October 22, 2008
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Portland Trail Blazers
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Blazers

It's hard to go crazy over Greg Oden coming off his knee surgery before he's played a real NBA game. He's going to be a very good player, no doubt. But a superstar? I'm just not ready to go that far yet. He has great size and hands, he's good around the basket, he can finish, he's decent at the line and he's a good paint rebounder, though he's not really good moving around to get extended rebounds. But I don't know how smart he is on the court, and I can see him getting into foul trouble.

I guess the bottom line is that he doesn't have to be a great player right now. He's playing up front with an excellent young star in LaMarcus Aldridge, who is a true power forward. Put them together and they could be unbelievable. Aldridge is a good rebounder and shot-blocker, a long athlete who runs the floor and defends, and you can tell by how far he's come already that he's going to keep getting better. The growth part of his game will be at the offensive end, and he was already scary good last year without a true center beside him. He was the guy on our scouting reports who you had to stop up front last year.

The other thing I'd say about Oden is that he's playing for a coach in Nate McMillan who will handle his growth and adjustments very well. McMillan is one of the ex-players who works hard at coaching his team and getting them prepped for each game. From what I understand, he has a lot to say about the players they get and the trades they make. It is one organization that truly includes his opinion in what they're going to do, which is the way it should be, but often it's not. If you're asking me how he compares to someone like Gregg Popovich, I would doubt that McMillan is quite as creative offensively. But in terms of getting results, communicating with players or using the strengths of his players to force the opponent into areas of weakness, in those cases McMillan is very good.

The guy I love on this team is Brandon Roy. He's a class act who truly knows how to play, and he's a good example to his teammates. But what I love most about him -- he's one of the best in the league at this -- is that you cannot take him out of the style of game he wants to play. He can play fast, and even if you try to press him, his skill level with the ball is so high that he will not let you control how he plays. For a young guy, he's got tremendous offensive poise. He's tough, he competes and you can play him at either guard position, though I think he's best at shooting guard because they should be setting him up to score more often.

Steve Blake will be a good point guard for this team because he plays within himself. He knows that athletically he's not a typical NBA point guard, so he has to do it by being creative and solid and hitting open shots, and especially by not being intimidated. Yet at the end of the play, he'll have some answers to most situations. He's a guy who doesn't need to get a ton of shots, but he will execute the pick-and-roll. That's what they need on this team. They don't need somebody who is looking to establish himself offensively all the time.

I think they hope rookie Jerryd Bayless can develop as a point guard because he's too small to be a shooting guard. But they can play him at times alongside Roy, who has the size to guard the shooting guards. They have another young point guard in Sergio Rodriguez, who has a chance to be a player. If they get rid of him, he's a guy I would keep an eye on.

They're bringing in young European swingman Rudy Fernandez. If he turns out to have the talent of a legitimate starter on a playoff team, if he winds up being that good, then this team is going to be dangerous.

They have a lot of young depth and a lot of guys who can defend as well as score. Martell Webster [who is out two months after foot surgery] and Travis Outlaw are both underappreciated wings who can guard and who are excellent in transition.

I doubt they'll be a really fast team. McMillan is used to teaching half-court defense, and offensively he looks to break before slowing it down and executing. They can run good half-court offense with Roy, and I think for the future McMillan want to establish that with this team.

As a whole, this group reminds me of the old Mavericks when they were getting started with Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. This is a legitimate playoff team that is ready to win now, and I don't know if I'd like to run into them in the playoffs. They're so scary that if they put their talent together for a few games in a row, especially on their home court, that's something the rest of us don't want to face.


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