If you'd asked me a year ago who the best player on the Portland Trailblazers is, the answer would be simple. Brandon Roy.
If asked who the second best player was, I would have little difficulty answering that question either. LaMarcus Aldridge.
But times have changed. Brandon Roy is suffering from a harsh knee injury, and with no cartilage remaining in either of his knees, he lacks the explosiveness he once had.
With all of the injuries the Blazers have faced, plus several new additions, it's no longer so clear who Portland's most important player is. And the question must be asked, is Roy still the Blazers' best player?
Without further ado, here are the Blazer's ten most important players.
This rookie point guard may not be John Wall, but he's a more than serviceable backup floor general for the Blazers. Johnson has averaged just four points in 10 minutes per game this season, but has shown flashes of potential with his considerable speed and defensive ability.
With Andre Miller aging, Johnson may have to take on a larger role for the Blazers as time goes on, and although he's probably not the point guard of the future, every team needs a solid floor general running the second unit.
The Trailblazers undersized backup power forward is no LaMarcus Aldridge, but he is a solid defender and has displayed an improving mid-range jumper throughout the year. Although his minutes are sure to drop with the return of Joel Pryzbilla, Cunningham still has the chance to be a solid contributor off the bench.
If Cunningham can gain some more consistency on his mid ranged jumper, he has a chance to take some of the minutes of the aging Marcus Camby and become one of the league's best bench big men.
What's the first thing you notice about this picture?
Well, for me, it was the fact that Oden is wearing a suit. Not a uniform.
And that has been the story of his career.
Oden was off to a great start last season before he injured his knee, averaging 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in under 24 minutes per game. But he only played 22 games.
If Oden could somehow manage to stay healthy for a whole season, he would undoubtedly be much higher on this list. But considering that he may not even remain a Blazer past this season, I can't put him any higher than number eight.
Although Fernandez has been a bit of a headache for the Trailblazers as of late, there is no doubt that he is very important to the Trailblazers organization.
Once hailed as the next Manu Ginobili, Fernandez has trailed off a bit since his rookie year, with both his scoring and percentages dropping. Regardless, he is still performing his job as Portland's three-point marksman admirably.
Although he struggles with consistency, Fernandez is one of the league's top three-point shooters, and if he could find a system that fit his game and provided him with the minutes he craves, he would have an excellent chance of becoming a star.
Marcus Camby, the Trailblazers' starting center, reminds me a lot of Steve Nash. Nash is 36 years old and averaging 10.5 assists per game, while Camby is averaging 10.5 rebounds per game at the same age. He won't give you a lot of scoring, but Camby is an excellent rebounder, shot blocker, and passer at the center position.
Camby has developed excellent chemistry with fellow big LaMarcus Aldridge, tossing him alley-oops on a nightly basis.
With the Blazers' lack of depth at the center position, Camby is absolutely vital to the team's success as the anchor of Portland's defense.
Andre Miller is like a boulder. Durable, consistent and perpetually expressionless.
Although his league-leading streak of games played ended with a suspension after a flagrant foul on Blake Griffin, Miller is still going strong, coming off a win against the Magic in which he led the Blazers with 22 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
Although his lack of range can sometimes hurt the Blazers, Miller's distributing and ability to knock down clutch free throws more than make up for it. With Roy limited to below his usual efficiency, Miller will have to take a larger role for the Blazers in his second season in Portland. But I'm confident he'll be able to rise to the challenge.
Although he was recently replaced in the starting lineup by Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum is still contributing at a pretty solid rate as the Blazers' sixth man. Although not yet having the breakout season that was expected of him, Batum is averaging around 12 points per game and has been rebounding at a good rate, averaging 4.7 per game.
Batum's defense, athleticism and ability to stretch the floor have proved invaluable to the Blazers thus far in the season. Although now a bench player, Batum is still getting close to 30 minutes per game and has shown huge improvement since his rookie and sophomore seasons.
At times, Batum has seemed unwilling to take his shots, and his lack of assertiveness on offense may be hurting the Blazers. But once he begins looking for his shot more, he has star potential and should be a huge part of the organization in years to come.
Although his stats don't necessarily show it, LaMarcus Aldridge has been improving every year he's been with the Trailblazers. Aldridge's points per game have been stuck around 18 for the past few seasons. But the Blazers squad has also been improving and growing, and with the development of players like Roy, Matthews and Batum, Aldridge isn't always the first option on offense.
However, he may be the best option on offense at the moment.
Generally known for his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper, Aldridge has expanded his game this season and is attacking the rim much more frequently than in past seasons. Aldridge's length, athleticism and ability to shoot over defenders makes him one of the top offensive post players in the game.
Aldridge is one of few Blazers players who has been consistently healthy and has picked up the slack when his teammates have been injured.
Although he has occasionally struggled with consistency through the first 20 or so games of the season, Aldridge is still pumping out 17.5 points per game and looks much improved on the defensive end of the floor and while being doubled. He may not be an All-Star quite yet, but Aldridge is certainly on the right path.
Let me just say, I am not a Brandon Roy hater.
Far from it, I'm a huge fan. And when healthy, Roy is indisputably the most important player on the Traiblazers. But in his current depleted state, Roy is no longer contributing at his normal level, and has sometimes been forced to step back to allow Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller to be the focal points of the offense.
It is truly depressing to see such an incredible player be so hampered by injuries. Perhaps if Roy's doctors and trainers had been smarter, he would still have some cartilage in his knees. But the way it has worked out, it's looking more and more like Roy will experience a fall from stardom before his time.
Roy is still an above average player and one of the league's premier shooting guards, but has lost much of his explosiveness and athleticism and is forced to rely more and more on his jumper. For Portland's sake, I hope that Roy doesn't turn out to be the next Tracy McGrady and can return to the level of play that granted him the title of superstar.
I expect every team in the league is wondering how they missed Wesley Matthews of Marquette in the 2009 NBA Draft. That is, with the exception of the Utah Jazz, who found a diamond in the rough when they signed the un-drafted rookie who would become their starting shooting guard for the 2010 season.
Matthews finished his rookie season with the Jazz averaging an impressive 9.4 points in around 24 minutes per game, and proved himself to be a lockdown defender and versatile scorer. Despite looking like the biggest steal of the draft (oh wait, he wasn't even drafted), critics were shocked when the Blazers signed Matthews to a five-year, $34 million deal during the offseason. Surely an un-drafted, 24 year old player going into his second season couldn't be worth that much money?
But Matthews has shown that he is worth every penny.
Since becoming a starter, Matthews has averaged 21.1 points per game and shot blistering percentages from the field. Matthews has regained confidence in his shot and is hitting jumpers from all over the floor. Matthews' defense has been just as impressive as his offense. He is averaging over 1.5 steals per game in his nine games as a starter and has been given the role of not only go-to scorer but also lock down defender.
In Thursday's matchup against the Orlando Magic, Matthews led the Blazers to an impressive victory, scoring 20 points while limiting his matchup, Vince Carter, to just six points on 2-of-12 shooting.
With Roy's injury, Matthews has become the Blazers go-to player and has embraced his role as Portland's new star. If Matthews continues to play like he has thus far in the season, he will easily break into the ranks of the league's top 10 shooting guards.
If Roy can succeed in coping with his injury and return to his previous level of play, Portland will have one of the best wing combos in the league. But until then, the Blazers will continue to lean on their most important player, Wesley Matthews.