Team Preview #16: Portland Trail Blazers
by Eric Wong AKA Roto EvilAugust 25th, 2008
LAST SEASONThe Blazers had a 13-game win streak in December and boasted a 22-13 record at one point, but finished at an even .500, which wasn't bad considering they lost their prized #1 pick before the season. If you've wondered why Portland hasn't been a haven for fantasy stars in recent years, just look at their pace factor under Nate McMillan: 87.9 in '07-08 (29th), 88.3 in '06-07 (29th), and 87.6 in '05-06 (28th). As a result, the Blazers ranked 27th in scoring, 25th in rebounds, and 23rd in FG attempts last season.
OFFSEASON MOVESKey Additions: Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Ike Diogu, Nicolas Batum
Key Losses: Jarrett Jack, James Jones, Josh McRoberts, Darius Miles
The Blazers were busy on draft day, as they traded away Jack, McRoberts, and their #13 pick (Brandon Rush) to Indiana for Ike Diogu and the rights to Jerryd Bayless. Kevin Pritchard has said that Bayless is "like Jack on steroids," so he sounds like a pretty solid replacement (for now or down the road?). In college, Diogu dominated the Pac-10 like few power forwards have done before him, but he's yet to blossom in the pros. He's still only 24 tho, so if he finds his niche and lands in the right situation (is his 3rd team the charm?), I could see him playing a productive role. Portland picked up a French forward with serious upside (Batum) later in the draft, and also received FOUR future 2nd round picks for Pritchard to play with.
At small forward, the Blazers are going to miss the sweet shooting of James Jones, who signed with Miami over the summer. Fortunately, they're bringing in one of the most talented & seasoned European players to replace him in Rudy Fernandez. They've also signed swingman Luke Jackson, which is notable simply because he played college ball at Oregon. Darius Miles hasn't played since 2006, but he recently signed a non-guaranteed contract with Boston and Portland will be watching him closely. If Miles makes the team and plays in 10 regular season games, Portland will lose the $18 million (over 2 years) in cap space that they received when they waived him due to a "career-ending" injury.
ROTATION / PLAYING TIMEI would love to watch a preseason game or two before predicting Portland's rotation, but no worries...
This team is led by Brandon Roy, the 24-year old who reps the Pacific Northwest to the fullest (born and raised in Seattle & a Washington Husky). He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a partial tear in the meniscus of his left knee earlier this month and is expected to be out 4-8 weeks, which sounds kind of scary at first, but Brandon sounds pretty optimistic in this recent interview. If he's good to go, he'll average 37-38 minutes per game just like last year. In that interview, they also talk about Portland's tough schedule to open up the season, which pretty much solidifies Steve Blake as the opening night starting point guard if you ask me. He averaged 29.9 mpg last season, and I'll project him to play 30-32 minutes to start out '08-09. Jerryd Bayless turned some heads in the Vegas Summer League, but after watching Rudy Fernandez play in the Olympics, there's no doubt in my mind that the Spaniard will be the first guard off the bench for Coach Nate. I'll project Rudy to get 16-20 minutes right off the bat backing up both Roy & Blake, which leaves maybe 8-10 minutes left for Bayless & Sergio Rodriguez (more experience and also a Spaniard) to fight over. We'll come back to these guys in a minute.
There's a new man in the middle for Portland, as Greg Oden is set to make his long-awaited NBA debut. I'll project 28-30 minutes for November-December, 30-32 minutes for January-February, and 32+ minutes for March-April. Backing him up is the veteran Joel Przybilla, who will see his minutes fall from 23.6 to well under 20 this season. Raef LaFrentz is their dusty secret weapon, but we can always reminisce about his last days in Denver (3 blocks & 1.5 threes per game before getting traded to Dallas!). At power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge should see 34-36 minutes of action, while Channing Frye backs him up. Diogu is the odd man out for now, but he's just one injury away from finding his role.
At small forward, Martell Webster (21 years old, 28.4 mpg) and Travis Outlaw (23 years old, 26.6 mpg) will battle it out once again. Outlaw actually played a lot more power forward last season, but thanks to Mr. Oden, there's a squeeze on minutes. Long-time readers know that I'd prefer the gazelle to start, but McMillan said they needed Outlaw's scoring punch on the 2nd unit last season. With scorers like Rudy & Bayless (and even Diogu) now coming off the bench, that point is a little less valid, which is why I think the battle will come down to defense. My prediction? Webster will start on opening night and play 26 minutes to Outlaw's 22. But when Portland endures their first long losing streak, they will turn to T. Outlaw, who will seize the opportunity and play 28+ minutes the rest of the way.
DON'T SLEEP ON: Rudy FernandezIf you're still sleeping on Rodolfo Fernandez, please click here. As you can see, the guy isn't afraid to attack the rim and he can score from pretty much anywhere on the floor. He has a weird quick release and likes to shoot off-balance, but just check the stats if you don't think his style is effective. In Spain's top ACB League, Fernandez played in 30 games last season and put up the following line:
21.2 points, 4.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 3.0 threes, 49.2% FG, 41.1% 3P, 91.4% FTThose are some very impressive numbers, especially when you consider that he did it in just 28 minutes of action. In the Gold medal game against Kobe & company, things were no different, as Rudy dropped in 22 points on just 13 field goal attempts in only 18 minutes! He also made some sweet passes, handled the rock well, and looked great moving around without the ball. DraftExpress gives Fernandez a Best-case comparison to Kevin Martin (I remember DX raving about Kev-Mart's offensive skills well before he was drafted by the Kings), and I think that comparison is SPOT ON. Rudy might not get huge minutes to start the season, but at some point during crunch time, he, Roy, and Outlaw are going to play together and something will click into place. Along with Aldridge & Oden, I imagine that being Portland's best lineup, but if you wait too long to see it, Rudy might already be gone in your league. So don't sleep!
BE CAREFUL OF: Jerryd BaylessIf any "fantasy experts" are hyping up BOTH Fernandez & Bayless to start the season, I suggest you call SHENANIGANS, because there's no such thing and it's not gonna happen. Yes, the Wildcat averaged an impressive 29.8 points in 4 Summer League contests and seems to be an explosive scorer, but he stands just 6-feet-3 with shoes on and sports an average 6-3 wingspan. This means that he's supposed to be a combo guard, but in those 4 games, he dished out just 5 assists to 15 turnovers. His 1.36 assist-to-turnover ratio in college wasn't much better, so I'm definitely not sold on Jerryd's point guard skills.
Which means that he's currently just an undersized shooting guard. And the last time a 20-year old (Bayless was still 19 a week ago) undersized shooting guard had fantasy value as a rookie was ??? Blake isn't very flashy, but he's a dependable veteran PG who's going to get his minutes. And Rudy & Roy make for an extremely versatile backcourt duo, so unless Roy's knee gets worse and he has to miss some games, I think you can safely ignore any "Jerryd Bayless = sleeper" talk.
ROUND BY ROUND TARGETS(Where you should draft these guys in an 8-cat Roto league with 12 teams and 14 man rosters)
Roy: 5th - 6th
Click here to vote on what Oden's fantasy ranking will be at the end of the season