STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Injuries were the defining factor of the Blazers' 2009-10 campaign. Centers Greg Oden (left patellar tendon) and Joel Przybilla (right patella) missed 61 and 52 games, respectively. Small forward Nicolas Batum missed 45. Spaniard Rudy Fernandez missed 20 games, and Brandon Roy missed 17 total regular season games -- plus another three of the Blazers' six playoff games due to a meniscus tear in his right knee. To some degree this is all good news, though. Despite all the missed time, the team still managed to make the playoffs. Moreover, the team is largely unchanged, at least at the top of its depth chart, with Roy, Oden, Camby, Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge,and Andre Miller all poised to play big minutes. Fernandez, unhappy with his usage, is likely headed back to Europe, although the signing of Wesley Matthews -- who makes up with defense whatever Fernandez brought with offense -- ought to mitigate that loss.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Center will be a position to watch for the Blazers, as the team has three big men -- Camby, Oden and Przybilla -- capable of manning the position. Camby's likely to begin the season as the starter, playing about 25 minutes there per game (and 5-10 more at the four) with Oden making up the difference. Przybilla won't return until November or December, and will likely be eased back into the rotation at first, but ultimately end up with 15 or so minutes per contest. LaMarcus Aldridge will play 35-40 per night, almost exclusively at power forward, with second-year players Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph likely to take whatever minutes are left over. The Frenchman Batum will start at the three, logging 30-35 minutes per game, while Brandon Roy plays 35-40 at shooting guard. Backing up both of them will be wing Wesley Matthews, who should see 20-25 minutes per night with Rudy Fernandez unlikely to return to Portland. At the point, Andre Miller will play about 30 minutes per night, with Jerryd Bayless serving as a score-first point guard for about 15 minutes per game. Draftees Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson will serve as depth at the point. Another of the team's first-rounders, 16th pick Luke Babbitt, will serve as depth at both of the wing slots, but is unlikely to see even five minutes per game to start the season.
Marcus Camby: Camby joined the Blazers in the middle of February when it become clear that Juwan Howard wasn't the answer with Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla out. At this point, we know what to expect out of the big man: terrific rebounding and block numbers with little scoring, poor free throw shooting, and likely some missed games as well. If you don't mind taking a hit in scoring and need boards, Camby is fine to target.
Greg Oden: Oden showed real improvement on the court last season before a broken kneecap ended his year prematurely, as he averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. Unfortunately, since being taken with the No. 1 pick in 2007, Oden has missed a whopping 164 games over three seasons, and further leg injuries would hardly surprise for someone who's 7-0, 285. Oden hopes to be ready soon after the start of the 2010-11 season, but it's no guarantee, and missing out on the preseason will further delay his development. He has upside as a boom-or-bust fantasy pick.
Joel Przybilla: 'Billa became an interesting fantasy candidate last season after the severity of starting center Greg Oden's knee injury became apparent. Unfortunately, Przybilla's run at rosterability didn't last too long; he suffered a similar injury about two weeks after Oden went down. Then he injured the same knee three months later after slipping in the shower. He's set to return in November or December, but with Oden and Marcus Camby around, is unlikely to top 20 minutes per game.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge has shown flashes of big-time potential in his first four NBA seasons, but really hasn't developed into the superstar big man some expected him to be. He's a good and efficient scorer, but doesn't rebound (8.0 per game) or block shots (0.6 per game) as much as someone of his size (7-0, 235) might. He's not a player to specifically avoid on draft day, but don't figure that he has any upside, either.
Nicolas Batum: The young (he turns 22 in December) Frenchman offers a broad base of skills, including three-point shooting (40.9 percent last year on 3.6 attempts per game), steals,and blocks (0.7 per game of each while averaging only 25 minutes). Batum missed 45 games last season, most of them coming as he recovered from surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder. As for the question of playing time, Batum looks likely to get a bunch; wings Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez have all departed, leaving Batum the opportunity for 30-something minutes per game.
Luke Babbitt: Babbitt was selected 16th overall by the Timberwolves but traded to the Trail Blazers for Martell Webster on draft night. His long-term upside is good, but his short-term fantasy value is limited by a lack of available minutes in the Blazer rotation.
Cunningham played as a big man at Villanova, but, at only 6-8 and 230, was asked by Portland to demonstrate more of a face-up game in the NBA. The transition actually went pretty well. Cunningham only averaged 11.2 minutes per game, but found time in 63 contests and displayed a dependable mid-range jumper, shooting 48.0 percent on shots 16-23 feet from the hoop, compared to a league-wide average of 39.6 percent (statistics per Hoop Data). He's not in for big minutes in 2010-11, but will make his case by demonstrating continued improvement at the three.
Wesley Matthews: Matthews' 2009-10 campaign has to be considered a success -- from a financial perspective, if nothing else. He started the year as an undrafted free agent, signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Jazz, started 48 games, and then signed a five-year offer sheet, worth about $33 million, with the Trail Blazers this offseason. As with his real-life skillset, he offers no one standout tool in fantasy, either. Nor is he likely to play more than 30 minutes per game, making him waiver-wire fodder in most formats.
Jeff Pendergraph: With injuries to Portland big men Greg Oden and then, just weeks later, Joel Przybilla, Pendergraph saw quite a bit of playing time in late December and early January. After the arrival of Marcus Camby, however, Pendergraph only topped 10 minutes once -- during the last game of the season versus Golden State. With a number of better players between him and the top of the depth chart in Portland, he's unlikely to be a fantasy factor this season.
Brandon Roy: Between injuries to his shoulder, hamstring and back, Roy played in only 65 regular season games. When he did play, though, his numbers weren't substantively different than in 2008-09. What potential fantasy owners will be worried about is Roy's health. In addition to playing only 65 regular season games, he also missed three playoff games with a torn meniscus. He recovered quickly from the injury, returning eight days after surgery, but whether he plays 75 games in 2010-11 is the real question.
Andre Miller: Miller's move to Portland was far from painless, but he eventually won the team over, playing particularly well down the stretch (not coincidentally, after Steve Blake was traded to the Clippers). He'll enter this season as the unquestioned starter, and really, with very little in the way of backup, as Jerryd Bayless has shown he's more scorer than lead guard. The days of Miller leading the league in dimes are long gone -- and bear in mind, the Blazers are among the league's slowest-paced teams -- but Miller should be able to post numbers similar to last season's without too much trouble.
Jerryd Bayless: Bayless is a tweener, a la Leandro Barbosa and Ben Gordon, with a skillset better suited for shooting guard but a body that limits his ability to defend anything but opposing point guards. As such, he'll back up starter Andre Miller at the point this season, getting 15-20 minutes per game -- i.e. not enough to make himself fantasy relevant.
Rudy Fernandez: Court time is ultimately the most important element in a player's fantasy production. If a player nets exactly zero minutes per contest -- well, he has no value whatsoever. That appears to be a possible scenario for Fernandez this year, after the Spaniard requested to return to Europe, although the Blazers seem to insist on keeping him around on the second unit. The uncertainty makes him a dangerous pick.
Armon Johnson: Johnson was the 34th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, out of Nevada. He played both guard positions in college and could do the same in the NBA, although given Portland's depth, not so much this season.
Elliot Williams: Williams was the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, out of Memphis. His defensive reputation is good, but, at 6-4, he profiles as a shooting guard, and that's where Brandon Roy currently plays.
Nicolas Batum: Batum is the best sleeper not just in Portland but maybe in all the NBA. Now that Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster have departed, the Frenchman is in line for a solid 30-plus minutes per game. His contributions in points, rebounds and assists are mild, but he produces everywhere else, profiling as the sort of player who can average a block and a steal per game, with 1.5 threes and a good free throw percentage.
LaMarcus Aldridge: The five-year, $65 million contract that Aldridge signed last October probably won't end up becoming a total albatross for the Blazers, but it's also unlikely that Aldridge is worth the money. His numbers last season were almost identical to the ones he put up in 2008-09 despite the fact that injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla opened up even more opportunities for the power forward. He's not a bad fantasy pick, necessarily, but not someone to whom you should project with any upside.