Blazers Underway!

The Blazers season is underway, complete with a few new guys who just might make a difference, and an injury list that still includes a first overall draft pick. Before I get started, though, I’d like to point out that Basketball Prospectus, a statistically inclined website, published a book that you can purchase on their website. I don’t want to give away too much, but BP has a great projection for Portland. This is the single most intensive statistical study on the NBA I have seen, yet it is still easily readable. It includes player and team predictions, in addition to fantasy rankings. I suggest you read it.
Stats are not plentiful yet this season, but here’s what my eye has picked up, in no particular order:
I hear complaints that Brandon Roy looks lazy and disinterested. However, I think that would be confusing him with someone he’s not. He is not as active in the offense as a Kobe Bryant or a Dwayne Wade (pre-Lebron), but that doesn’t mean he’s going through the motions. On opening night, he scored 22 points on 20 shots from the floor (2 more came from free throws). He dished out 6 assists while turning the ball over just twice. Roy is all about efficiency, and that’s what we saw again Tuesday night.
Wesley Matthews continues to impress me. My immediate reaction to the two games I’ve seen is that he has “court sense.” In 30 minutes against the Suns, he didn’t turn the ball over once. Side note: you may notice a theme in my basketball analysis. Turnovers are the worst thing a player can do. Possessions are critical, and team that limit turnovers have a great chance to win a lot of games. Bayless = turnover/bad shot waiting to happen. Matthews = God (relatively).
I saw Armon Johnson play for the first time opening night, and I like this kid. He “used” nine possessions shooting, assisting, and turning it over. Just one of those possessions was a turnover, three ended in assists, and three ended in made field goals. Not bad.
Lamarcus Aldridge had to be the most frustrating player to watch against the Suns. He doesn’t appear to have improved at all, though I will hold all severe criticism for another couple weeks. Phoenix double teamed him as they did in last year’s playoff series, and again he showed no ability to pass out of the double or score quickly before it arrived. It would help if he made one shot from outside the key, as his biggest strength is being able to pull bigger defenders out of the key and stretch the floor. 6 points on 9 shots with 2 turnovers is not going to cut it.
I have always like Rudy Fernandez. He limits turnover (I told you it was a theme) and hits the three. In addition he has good court vision. His one-armed pass to Matthews in the corner for three the other night displayed his ability to combine style—or “thuprice,” if you will—and good passing. In general, he plays with his head up (offensively, at least). It’s really too bad he’s not happy here, because I think he could be a valuable piece to this team.
Marcus Camby is probably my favorite Blazer, and though I cringe when he shoots, he did go 6/11 from the floor Tuesday night. He is rare in that he is a shot-blocker that still plays defense fundamentally well. His timing is impeccable, and I rarely see him out of position. A lot of shot-blockers are easily faked, and crafty forwards like Al Jefferson or Tim Duncan can get them out of position and into foul trouble. Not Camby. Last season, he didn’t foul out of a single game, and only hit 5 fouls a few times. Awareness is the key to his game, and fortunately that’s not something that tends to vary night-to-night. Oh, and he rebounds really well. When Camby stepped in last year, the Blazers defensive efficiency improved almost immediately by upwards of 5 points per game.
Nicolas Batum may not score like a Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis, but he has the potential to be just as valuable. Saying that he is not active in the offense isn’t completely true. He doesn’t take guys one-on-one very often, but he is active without the ball. In the Suns game he scored two or three baskets on backdoor cuts, and displayed his range from outside. His combination of length and relative quickness makes him an asset on the defensive end and on the boards in general.
Andre Miller has been Andre Miller: 41% from the floor, but with a shiny 16 assists-to-5 turnovers ratio. He’s also recorded 4 steals thus far in the first two games. He’s a crafty vet, and I feel very comfortable with him at the point.
Thus far, two big fourth quarter rallies have pushed the Blazers to 2-0. Winning on the road after being down in the 4th quarter should inspire some confidence in these kids. Considering we haven’t seen the best of Aldridge (0.85 points per FGA) or Matthews (20% three-pointers) on the offensive end, and that Oden and Przybilla are still out, I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

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