October 22, 2010
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Portland Trail Blazers
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Trail Blazers

They're behind the 8 ball to start the season without centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge at the big positions isn't bad, but is Camby playing starter's minutes? Camby has been limited during the preseason, and now Jeff Pendergraph, who was their best option to back up Camby, is out with a season-ending knee injury. They're going to realize Przybilla's value in his absence.

How long do they stick with Oden? At least he's relatively cheap while on his rookie contract, but how do they decide to re-sign him unless they can trust he's going to stay healthy? He had decent stats when he played last year. I would think now that they have a turnover in their front office, Oden is sort of like the problem created by the previous administration -- which means they've already scaped that goat, to quote an old Moses Maloneism. I don't think anybody can tell you how good Oden is or how good he's going to be.

Before he got hurt, Przybilla was doing what he does defensively and around the ball, and he ultimately enabled Brandon Roy to get more shots and everybody else to get more touches because Przybilla was doing his job without demanding the ball. He'd guard the goal, rebound, run the floor, take fouls and allow his perimeter defenders to pressure the ball knowing that he was behind them to protect the rim.

Camby is a face-the-basket player on offense and very crafty at the other end. He anticipates plays, he knows the league and he's been with coaches who prepare meticulously. He came into the league as a high-energy, athletic big man, and I didn't think he would endure so long in the league at such a high level. His shot is ugly, but he makes it up to 19 feet, and he doesn't take bad shots.

I thought Aldridge was going to turn the corner last year. I thought he had more upside than Chris Bosh, but I guess read that one wrong.

Aldridge has beefed up, and I guess the hope is that he's going to be more of a back-to-the-basket guy, but his game has been more about finesse and quickness and facing up to shoot. His activity on the offensive glass with tip-ins and second-chance points has been an asset. With the extra weight, is the quickness still going to be there?

Roy is a terrific athlete and very heady player who has all of the tools. He'll make play for others and take responsibility for making the big shots. He's fantastic. Roy is always attacking but he's not that flashy. He's one of those guys who relies on contact with the defender, which means he has to have a live or unused dribble within his shooting range so the defender has to come out and guard against his shot. If he's 12 or 15 feet from the basket, he can put his shoulder on you and make his move or countermove and go by you. That brings in the second defender, and because he's unselfish, he can now turn into a playmaker.

Roy is big and strong and quick enough to defend, but I think he holds himself in too high regard offensively on that team to get himself in foul trouble and use his fouls up. Even when he's had somebody like Oden or Przybilla guarding the basket, you don't necessarily see Roy out there pressuring the ball.

I don't view Roy as being capable of leading a championship team -- at least not yet. It's going to come with the experience of going deep in the playoffs, and that's something he doesn't have yet. There have always been issues with injuries in his career and in the careers of his teammates. I thought they were on the verge a couple of years ago when they got Oden, because I figured he was going to be OK -- not like Shaquille O'Neal and carrying the team right away, but I thought he'd make the difference for them.

It's interesting that they've usually played at a slow pace as a young team. They would take easy baskets if they could get them, but those easy baskets come from getting stops and deflections, and they haven't been the type of team to put the pressure on you defensively and turn the ball around quickly at the other end.

I knew Andre Miller was going to struggle early in the season last year. He tends comes in out of shape, then he was going to fight Nate McMillan, and finally when he got comfortable, it would be Andre Miller running the team. That's how it's been everywhere hes been. He's like Mookie Blaylock a bit that way. He's going to do it his way or no way.

Miller dominates the ball and Roy gets frustrated not having it. When Miller has had a good understanding of the offense, he could play either guard spot and he could play with other people. But you have to adapt to him. He'll push the ball in transition and pass ahead, but he also wants to dictate the plays and who's getting it in the flow of the game.

He's an interesting player. He doesn't have three-point range, he has a screwed-up looking shot, and he doesn't even jump on his layups -- he'll shoot the layups quick and you're thinking he's going to go up and lay it off the glass, but he has a different timing. He's deceptive with his quickness, and he knows how to use his body to get his shot off.

They'll be asking Jerryd Bayless to play backup point guard, but he really is a shooting guard. When Bayless has the ball, Roy's not getting as many shots and nobody is making plays for him. That's why Roy handles the ball more when he's playing with Bayless.

Nicolas Batum is thin and wiry but tough and very athletic. He defends and he can make shots out to the three-point line, but his scoring for the most part comes going to the basket and in transition. He's very coachable, his desire's there and he has the ability to turn the corner as a player. I wonder if a guy like him has a better chance of realizing his potential -- as opposed to some of the American guys who feel entitled after getting drafted as teenagers -- because Batum has been a professional since 16 and he's learned to pay his dues and accept coaching.

Rudy Fernandez is a high-motor guy. He's out of place there -- they are a slow-down team and it doesn't fit with him. But then you ask whether his game is a winning type of style -- maybe he can't be successful in this league as a volume shooter.

I'm curious to see if Wesley Matthews' success as a rookie had more to do with the system in Utah or his talent as a player. He was pretty good for the Jazz last year, but it seems like Jerry Sloan will just plug someone else into his place. At the same time, Portland could benefit from someone who comes in and just plays hard.

It will also be interesting to see how much they work in their two rookies, Luke Babbitt and Elliot Williams, considering they're wing players. The real need in the first half of the season is going to be up front.


You May Like