After an injury-riddled 2010 season, the Portland Trail Blazers are looking to bounce back stronger than ever. Using their first-round Playoff loss to the Dallas Mavericks as fuel, the Blazers are finally looking at a healthy roster that will send them on a lengthy run through the Playoffs next season.
However, with the addition of Raymond Felton to the rotation and the formerly injured players finally returning, there are still some questions that must be answered.
At first sight, this trade was gorgeous. Grabbing Raymond Felton from Denver for an aging Andre Miller looked like a great move for Portland. But when you sit down and think about it, there's a lot of work to be done for this acquisition to pay off.
First off, inserting Felton into the rotation is like trying to speed up pregnancy. Portland plays a very slow, grind-it-out offense, while Felton is an incredibly up-tempo guard who pushes the ball every chance he gets. The transition from Andre Miller, an old school, veteran point guard to Felton will be a long one, but it will work.
Second, Felton will need to establish chemistry with EVERY Blazer on the roster. Miller might not have been in Portland for an extended period of time, but you could see how synced he was with certain teammates. He knew when LaMarcus Aldridge wanted the ball in the post and when he wanted to spin off for an alley-oop over the defense. Once he knows when and where his teammates want the ball, he'll be golden.
Finally, Felton needs to pick and choose his shots wisely. In his time in New York he was pushing the ball in transition, as usual, but would stop at the top of the key and haul up a three-pointer. Unless you're Steve Nash, a transition three should get you benched, and shots like that are not needed in Portland.
Felton needs to assume the floor general role and run the offense by setting teammates up and knocking down the open shots he gets. He needs to improve his decision making skills, especially when he penetrates the lane—something he does with ease—and play within the flow of the offense. Once he does all of this, Portland will have found their long-term solution at the Point Guard position.
As much as LaMarcus Aldridge is my favorite player, it would be ignorant of me to fail to mention that a great amount of his success last season came off the misfortune of others. Aldridge's numbers skyrocketed in December and January when both Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy went down with knee injuries.
Now that Portland's anticipating a full, healthy roster, will Aldridge be able to have a repeat performance?
The only plausible answer is yes.
L.A. has an array of moves that he can hit any defender with to score. He's got a deadly mid range stroke, and with his back to the basket he's one of the best in the league. Aldridge is an above average rebounder at 8.8 per game—which is a great number considering he plays alongside two great rebounders in Camby and Gerald Wallace—and actually led the NBA in alley-oops converted last season.
Aldridge's numbers won't jump up, but he'll still have a monster season averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Numbers like that can't be overlooked two seasons in a row.
With so many options on offense, a big question to be answered is who Portland's number one offensive weapon is.
A balanced attack was the first idea that came to my mind. The Blazers are an incredibly deep team and spreading the offense out would give opposing teams headaches. But when you think about last year, running the offense through LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't seem like such a bad idea either.
In December and January of last season, when both B-Roy and Marcus Camby opted for arthroscopic knee surgery, Aldridge had MVP-like numbers, averaging 26.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in the absence of his fellow teammates. When the offense runs through L.A., good things happens.
However, it wouldn't be a sin for the Blazers to explore other options either. Portland's got two explosive scorers in Gerald Wallace and Wesley Matthews, and though Raymond Felton's shot selection was shaky in New York, he, too, had All Star caliber numbers. Assuming that Brandon Roy's star years have passed by, Portland's still got enough fire power to put up 100 or more points night-in and night-out.
Brandon Roy's career had such a bright future. He was, hands down, one of the top three mid range scorers in the NBA—arguably only behind Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony—and had an upside through the roof. But now that his production has been derailed by knee injury after knee injury, this upcoming season is Roy's make-or-break year.
If B-Roy can show that he can revert back to his All-Star ways—at his best, Roy was a 20, five and five kind of guy—then he can earn his way back into the starting rotation and possibly begin his transition back to greatness.
But until that day comes, Wes Matthews will be Portland's starting shooting guard. He's gone above and beyond all expectations last season and proved to be more than just a back up shooting guard for Roy. In the event that an All-Star comeback doesn't happen, Matthews will be Rip City's shooting guard for the distant future.
As deep as the Portland Trail Blazers are, they are still lacking one position, and that's an adequate back-up Power Forward to LaMarcus Aldridge. Last season, L.A. was third in the NBA in minutes played at 39.6, a number that only got higher when the Playoffs came around. In order to keep him from getting winded down the stretch, the Blazers need to find a decent free agent to give him a breather throughout the season.
The perfect back-up in my eyes in Kenyon Martin. So long as he doesn't request another $16 million contract, he'd fit right into Portland. He's extremely physical and doesn't require the ball in his hands to score. K-Mart plays with a bunch of energy and brings his veteran instinct and wisdom wherever he goes.
Kris Humphries would be another great choice. He grabs rebounds at an incredible rate, averaging 10.4 rebounds in 27 minutes per game, and would be a great addition to the Blazers next season. If Portland could go out and snag one of these players in the offseason, they would put themselves in an even greater position to take it all next season.
It's been the single thing that's plagued Portland for a great portion of the past decade: injuries. And now that Greg Oden has been rehabilitating nicely, the big question is whether or not he can stay healthy.
While he's on the court, Oden is a dominant presence in the paint. I know you're probably tired of people spitting his statistics at you, but understand that when he's healthy, he's productive. 11.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in his 21 games in the 2009-2010 season is something to be noted, don't you think?
However, another thing to be noted is his total of 82 games played throughout four seasons. His injury woes have proven to be nothing short of detrimental to the Trail Blazers' Playoff push.
Portland is already renowned around the league for their staunch defense. Imagine what it would be like with Oden in the rotation? Two defense-oriented Centers manning the inside. Points in the paint would be scarce, to say the least, and opponents without adequate outside shooting would struggle to make the game interesting.
Nobody on the Portland Trail Blazers needs to be a hero or play outside their role. If everything goes smoothly, Rip City should be in for a deep playoff ride this upcoming season.
The Blazers have a lot of talent stacked up at multiple positions.
PG: Raymond Felton, Nolan Smith, Patty Mills
SG: Wes Matthews, Brandon Roy, Jon Diebler
SF: Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Earl Barron
C: Greg Oden, Marcus Camby
Looking at their depth chart, you can see that once they fill that back up Power Forward position, they'll be an extremely lethal team in the NBA.
So long as they continue to play great defense and begin knocking down their shots from downtown (aside from Matthews, Portland shot rather poorly from downtown last season)—which sharpshooter Jon Diebler should be able to help out with—the Blazers will cause nightmares for anyone they encounter.
Rip City is destined for a championship, and the 2011-2012 season is their year.