Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Optimist's Blazer Preview

Being a Blazer fan right now is comparable to knowing you've won Powerball before the numbers are drawn. You know what you are going to buy, you know your life is about to be very sweet, you just have to wait a little bit. Pretty exciting.

It is totally understandable that Blazer fans are nearing frenzied levels of enthusiasm. Portland posted a surprising 41-41 record while being the youngest (or second youngest, depending on the part of the season) team in the entire NBA. This season they look to be even better, and the playoffs seem to be a possibility.

The young players from last season will likely have improved since last year. Their development alone seems likely to add a few wins over last season. LaMarcus Aldridge will be more of a force, as will All-Star Brandon Roy. Travis Outlaw is coming off of his break-out season in great shape and brimming with confidence. Martell Webster seems poised to establish consistency. Channing Frye will be more comfortable with the team. Kevin Pritchard even noted that he is excited with the progress of Steve Blake. Steve Blake!

In addition to the growth of the players from last season, the team will be joined by three very high potential players. Greg Oden is finally healthy and ready to man the low post. Even if he develops slower than expected, his size and athleticism alone will have a positive impact. Oden and Aldridge complement each other perfectly. Think of a high-low offense with Aldridge and his high-post jumper and passing ability, and Oden with his size and athleticism down low. As Jay-Z says, "something to watch, nothing to stop, unstoppable." Oden's arrival also means Joel Pryzbilla will now be coming off the bench. While perhaps not suited for a starting role, The Vanilla Gorilla is a very solid defensive center who will be one of the best backup C's in the League. To say the least, the rim will be well protected throughout the game.

The Blazers also obtained Jerryd Bayless in the draft, who promptly went out and took home summer league MVP honors. Bayless is a powerful and explosive guard. He will instantly provide additional ball handling help and solid defense using his size and speed to guard pointguards. He also has a knack for taking the ball to the rim, something the Blazers desperately need. All of these things he can do now, so imagine what his potential could be.

Additionally, the Blazers brought over Spanish stud Rudy Fernandez. In addition to establishing himself as one of the best players in Europe, the 23 year old proved he can compete with top NBA talent by taking it to Team USA in the Olympics. Sounds like a great excuse to revisit this clip:

Nice. Yet Rudy isn't all dunks, he can stroke the ball from deep as well. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, his skills fill a great need on this team.

All of this talent doesn't mean a thing without chemistry. While we won't know for sure until we see this team play together, we do know that these players seem to get along well. Perhaps more importantly, they understand that they could be a part of something very special.

Another sign that seems to bode well for the team is that the Western Conference hierarchy is not as concrete as it has been in recent years. Life in the West is still extremely tough, but long-time powers the Suns, Spurs, and Mavs are thought to not be as formidable as they once were, perhaps leaving the door open for a young upstart like Portland to join the post-season party.

The Blazers also have excellent leaders steering this franchise. It all starts at the very top with owner Paul Allen. Gone are the days of Mr. Allen running this franchise like a fantasy team. Gone are the days of putting the wrong people in charge. Credit the man for getting the right people for their respective jobs, and stepping away to give them room to succeed. He is performing his role as money man perfectly. And it really helps when your money man rolls like this.

Guiding this young team is coach Nate McMillan. With his emphasis of discipline, consistency, effort, and defense McMillan is a very good match for this young exuberant team. There is something very powerful about a coach who won't give minutes to a player unless he pulls his weight on the defensive end. McMillan was chosen to be a member of the Team USA coaching staff for a reason.

Of course, the Blazers also have a pretty decent GM in Kevin Pritchard. While some worry about whether all of this talent can mesh, I am confident that KP has proven he has the ability to adjust the personnel as needed. For example, many question whether Jerryd Bayless can distribute the ball and be Portland's pointguard of the future. If Bayless doesn't work with this team, wouldn't you think Pritchard would be more than capable of obtaining someone who is? KP helps Blazer fans sleep at night.

Last season provided a glimpse of what this team can be. This season we will see the young Trailblazers at full strength, deeper with even more talent. The organization seems to have the right people in place from top to bottom. Savor this Blazer fans, things are about to get very special.

No comments:

Blog Archive