By Shannon McKeown
Last season's surprise revival in Rip City has the NBA community abuzz with hype for the Blazers entering this season. Aside from bringing back the core of a young improving team, Portland adds three first round talents - Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless. The additions of three Rookie-of-the-Year candidates make the Blazers one of the deepest teams in the NBA. With the Warriors, Clippers and Nuggets all seemingly taking a step back this offseason, expect Portland to reach the playoffs for the first time since the Jailblazers era.
The other two players slotted in the starting lineup are Steve Blake and Martell Webster. The nod as starters doesn't mean an increase in minutes for either player. With other outside shooting options, Webster will have to earn his time; unless his defense improves expect around 25 minutes per. Blake's time will hinge on Bayless' development as a point guard. Bayless appears to be a better option at shooting guard, so Blake should see the majority of time at the one.
Travis Outlaw figures to see the most minutes off the bench. He played 26 minutes per game last season and should easily be able to top that number with his pending move to small forward. Bayless and Fernandez will share the 50 minutes left by the departures of Jarrett Jack and James Jones. Channing Frye will back up Aldridge at the four and should see a slight increase from the 17 minutes per game logged last season. Backup center Joel Przybilla will give Oden ample rest while cleaning the glass for close to 20 minutes. The rest of the bench - Sergio Rodriguez, Ike Diogu and Raef LaFrentz - will see plenty of mop-up duty and numerous DNP's.
Joel Przybilla: "The Vanilla Gorilla" won't garner much fantasy attention this season as a backup center coming off a season in which he averaged 4.8 points, but Przybilla provides surprise value with his ability to clean the glass - he finished 24th in the NBA with 8.4 rebounds per game last season. Owners in a crunch for boards should look in Przybilla's direction.
Channing Frye: After being traded to the Blazers in exchange for Zach Randolph, Frye was expected to have a large role with a young team. The season didn't go according to plans and Frye struggled to find his role with the Blazers, averaging career lows of 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds. At 6-11, 248, Frye lacks prototypical size to be a banger down low, so he has worked on moving his game towards the perimeter this offseason. The presence of Oden and Aldridge on the block has Frye looking to develop into a three-point specialist. If he proves to have a stroke from downtown, Frye could have some sneaky 3-point value from a big man, but surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle will cost Frye all of training camp and the first two weeks or so of the regular season, and could hurt his chances to make that transition.
Travis Outlaw: The 2007-08 campaign was a coming-out party for Outlaw. The Blazers' sixth-man provided a spark of the bench by averaging career highs in points (13.3), rebounds (4.6) and assists (1.3). The versatile forward spent most of his time at power forward last season, but McMillan plans to slide him to the three this year. The position change means that Outlaw could eventually play his way into the starting lineup, replacing Webster. Outlaw might not repeat as the third-leading scorer on the team, but any player who is capable of averaging over one 3-pointer, steal and block per game makes for an intriguing fantasy option.
Martell Webster: The 22-year-old swing man set career highs of 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds while starting in 70 of 75 appearances last season. He has shown gradual improvement in his first three seasons and is slowly becoming a decent threat from long range, hitting 123 3-pointers at a 38.8 clip last season. Webster is still slotted in as the starter at small forward, but will have to improve his all-around play to hold on to the position. With the emergence of Outlaw and the arrivals of Fernandez and Bayless, Webster will have a hard time duplicating last year's production.
Ike Diogu: Diogu came over in the draft day deal that landed Bayless. He will provide depth to the Blazers' front-court, but the undersized power forward will have a tough time getting significant run. He's a defensive liability and will only find fantasy relevance if Portland's front-court has a rash of injuries.
Raef LaFrentz: LaFrentz will have surgery to repair a tear in his shoulder and is expected to be shelved until March at the earliest. His biggest chance at impacting the Blazers' season is as a tradeable commodity -- his $13 million contract expires after the season.
Rudy Fernandez: The Olympics were a coming-out party for Fernandez. The wiry 6-5 guard showed an explosive offensive skill-set against elite competition while playing for Spain in the 2008 Summer Games. He averaged 13.1 points while going 16-for-40 from beyond the arc. Fernandez will assume the role of a scoring punch off the bench for Portland. Defense will be troublesome for the 23-year-old, but he should provide plenty of value with points and three-pointers.
Steve Blake: Blake is the starter at point guard by default - the Blazers don't have any other options. Surrounded by scorers, Blake will be asked to create open shots for his teammates and hold his own on the defensive end of the floor. The Blazers' offense is run through Roy, so Blake's value further takes a hit as he doesn't see the assist totals expected from a point guard getting 30 minutes a night.
Jerryd Bayless: The Trailblazers may have made the steal of the draft when they acquired Bayless from the Pacers. Bayless was projected to go as high as top-five in the lottery, but he fell all the way down to the 11th overall selection. A collective thud could be heard across the NBA as general managers smacked their heads in disbelief, watching Bayless dominate the NBA Summer League. The shoot-first guard took home MVP honors in Las Vegas, averaging 29.8 points on 48.5 FG shooting. He will have to battle Fernandez and Outlaw for shots with the second unit, but is worth a late-round flier in most leagues.
Sergio Rodriguez: The third-year guard from Spain is one of only two true point guards on the Blazers roster - Blake being the other -- but with Bayless and Roy seeing minutes at point, Rodriguez will have trouble reaching the hardwood. He could see a slight increase in playing time due to the departure of Jack, but the increase would be too minimal for fantasy purposes.