Coming off of a 54-win season, things are looking great for the Portland Trailblazers.
They have one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, and have the second youngest roster as well. Last season, they made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, when they were better known as the "Jailblazers."
Everything is looking up for them, leaving many people to wonder: When will this young group of players become a major contender?
The Blazers have an All-Star and one of the most underrated clutch performers in the game in Brandon Roy, as well as a future All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. These two players are the Blazers' leading scoring threats, with Roy averaging 23 points per game last season and Aldridge averaging 18.
One thing that the Blazers have that most teams do not is the services of two legitimate centers. If you are one of those people who call Greg Oden a bust, I believe it is a big mistake. For his rookie season, he averaged nine points and seven rebounds per game, which, due to his constant foul troubles, is impressive.
Though this is not what many people expected out of a No. 1 pick in the draft, he still has lots of potential and towards the end of last season started showing signs of improvement.
Joel Przybilla is as sturdy as it gets for a player. He averaged five points, nine boards, and one block per game.
As for the backcourt, along with Roy, Portland has many good, young players. Steve Blake had the best season of his career last year, averaging 11 points, five assists, and one steal. But what really made this 29-year-old point guard special was his 43 percent three-point shooting.
After the departure of Sergio Rodriguez the Blazers have Jerryd Bayless, a second year player who has all the potential in the world. However, he has yet to find his shot thus far in the NBA.
Behind Brandon Roy is Rudy Fernandez, last season's rookie from Spain who quickly became a favorite amongst Portland fans. His 10 points a game and 40 percent three-point shooting made him a sniper from behind the arc. He is also a very good athlete, as he participated in last year's Slam Dunk Contest.
As for the last starting spot on the roster, it will probably go to the young Frenchman Nicolas Batum. The 20-year-old was probably the biggest surprise for the Blazers last year, developing into a lock down perimeter defender.
His lack of scoring is his only issue (only five points per game), but that scoring load is picked up by the Blazers sixth man Travis Outlaw. He averaged 13 points a game coming off the bench last year.
This season, the Blazers will also get back Martell Webster, who sat out all of last season with an injury. He started two years ago and will probably make an immediate impact on the team.
With this roster the Blazers are keen to improve on last season's first round exit from the playoffs at the hands of Houston Rockets. The Rockets exploited the Blazers' weaknesses, which included consistent foul trouble and lack of toughness inside.
Yao Ming muscled his way inside all series, while Aaron Brooks blew by every Blazer defender. This series showed many Blazer fans that the team still had to improve before becoming a legitimate contender.
How do they get better?
It starts with Greg Oden. If he can stay out of foul trouble, that would make a world of difference. He only averaged 21 minutes a game. If you add 10 to that, he has an easy double-double in every game. If he continues to work on his post moves, he will become more of an offensive weapon, which will open things up for Roy to drive.
Once the Blazers can spread the floor and let Oden work inside and Roy drive, they can become contenders.
But how long will this take?
Certainly, it won't happen by next year. They will have improved greatly, but not to the level of the Lakers. At this point, they have not made the necessary moves in the offseason to stay with the Western Conference's best, in San Antonio and the Lakers.
However, I do believe that in two years, if all the players continue to improve under the great coaching of Nate McMillan, they will be a threat to win the Championship.
In two years, when all the teams are getting past the peak, the Blazers will continue to rise, making them the team to beat. But much of this depends on the offensive improvement of Greg Oden and the maturing of the young players such as Batum, Fernandez, Bayless, and Outlaw.
In five years perhaps, will some people be saying, "dynasty?"
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