Many people view the Blazers as the Western Conference’s next big team. However, on the basis of Portland’s 107-96 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the roster needs more work to be mentioned in the same breath as the West’s juggernauts.
Let’s take a look at how the players performed to see what changes, if any, need to be made.
Portland's crown jewel, Roy was solid but hardly spectacular (7-18 FG, 2-6 3FG, 1 REB, 4 AST, 2 BLK, 3 TO, 20 PTS). Roy hit a number of difficult layups at the basket with Suns defenders draped all over him, but settled far too often for contested jumpers, especially when the Suns employed a 2-3 zone.
And instead of aggressively going to the hoop on his drives, at the slightest hint of a strong side perimeter defender cheating down to help, Roy would kick it out to the nearest three point shooter.
This tactic did result in four assisted Blazers jumpers, but with Portland thirsting for easy baskets and layups against Phoenix’ zone, the three point shooting was often fools gold.
Blake hit his share of three pointers (3-5 3FG), didn’t make many egregious mistakes (3 AST, 2 TO), picked up a couple of steals, had trouble defending Steve Nash’s pick and rolls (who doesn’t!), and had trouble directing Portland offense in the teeth of Phoenix’ zone.
Outlaw’s patented step back jumper to his left was on target all night, but he avoided contact at all costs and was soft in attacking the rim. Defensively, he had difficulty closing out. He often chased Phoenix’ shooters hard off the three point line, but failed to come to a proper jump stop to keep the shooters from simply blowing by Outlaw and finding themselves wide open.
Outlaw’s a talented point maker, but his aversion to physical contact, his lack of offensive tricks, and his inability to properly defend leave him best suited to filling a sixth man role off the bench.
Aldridge (7-18 FG, 2-2 FT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 BLK, 16 PTS) is another talented softy who was able to shoot over, or scoot past Amare Stoudemire’s inept defense, but couldn’t generate any effective post offense when trying to back down Stoudemire, couldn’t stop Stoudemire from getting great position near the basket, and was chumped by Stoudemire on the backboards.
Aldridge is certainly a talented player, but he doesn’t have the toughness to anchor a team from the post.
Pryzbilla was so slow, that even Shaq’s slow-developing spin moves, drop steps, and power hooks left the vowel-less one in the dust, and Pryzbillia’s complete lack of any appreciable offensive skill effectively allowed the Suns to play defense five on four.
Granted, Pryzbilla was supposed to be strictly a backup for Greg Oden, and off the bench, he’d be a valuable screen-setter, a rebounder, and a good post defender against players weaker than Shaq (i.e. everybody else), but Pryzbilla’s turtle-speed won’t get it done against upper-echelon opponents.
His on-ball defense is porous and he’s another lightweight, but Fernandez’ jump shooting, athleticism, and court awareness are the goods. Aside from having the body control to catch a pass on one side of the rim, hang, and while falling on the other side, use his off hand (his left) to finish for a layup, Fernandez was able to knock down big jumpers all game long..
It should be noted that with less than 2:30 to go in the fourth, and the Blazers down 11, Nate McMillan put Fernandez into the game, and trusted him to provide offense.
Fernandez was able to hit a three, two long jumpers, and two free throws to keep the Blazers close. Fernandez may not start games, but he’s too good a scorer to find himself on the bench at the end of games. Expect him to play a prominent role in Portland’s season.
Batum’s best attribute was ability to jump into passing lanes to pick off lazy Suns passes. He finished weakly at the rim, made multiple mistakes—including a jump pass to Shaq, and looked as lost and confused as any rookie.
Frye (2-3 FG, 4 REB, 1 STL, 6 PTS) knocked down 20 foot jumpers and did nothing else.
Rodriguez (2-2 FG, 4 AST, 0 TO, 5 PTS) flashed good handles, knocked down a three ball, and made correct decisions.
Bayless (0-1 FG, 1 REB, 1 AST) played like a rookie.
On the whole, Portland has good athleticism, but not enough muscle aside from Roy, and the lead-footed Pryzbilla. Getting Greg Oden back might help, but in his short debut against the Lakers, Oden looked painfully stiff and sluggish, and also lacks the requisite amount of strength and athleticism that elite players and teams require.
Portland’s lack of a physical post presence hurt them most against Phoenix’ zone. Unable to move the ball inside, the Blazers were overly content to swing the ball along the perimeter before hoisting up a jumper.
That lack of a back to the basket threat is the reason why Portland’s future rests on the shoulders of whether or not Greg Oden can truly become a special player.
On the other end of the court, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire overwhelmed the Blazers without meeting much resistance. Occasionally when Stoudemire would try race Aldridge in a straight line, Stoudemire would brick the ensuing shot. But whenever Amare drove, stopped, and pivoted, he would find himself with a layup or a dunk.
What else does Portland need?
- A bruising center that can command double teams and defend strong athletic players without fouling.
- A more physical backup forward than Channing Frye.
- More minutes for Sergio Rodriguez.
- Hours upon hours in the weight room for Frye, Outlaw, and especially Aldridge.
- More than anything, the baby Blazers need more experience of playing basketball at the NBA level.
With such a reliance on youngsters and imports, it’s no wonder that Portland has been overwhelmed by two of the best teams in the West, and barely hung on against an injured third. Still, the talent base is there, possibly for the Blazers to make a playoff run as early as this year. However, expect the Blazers to reach their full potential later rather than sooner.