PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
By Ben Zani
RotoWire Beat Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Here's the good news about this year's Portland Trail Blazers: the team will feature less registered felons than any Blazers squad in recent memory. Unfortunately, the team will probably also feature less wins than any team in the league, and may even be worse than last year's 21-61 debacle. The Blazers finished dead last in the league in points, scoring differential, turnovers, free-throw percentage, and rebounds, and were in the bottom portion of the league in virtually every other offensive category. They lost a staggering fifteen games by 20 or more points. To paraphrase the insufferable Stephen A. Smith, "the Portland Trail Blazers were terrible."
Not coincidentally, the team made a number of offseason moves. Efforts to trade mercurial forwards Zach Randolph and Darius Miles failed, though repeat offender Ruben Patterson was moved at last year's trading deadline. Traded away in the offseason were Sebastian Telfair, Steve Blake, Theo Ratliff, Victor Khryapa and Brian Skinner. In their stead, the Blazers acquired Jamaal Magloire, Dan Dickau, and Raef LaFrentz, as well as the draft rights to promising big man LaMarcus Aldridge. Also acquired through the draft was standout Washington guard Brandon Roy, who will be expected to contribute significant offensive numbers right away. As the dust has settled, this year's Blazers team will be more talented, albeit younger and less experienced than last year's miserable installment. At the very least, this year's Blazers are expected to get arrested much less often.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
One of the great difficulties with young teams is the distribution of playing time. A balance must be struck between remaining competitive and developing the team's young players: two forces that often run in opposition to each other. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the Blazers harbor no hopes of being competitive, meaning that their young players will earn significant minutes all season.
The Blazers' guards are the team's greatest source of talent, and backcourt playing time therefore may be in a constant state of flux throughout the season. The only certainty is that Brandon Roy will be given a significant amount of minutes in his rookie campaign, as he is really the only legitimate scoring option among all Blazers guards. Past that, expect the backcourt minutes to evolve as the season continues. Early in the season, expect Roy to play shooting guard and Jarrett Jack to play the point, and for each to receive upwards of 30 minutes per game. However, minutes must be created for talented youngster Martell Webster, and we believe that Webster will eventually take over at shooting guard by season's end, moving Roy to the point. Webster should average between 20-30 minutes per game, with the number increasing as the season continues. Other backcourt minutes will be distributed among Juan Dixon (15-20 minutes per game, less as the season goes on), Dan Dickau (15 minutes per game) and young Spanish newcomer Sergio Rodriguez (10-15 minutes per game, possibly more as the season continues).
The Blazers' frontcourt playing time distribution is less muddled, though may be shaken up by midseason trades. As it stands now, Darius Miles and Zach Randolph occupy the starting 3 and 4 spots, though the team has been trying desperately to trade both of them. If Randolph remains, expect him to play between 30-35 minutes per game. Miles is a bit trickier to gauge, as he has been slowed by December 2005 knee surgery. Expect him to split small forward minutes with Travis Outlaw. Former Boston Celtic Raef LaFrentz should earn between 15-20 minutes per game at the 4, and possibly more depending on the injury/trade status of the forwards ahead of him.
The center position is the deepest and most talented part of the team, and features three legitimate NBA talents. Joel Pryzbilla and Jamaal Magloire are in a fierce competition for the starting spot, with Pryzbilla having gained the early edge. Pryzbilla is the stronger defensive player, ranking seventh in the league last year in blocked shots. Magloire however brings an offensive presence, carrying a career average of nearly 10 points per game. Expect both players to average between 25-30 minutes unless one player emerges or suffers an injury. Rookie LaMarcus Aldridge underwent offseason shoulder surgery, and isn't expected to return until late November. Even when he does return, Aldridge should see minimal playing time as he learns the Blazers' system.
Joel Przybilla: Przybilla is a defensive specialist, and excels at his craft. His 2.3 blocks-per-game average last year was good for seventh in the league, a number that, combined with his seven rebounds per game made him one of the top defensive centers in the league. Przybilla's defensive statistics were even more impressive when his 24.9 minutes per game are taken into account, and his blocks and rebounds per 48 minutes were a staggering 4.47 and 13.5 respectively. Offensively, Przybilla is a dud, averaging barely six points per game and shooting less than 50% from the free throw line for his career. However, those looking for defensive statistics out of their center could do worse than Przybilla.
Jamaal Magloire: The Blazers acquired Magloire in the offseason for his offensive skill at the center position, something that the team sorely lacked last year. However, the team also re-signed center Joel Przybilla, and Magloire will battle with him throughout the season for playing time. Magloire's numbers will therefore suffer as a result, and those expecting an automatic double-double every night should be aware of the time share with Przybilla.
LaMarcus Aldridge: The Blazers' trade for Aldridge was made with an eye towards the future, and not the present. Offseason shoulder sugery should put the talented Texas product on the shelf until late November or December, and even when he returns from the injury, Aldridge is not expected to contribute much to the 2006-07 Blazers. With Jamaal Magloire and Joel Przybilla ahead of him on the depth chart, Aldridge should see minimal minutes in his rookie year.
Zach Randolph: One of the last "Jail Blazers," Randolph's off-court troubles finally caught up to his on-court performance in 2005-06. His averages of 18 points and eight rebounds per game represented a stark dropoff from previous years, and all of his offensive statistics have encountered a general downward trend over the last three years. While Randolph has been telling anyone who will listen that he is getting his head together, anyone who drafts him should be extremely wary of his downwardly trending performance. Given that he is signed to a max contract through 2011, don't expect Randolph to be rejuvenated by a change of scenery any time soon either.
Darius Miles: Miles is one of the more maddening enigmas in the league. Blessed with worlds of talent, he really should be putting up better numbers than he does, but injury/lack of motivation has derailed his promising career. Even worse, a lingering knee injury has not still fully healed as of 2006 training camp, and may cause Miles to miss time early in the 2006-07 season. Given that the Blazers are trying to push young forward Travis Outlaw into the starting small forward spot, combined with Miles' knee woes, we would suggest that only fantasy owners with severe masochistic tendencies draft Miles.
Travis Outlaw: Outlaw will be given every chance to succeed in 2006-07. His numbers improved across the board last season, and his April scoring average of 7.7 points-per-game were a drastic improvement on last November's 4.6 point-per-game average. Expect Outlaw to similarly improve this year, especially as he continues to take small forward minutes away from the enigmatic Darius Miles.
Raef LaFrentz: LaFrentz will serve as Zach Randolph's backup at the power forward spot, and should not therefore earn much fantasy consideration provided Randolph stays healthy.
Brandon Roy: Despite just being a rookie, Roy has been essentially handed the keys to the Blazers backcourt, and will be expected to provide a significant offensive contribution in 2006-07. His summer league and college play make it seem that Roy is completely ready for such responsibility, and it should not be surprising if Roy contributes 12-15 points-per-game right off the bat. If he shifts from shooting guard to point guard, as many expect to happen later in the season, look for Roy's assist numbers to rise as well. Roy is as solid a Rookie of the Year candidate as there is.
Jarrett Jack: Jack was the last man standing in the Blazers' offseason point guard purge, and will be counted on to run the Blazers' offense in 2006-07. His 8.2 points and 4.5 assists last year while averaging only 20 minutes per game are quite promising, but questions still exist as to whether Jack can prorate those numbers over starters' minutes. However, as a late round speculative point guard pickup, you could do worse than Jack.
Martell Webster: Webster may very well be the most talented Blazer, but he is still roughly a year away from presenting much fantasy value. Webster flourished last year with more playing time, averaging 13.7 points in 28.7 minutes per game in April, up from only nine points in nine minutes per game in November. However, the addition of Brandon Roy may derail that progress a bit, as will the fact that Webster is only 19 years old, and will still undergo plenty of growing pains this year.
Juan Dixon: Dixon averaged 12.3 points per game last year, as much as Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and better than Antoine Walker and Mike Dunleavy. It may have been Confucious who said "when Juan Dixon is averaging 12.3 points per game for your team, your team probably sucks." Dixon's scoring exploits will almost certainly not be repeated this year, especially with the departure of Maryland backcourt buddy Steve Blake, as well as the arrival of heralded rookie Brandon Roy. Barring injuries to Roy and Martell Webster, do not expect a significant contribution from Dixon.
Travis Outlaw: Given Miles' injury, as well as the fact that the team is utterly sick of his act, Outlaw may assume the starting small forward spot sooner rather than later. When he does, look for this talented youngster to post solid numbers across the board.
Juan Dixon: Dixon's 2005-06 playing time and offensive output represented a worst-case scenario for the Blazers. Brandon Roy and Martell Webster should absorb the majority of minutes that Dixon received last year, which should cause a precipitous drop in the former Maryland star's statistics.
Article first appeared on 10/16/06