coverage is much more thorough. We all have to remember that their was no internet, Facebook, Twitter, or really even cell phones back in the early 90's, so this book is the best recollection of everything that went down from Danny Ainge's contract holdup to the potential Charles Barkley to Portland trade rumors. Last but certainly not least is Clyde The Glyde and autobiography of Clyde Drexler told through the stories of Drexler himself but forwarded by Kerry Eggers. Like many 20-somethings in the Oregon region, Drexler amazed us with his high-flying athletic glides through the air and won over our hearts as the sports hero for us during our youth. A must-read for any Trail Blazers or Drexler fan, which takes you through his life as a child in Houston all the way through his retirement as a Hall of Fame and 50 Greatest Players career. If reading isn't your cup of tea or you simply want more, there is visual reminiscence of those great, engaging early-90's Trail Blazer squads. The films which depict the amazing three-year run were Return To Rip City which tours through the NBA Finals run of the 1989-90 season, Running Down A Dream focuses more on the franchise-setting 63 win regular season during the 1990-91 year, and Make It Happen is the culmination of the three-year run that shows the Trail Blazers last grasp at a title during the 1991-92 season. For me personally, the team will continue to stay in the back of my mind, but with more nights free now, I'll definitely explore more of the Portland restaurant scene and maybe check out a movie here and there. Outside of keeping up in the world of the blog-o-sphere, I would like to see what Oregon has to offer in term of hiking terrain and scenery. While in Arizona this March, I hiked two mountains and found it not only exhilarating but a sense of accomplishment when you stand high above the rest of the world, looking owt to see how far you made it. And during those rainy, June days the northwest is known for, nothing beats a good book. Now that I let all of you know what my plans are for the off-season, what are yours and do you have any suggestions for me?

    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    Trail Blazers vs Suns: Round 1, Game 6

    For the first true time this season, the Portland Trail blazers face a must-win game. Win or go home is what the stakes are set at tonight for the team against the Suns who hold a 3-2 series lead after their impressive 107-88 win during Game 5. After 5 games, the teams know each very well and they keys to victory aren't changing anytime soon. Portland needs to ugly the game up, slow down tempo, contain Phoenix fast-break points, and win the second-chance points battle. On the other hand, Phoenix wants to get Portland into a jump-shooting contest, run and gun style, and let Nash and Amare run the pick and roll to death. Whichever team is able to force their style of play upon the other will win. I haven't seen any evidence the Trail Blazers can win playing free-flowing nor is their proof the Suns can get a W not scoring less than 95 points. There's really nothing more to say. I believe Portland will come out and play like a team with their backs against the wall, feeding off of the rabid Rose Garden crowd. The emergence of Roy into the starting lineup should being stability back, allowing Bayless to thrive by becoming the spark off the bench. In a series that has seen the losing team come back and win every game, outside of Game 3, it seems the previous winner comes out a little less urgent while the loser has made the proper adjustments. Also, do not count out the fact the Trail Blazers finally got more than one day of rest in between games, which has allowed Brandon to get a little more conditioned. Portland wins the second chance battle, slows the tempo down, and even gets a little hot behind the three-point arc themselves. Behind big nights from Miller and Aldridge, along with Bayless' continued consistency off the bench, the Trail Blazers will force a Game 7 for the first time since 2003. Game 6 Preview Video Round 1, Game 6 Prediction: Portland 97 Phoenix 94 Post-Game Thoughts A season filled with adversities, which sent our emotions on a roller coaster of highs and lows, finally came to a halt Thursday night in the Rose Garden. Phoenix jumped out early behind the hot shooting of Jason Richardson, who ended up with 28 points on 10-16 shooting from the field, including 5-8 from downtown. Portland saw the deficit grow as large as 16 mid-way through the third but didn't want a blowout to be the last memory of the 2010 season for the fans. Reminiscent of his 24 point quarter two years ago against Utah, Marty caught fire in the later portions of the third and into the 4h to the tune of three three-pointers as well as being fouled on another, making two of the free throws. In total, he was 6-10 from the field for 19 points. Aiding him was none other than the reemergence of Rudy Fernandez, who bombed away, draining 5-6 from beyond the arc which brought the RG from a passive clap to a loud roar. Portland fought all the way back to tie it up at 76 apiece, but a 8-0 Suns run killed any hopes of a Game 7. "I hope it hurts right now for all of us," McMillan said. "We need to get a grasp on how this feels. Because next year at this time, we want to be moving on to the next round and competing for a championship." Give all the credit in the world to the Suns and their coaching staff. After falling asleep in Game 1, they made all the proper adjustments to take away all of our strengths. After scoring 105 in a Game 1 win, Phoenix locked in on Miller, Aldridge and really never left either one out of their cage, holding the Blazers to under 100 points the rest of the series. With a non-100% Roy, Phoenix was able to hide Nash defensively and put the bigger Hill on Miller, stifling his every move. When they weren't full court pressing Dre, they would simply play a zone whenever he was in the game, daring Miller to win the game from the outside, obviously his major weakness. Gentry also knew the Blazers were not an aggressive team in terms of cutting to the hoop, so he doubled Roy and LaMarcus at every opportunity, which ended up in Portland usually just swinging the ball around the perimeter instead of sending a slashing cutter to the middle of the open defense. On offense, whomever Roy was guarding, they engaged him, making him work on defense by running him through screen after screen. Finally, whenever Portland seemed to have a comeback in them or any wave of momentum, Phoenix always had an answer. "He[Roy] struggled to get his rhythm," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "He wasn't able to move like he normally does. (Jason) Richardson did a good job crowding him and getting into the ball. (Roy) was trying to get a rhythm, but he just couldn't get it." Even in defeat, there is something positive to take out of this series and it comes in the form of Jerryd Bayless. Although he got a little bit reckless during the game, coughing it up three times, for the first half, he was the only player trying to be aggressive and take it to the cup. What we have found out though is that with ample playing time, Jerryd is able to get more into a rhythm. Once he gets settled into the game, not only does his jump shot seem to find bottom more times than not but his court vision expands. JB's 4-12 shooting wasn't indicative of his series but he did pass out a game-high 7 assists, showing his maturation as a point guard. Maybe even more impressive is his defensive effort and intensity. He just seems to relish the big-game situation, something a team can never have enough of. Portland's future is in safe hands with Jerryd waiting in the wings, ready to take the torch from Andre in 2-3 years. The 2010 season has finally came to a close. Although Portland failed to advance past the first round since 2000, there is a lot of hope heading into the 2011 version. Camby is locked in for two more years, Andre will head into training camp as the starter, giving us more stability at the lead guard slot from the get-go, and hopefully all Trail Blazers who are dinged up can be healthy and rejuvenated come October. Nico showed he is the small forward for the next 10 years and most likely would have been on a All-Defense team had he not been injured for half of the season. Portland won 50 games despite having over 300 games missed due to injury, so it's not inconceivable 60 could be on the horizon, especially with Oden's return inevitable and the majority of the top Western players aging and out of their primes. Official Game Photos Box Score

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Brandon Roy: A True Superstar

    After being eight days removed from right knee surgery to repair a tear of the meniscus, and seeing his team lose Games 2 and 3 by a combined 50 points, Roy couldn't take it anymore. Originally, the prognosis on the surgery of a torn meniscus is about a 4-6 week recovery time, therefore, he was ruled out for the playoffs, but the number of incisions to the knee were less than usual, causing team officials to become optimistic of his return, should the team advance past the first round. Initially upon awaking from the operation, Roy said the knee felt great and didn't experience any swelling at all. Whispers of him returning for a possible Game 6 or 7 now started to linger through the media, but Game 4, just eight days after surgery? No way, no how, it wasn't happening. Roy was pushing to play in the team's home playoff games and initially accepted Coach McMillan's answer of no, but while watching the playoffs the Friday before Game 4, Roy got the playoff itch and wouldn't take no for answer this time. He pestered Coach McMillan via text message as well as Trainer Jay Jenson to let him play. No Trail Blazers' fan would have questioned Roy one bit if he decided not to play at all this post-season. The risks were high for the franchise player, especially after signing a maximum extension during the summer of 2009. This season has been difficult enough in terms of the injury bug, and the last thing we need is our leader to be out the start of the 2011 season. But Brandon is not your stereotypical athlete of the 21st century who carries a me-first persona, rather Roy, like all Trail Blazers, is humble and puts the team before himself. Only he knew how well his knee was progressing and although he's not physically 100%, if he could contribute, nothing was going to stop him from bringing home a Game 4 win for the team, city, and fan base. His performance wasn't pretty, even looking awkward at times, but it was more of his presence, than his 5 big points in the latter portion of the 4th quarter that propelled the Trail Blazers to a 96-87 win. No one felt Roy's presence on the court more than Aldridge, who was more than relieved to see the other half of the dynamic duo return. With Roy garnering all of Phoenix's attention, it was Aldridge who made them pay with a career playoff-high 31 points and 11 rebounds. 52 points on December 18th against the Suns, hitting the game winning three-pointer from 30 ft. with 0.8 seconds left to crush the Rockets, being named, for the third consecutive year All-Star and 2nd Team All-NBA, and countless other clutch game winning baskets were already part of Brandon Roy's legacy as a Portland Trail Blazer. He was already on the path to inevitably have his #7 jersey hanging from the rafters of the Rose Garden and be on the short list of candidates mentioned for greatest Trail Blazer of all-time, but what he did before Game 4 was something of legend. Being activated 15 minutes before tip-off, Roy's dressing for action created a buzz of its own throughout the arena and eventually spreading like wildfire out onto the streets leading to the Rose Garden. Then it happened, his face was shown on the big screen, back in the locker room with his teammates getting ready to run out onto the court and he didn't look like a decoy. The crowd erupted in amazement. A new hope was instilled. Portland could win this series with their hero back in action, and it wasn't only the fans who felt this way but his fellow Trail Blazers, who went on a 9-2 run while he was waiting at the scorer's table set to check in. The rest as they say, was history. Even if Portland doesn't go on to win the series against Phoenix, the team is still in good hands. The torch Clyde Drexler passed on as face of the franchise took longer than expected to get into the hands of someone worthy but better late than never. For the next four years guaranteed (player option for year #5), every person with ties to the organization can be proud to have Brandon Roy be synonymous of all things Trail blazers. Outsiders have even caught on too, as the list of most popular jersey sales was just released, placing Roy 13th on the list.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Trail Blazers @ Suns: Round 1, Game 5

    A best of seven series now turns into the best of three as the two teams are all knotted up at two games apiece after Roy's Willis Reed/Kevin Duckworth incredible return to action propelled the Trail Blazers to a 96-87 Game 4 victory. After stunning the Suns in Game 1, Phoenix threw the first wrench into the equation by putting Grant Hill on Andre Miller and having him pick up Dre a full 94 feet at every possible chance. It wasn't until Game 4 that Portland was able to make an adjustment of their own, which was to trap and double Nash as much as possible. It worked as he had just 15 points, 8 assists, and a game-high 6 turnovers. Does Phoenix have an answer for the suffocating defense on Nash or on Roy's reemergence back onto the court or does Portland have another trick up their sleeve for the Suns? Nothing is more important to the Trail Blazers tonight than getting off to a good start. In their two losses, it was evident early it was going to take a miracle for them to pull out a win. When they won Games 1 and 4, it was a one point game either way. The addition of Bayless to the starting lineup should solve this issue as he is another ball handler out on the court who can get to the rim and create for others and actually take advantage of Steve Nash defending him, unlike Rudy who plays most of his game outside on the perimeter, allowing for the defensive strategy of the Suns to suffocate Miller with Hill. What I like about Brandon coming off of the bench for the time being is that its a win-win situation. If we get off to a sluggish start, a much more reliable Roy will be there to help bail us out instead of seeing their lead increase or if we hold a lead once he comes in, the chances of us extending the lead go up with our All-Star checking into the game. If the Blazers can keep it at least within four points after the first period, then they should feel good about themselves weathering the opening storm. Assists and fast-break points will be the deciding factors in whomever wins tonight's Game 5. The potent suns offensive attack is based upon these two key statistical categories, essentially acting as the fuel for their high-octane offense. Although you always want to stop a team from getting easy baskets, the importance is greater against a team of Phoenix's caliber. If their shooters see the ball go in, it raises their confidence and puts them in a rhythm Portland doesn't want to see them in; games 2 and 3 were enough for everyone's liking. There's no secret the Blazers won their two games by holding the Suns to a combined eight fast-break points. They must force Phoenix into playing their slow, grind-it-out tempo and attack them at every opportunity. Getting to the foul line should be priority #1, because not only does it negate the run game but helps the 3rd leading free throw shooting team get easy points of their own. Finally, win the assist battle. Phoenix is nothing without Nash driving and dishing to his teammates for open looks. Outside of Amare, no Suns player can get his own shot off via isolation. I would continue to throw multiple defenders at Nash and make someone else beat us. On the flip side, by racking up more dimes than the opposition, it means the Blazers are playing good, team basketball and making Phoenix work on the defensive end of the floor, taking away some of their energy on offense. Win these two categories and you win the game Portland. Trail Blazer shooters be ready, because Brandon's back and he's going to find you. We all saw how many times he found Aldridge open for his patent 18 foot jump shot simply by drawing multiple defenders to him. Although he still isn't 100%, the Roy dynamic is yet another wrinkle in this series and if Roy continues to find open men off of dribble penetration, we must knock them down, otherwise our offense is going to burn out. If such a scenario occurs, they'll simply take Roy out of the game if Bayless, Batum, Webster, and LaMarcus don't make Phoenix pay. By hitting a few from the outside, not only will it spring Roy loose a bit but the paint begins to thin out as the Suns defenders can no longer pack it in tight and sag off the shooters. If Portland can shoot around 46-48% from the floor tonight, they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves up 3-2 heading back home to the Rose City. If Portland is able to win this series, it must be done tonight. I don't think you want to take your chances winning a Game 7 on the road as the odds are stacked too high against you. Unfortunately, Portland isn't going to be heading home to the Rose City holding a 3-2 series lead. I believe Phoenix will make an adjustment to Roy being back in the lineup and our trapping of Nash. They just have so many weapons on offense that one is bound and determined to get hot. Also, with the series being so chippy, look for one of our key players on defense (Batum, Camby, or Aldridge) getting into foul trouble and Phoenix exploiting it. I'd love to be proven wrong, especially considering this is my birthday, but Phoenix is the 3 seed for a reason and will protect home court tonight behind a monster performance from STAT. Round 1, Game 5 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Suns 101 Post-Game Thoughts Apparently getting off to a hot start wasn't as important as many thought it would be during Game 5. The Trail Blazers came out blistering, taking a 9-0 lead and eventually seeing it grow as large as 14 at 23-9 mid-way through the 1st quarter. Then the wheels fell off completely. Marcus Camby picked up his 2nd foul, Brandon Roy had three fouls in a heartbeat and Phoenix went to their bench and boy did they ever produce. Behind their 55 bench points, Phoenix was able to wipe away the 14 point deficit and trail only by 1 after the 1st and take a commanding 57-47 lead at the half. Portland found themselves down only 7 late in the 3rd, but a lack of defensive rebounding killed any hopes of a Blazer rally as Phoenix rode the wave of momentum to a 84-66 3rd quarter lead. The Trail Blazers once again fell into the Suns trap of a high-tempo game and got burnt by allowing 17 fast-break points, getting out-rebounded 41-29,and got to the foul line 8 less times (32-24). With all of that happening a result of 108-87 isn't surprising. "We fell into their tempo," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. On a positive note, Jerryd Bayless continues to make a case for more playing time in the 2011 season as he had another excellent outing. He tallied 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3PT), handed out 4 dimes, grabbed 4 rebounds, and committed only 1 turnover in 37 minutes of action. One play in particular which showed the maturation of Bayless into a true point guard occurred in the 1st half when he took his man off the dribble and proceeded into the lane. Normally, he would try to force contact and get to the line, but he saw a big come over to deny his access to the basket and dumped it off to Howard for an easy two. These are the types of plays that will only gain Bayless more court time which he has so desperately desired since arriving in the Rose City. We all know he can score and get to the paint but being able to create for others, not just himself, out of the penetration will take his game to a whole other level. People will point out the refs were biased during this match as PHX had shot 20+ more free throws than Portland at one point during the course of the game, but even if some of the calls were questionable, they were the aggressors. I've said this time and time again, the officials reward teams who are more assertive and give them the benefit of the doubt more times than not. The Suns simply wanted this game more. I don't know how many times I saw multiple black jerseys underneath the hoop waiting for the rebound to fall into their laps only to see one, lone white jersey come out of nowhere and take it from them and lay it up and in. We punched them in the mouth from the get-go and its as if we didn't expect them to fight back and once they did, we folded. If the Blazers do indeed wind up losing this series, they can go back to Games 3 and 5 and kick themselves. Its not often a road team obtains the home court advantage and we gave it up without much of a fight in Game 3, once again failing to secure rebounds and give up cheap buckets in the paint. Also, when you have the momentum heading into a road game after the emotional Game 4 win and come out with both guns blazing, you simply can't let your opponent back into the game so quickly. We all knew the 14 point lead wouldn't last the entire night, but to see it evaporate within minutes was a red flag in my book. We had the Suns by the throat but the lack of killer instinct haunts us once again. Portland now finds themselves behind the 8-ball, needing to win twice against a Suns team which hasn't lost consecutive games in nearly 3 months. Phoenix wants this series over as soon as possible, so the Blazers can't expect to win Game 6 just because its at the rowdy Rose Garden. Official Game Photos Box Score