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Team Previews: 2009 Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Shannon McKeown

Shannon McKeown

Shannon McKeown is the VP of Advertising Sales and Basketball Editor for Rotowire.com. He's a two-time FSWA finalist for Fantasy Basketball writer of the year. He also covers the Pistons and Tigers for the site.


PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
By Shannon McKeown
RotoWire Staff Writer


STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


The Blazers made the leap from lottery team to the playoffs last season as the young team blossomed under the tutelage of coach Nate McMillan. After finishing the 2007-08 season at 41-41, McMillan's talented young squad improved to a 54 wins, good for the four seed in a deep Western Conference. A big reason for the jump in the standings was the evolution of shooting guard Brandon Roy. In just his third season, Roy went from all-star to superstar seemingly overnight with his late-game heroics and improved leadership.


With Roy established as the franchise's building block, Portland has surrounded him with solid mix of veterans, promising youth and role players. The veteran group consists of Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla and the recently acquired Andre Miller. Promising young players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless represent Portland's future. Portland also has players like Nicolas Batum to help out as a defensive specialist and Travis Outlaw as one of the better scoring sixth men in the NBA. The solid foundation the Blazers have laid gives them a bright future and makes Portland a great place to find multiple players who hold value in fantasy.


PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


Due to the depth of the Blazers, McMillan will have a tough time juggling minutes at multiple positions. He won't have much trouble with his choices at shooting guard and power forward, as Roy and Aldridge are the two sure bets on the roster to eclipse 37 minutes. At point guard, Miller and Blake are expected to share duties, but the minutes won't be even. Blake is currently listed as the starter, but he's likely to see the court less than Miller, but look for Miller to play less than he was accustomed to with Philadelphia last season. He should still end up with around 32 minutes of floor time each night, while Blake sees around 20 mpg. Minutes at small forward will be split up between Martell Webster and Batum. Those two are battling for the starting job; both should see around 22 minutes regardless of who nabs the gig. Center is another position with two players vying for most of the playing time. Oden and Przybilla both started for stretches last season, but McMillan wants to integrate Oden into the starting lineup, so he should see most of the minutes. The former No. 1 overall pick will see upwards of 30 mpg if he can stay out of foul trouble, while Przybilla will hover around the 20 minute mark. Outlaw and Fernandez will lead the reserve unit and both should see 25-plus minutes per contest. Bayless should take some of the minutes made available by the trade of Sergio Rodriguez to Sacramento, but it'll be tough for him to top 15 minutes per game in his sophomore campaign. The rest of the squad will likely only see garbage time in blowouts.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center:


Greg Oden: After missing the entire 2007-08 campaign due to knee surgery, Oden struggled to stay healthy last season, missing 21 games because of knee and ankle injuries. He did manage to put together solid stats (8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg) in limited action. This summer marked the first offseason he has been able to train aggressively since turning pro. With the extra time spent training, Oden should be better prepared from a conditioning standpoint for the nightly rigors of an NBA schedule, which could help him stay on the court longer and avoid the silly fouls that often seemed to be fatigue-related last season.


Joel Przybilla: With Oden missing time, Przybilla bounced between a reserve role and the starting lineup last year. He accepted his role without any complaints and produced consistent defensive numbers (8.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg). While he won't provide help on the other end of the court (5.5 ppg), Przybilla will continue to be a solid source of rebounds and blocks despite limited time spent on the hardwood.

Forward:


LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge blossomed into a legitimate number two scorer for the Blazers last season. In just his third campaign, Aldridge averaged a career-high 18.2 points on 48.4 percent shooting from the floor. His work on the glass (7.5 rpg) is less than what's expected from a player with his height (6-11) and playing time (37 mpg), but Aldridge makes up for it with by shooting a decent percentage from the charity stripe (78.1) and picking up at least one steal and block per tilt. His pick-and-pop game works great with playmakers like Roy and Miller, so look for Aldridge's success to continue.


Travis Outlaw: Outlaw plays the role of "super-sub" for the Blazers; he averaged 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 treys as the team's sixth man last season. Portland will once again ask him to provide scoring punch off the bench, so expect a similar output from Outlaw this season.


Nicolas Batum: The 20-year-old Frenchman was a surprise starter for the Blazers last year. While he only played 18 minutes per game, Batum provided the starting unit with solid defensive play and the ability to hit an occasional three. As his scoring average would indicate (5.8 ppg), Batum doesn't figure into the offensive game plan much, but he should see more shot attempts as his long-range game improves.


Martell Webster: Webster was the expected starter at small forward last season but suffered a fractured foot while training. That injury proved to be the end of Webster's season; he managed to log only five minutes of court time before suffering a setback. His rehab has gone well since then, and Webster should be back at full strength for camp. Before his lost season, Webster was the Blazers' top three-point threat and could once again provide fantasy value as a long-range specialist if he can find a regular spot in the rotation.


Dante Cunningham: Portland selected Cunningham in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft. After averaging 18.3 points in Las Vegas this summer, he was locked up to a multi-year deal. The Blazers envision him as part of their future, but he'll likely spend most of his rookie season learning from the sidelines.


Jeff Pendergraph: The Blazers acquired Pendergraph in a draft-day swap with the Kings. At 6-9, 240, he has the size to play both forward positions. He showed promise during the Las Vegas Summer League, but a hip injury will keep him sidelined for all of training camp and the first month of the regular season. The rotation will likely be set by the time he returns, so look for him to spend most of his rookie campaign on the bench.

Guard


Brandon Roy: Roy made the leap to fantasy elite status last season. In 78 games, he posted career-highs in points (22.8), field-goal percentage (48.7) and three-pointers made (1.1). And there's room for improvement -- Roy only attempted 16.9 shots from the floor and 6.5 free throws per game, well below the likes of other superstar-caliber players. If he can shoulder more of the offensive load, Roy has a chance to be among the league leaders in scoring. He also chips in with assists (5.1), rebounds (4.7) and steals (1.1), making him one of the most well-rounded options in all of fantasy.


Andre Miller: After two-plus solid seasons in Philadelphia, Miller signed a three-year deal with Portland in the offseason. Nate McMillan has said he plans to bring Miller off the bench and start Steve Blake, but make no mistake, Miller will be running the show before long. The Blazers won't rely on Miller to provide much scoring punch, but he should still be one of the cheaper sources of assists in the league.


Rudy Fernandez: Some might think Fernandez's first NBA season was a failure after all the hype surrounding his play in the 2008 Olympics, but 10.5 points per game in limited action isn't too shabby for a rookie. He'll once again assume the role of long-range assassin off of the Blazers' bench, providing plenty of production in leagues that value three-point shooting.


Steve Blake: The 2008-09 season was a banner year for Blake. He averaged career-highs in points (11.0) and threes (2.0) while dishing out five assists per game. But those numbers were due, in part, to of a lack of depth behind him at point guard, and that'll change this year with the addition of Andre Miller. Blake will still provide plenty of value for the Blazers with his heady point guard play and underrated defense, but his minutes will be too limited to make another surprise splash in fantasy.


Jerryd Bayless: Baylesss' rookie season was rather forgettable. After entering the season with tons of hype, he managed to appear in only 53 games, constantly falling out of the rotation. It looks like Bayless will once again enter the season buried on the Blazers' depth chart; he's third in line for minutes at both guard positions and will likely need an injury to free up space. Still, he showed flashes of his lottery pedigree last season and should be monitored throughout the season.


Patrick Mills: A second-round selection in this year's draft, Mills suffered a broken foot shortly after the draft and has been sidelined since. The Blazers haven't offered Mills a contract yet, but he could be with the team once he returns to the court in late November.


Sleeper:


Martell Webster: Before suffering his foot injury last season, Webster was considered one of the Blazers' building blocks for the future. The 2007-08 season was just his third year out of high school, and Webster's game was starting to show signs of maturity. As a 21-year-old that season, he averaged 10.7 points and 1.6 treys in 28 minutes per game. With Batum doing a solid job at the three for the Blazers last season, Webster's role going into training camp is uncertain, but he could win the starting gig with a strong preseason effort and be a valuable fantasy player.

Bust:


Steve Blake: Blake is in line for a cut in playing time. The Blazers didn't sign Miller to a lucrative contract in the offseason to have him back up. Plus, Roy and Bayless are both more athletic options than Blake and can capably handle the ball on occasion. The cherry on top is the fact Blake has an expiring contract. Portland still has a little bit of cap space available after opting not to spend freely this offseason, and with other teams looking to clear contracts nowadays, Blake could be shipped to another team where he'd be viewed as nothing more than a cost-cutting measure left to rot on the end of a bench.


Article first appeared on 9/18/09

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