Ball Don't Lie - NBA

As the NBA preseason marches on, Ball Don't Lie looks at all 30 teams, outlining off-season transactions, projecting win totals, spinning tracks, and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. This afternoon, the Portand Trail Blazers.

Last Season: 41-41

Key Players Added: Greg Oden with knees (rehab), Rudy Fernandez (draft), Jerryd Bayless (draft-trade combo), Nicolas Batum (draft-trade combo), Ike Diogu (trade), Luke Jackson (free agent), Shavlik Randolph (free agent), approximately 50,000 bandwagon fans

Key Players Lost: Jarrett Jack (trade, Pacers), James Jones (free agent), Darius Miles' knee (released), Josh McRoberts (trade Blazers), Da Crispy Von Wafer (free agent)

Kelly Dwyer's Endless Grey Ribbon: Please, Blazers fans. Don’t be shook by my win projection. It hardly means that Portland isn’t well on its way toward dominating the NBA for the next 11 seasons. It’s going to happen, but I don’t see the big step forward happening this year.

Why? Because your team is super-young, and played over its head last year. Hypothetically, the Blazers without Greg Oden, five years from now, could be a 60-win team as everyone hits their stride; but in 2007-08, that team should not have won 41 games. A few fewer than 41 is more like it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

And this year, even though Oden is going to be sickeningly good, they’ll probably only improve by a few wins. Last year’s team was shockingly injury-free, the team looked the same on opening night against the Spurs, in mid-winter during the 13-game winning streak, and in early spring as things were winding down. That doesn’t figure to repeat itself. People are going to miss games.

Secondly, Steve Blake came out of nowhere to have a solid year. If the history of the entire National Basketball Association is any indicator, he’ll revert to his pre-2007-08 form this season. And don’t underestimate how important it was to have a guy shooting 44 percent (!) from three-point range coming off your bench. James Jones wasn’t going to replicate that in Portland or Miami this season — healthy or not — but that’s not the point. The point is that this stuff won’t happen again, this year or next.

What will happen is that this scary-good group of young talents will all get slightly better in 2008-09, which will be enough to overcome the expected shortcomings listed above, and vault the Blazers slightly ahead in the standings. Greg Oden will shore up this team’s defense. He’ll put the opposing team in the penalty, which allows for softer guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye to get cheap freebies at the line. He’ll start a break, hopefully, if Nate McMillan would let this team run. He’ll look fabulous.

Though Blake will falter a bit, though Jerryd Bayless needs time, and though Sergio Rodriguez needs time and to start bringing an apple to class for Mr. McMillan every day, the point guard situation will get better as the year goes along. It has to, because for all its talent, it’s pretty lousy right now on both ends. Once again, this isn’t to say that (as presently constructed) this isn’t a championship-level point guard rotation right now. It’s just going to need a few years to get that way.

Which means Brandon Roy will be handling the ball quite a bit again this season, as will rookie-ish guard Rudy Fernandez. With Roy getting more and more comfortable in that role, perhaps we will see less of the "give it to Travis Outlaw in a 1-4 set and see what happens"-basketball that we saw too much of in 2007-08. Again, not to say that wasn’t effective last season, but don’t you think teams are going to catch on this year?

So no giant steps this season, but the team’s willingness to stick out its rear end and work from the post will be a refreshing watch all year, even as Oden still tries to develop that iffy jump hook. For all the comparisons, Aldridge is already better than Rasheed Wallace ever was in the post. And they traded for Ike Diogu! This team wants to back you down.

A young and exceedingly talented team that gets to work from the inside-out? That’s just not fair. The rest of the league really needs to get its licks in now, because Portland’s future is blindingly-good.

The future, though, is still a few years away. Quantum analysis!

Expected Record: 44-38


Please Stop Saying Greg Oden Looks Old; He's Still A Baby:

Real Talk, Blog Talk (aka excerpts from other blogger team previews):

A Stern Warning: "The Blazers’ biggest strength is their team unity. The team is filled with "good character guys" and they all seemingly get on like a house on fire. This ability to enjoy each other’s company is much-desired trait around the league when it comes to playing an 82 game season plus playoffs (and there will be playoffs). The cohesiveness of the team is also important when it comes to countering one of the team’s greatest weaknesses — a multitude of talented young players at every position (not a bad problem to have by any stretch of the imagination). As coach McMillan tries to shuffle minutes throughout the season, he will be relying upon the camaraderie of teammates to minimize minutes-envy amongst his troops. Team leader Brandon Roy, whilst young, has a maturity beyond his years and the respect of his teammates."

Blazer's Edge: "What's the over/under on number of games Greg Oden plays? This is the question that no one in the Portland media wants to touch with a 10 foot pole. But it needs to be asked. Personally I'd set the line at 60.5. If Greg makes it through 3/4 of the season, this team should be a lock for the playoffs, even in the tough Western Conference. On the other hand, if he's down for long stretches, the team's offense will look entirely different. What can I say? For some reason, Joel Przybilla simply doesn't rim rock or draw double teams like big GO. With the exception of his AAU days, Greg has never played 60 games in such a short period of time. He still appears out of shape in preseason games. His offensive shot is rusty. He's a question mark. But he's a 7 foot question mark that can bam it on your face. He's a question mark the team is thrilled to finally have. He's a question mark that Blazers fans can't wait to see turn into the answer to their playoff dreams."

The Rip City Project: "Despite the incredibly tough state of the Western Conference — and with some teams on the decline — the Blazers goal is clearly making the leap and making the playoffs. More importantly, that’s the immediate goal the coaching staff has instilled in the players in an effort to, we would guess, curtail the championship expectations. To pull a card out of the cliché hat, if the team is playing hard and taking the long-term journey in year-to-year steps, all is well. We were pleasantly surprised by a 13-game win streak and a 41-41 finish after everyone had to talk themselves off the top of the Rose Garden after the Oden injury, but after a year of saying 'wait till next year', next year is here and it's the playoffs or quasi-bust (as in, if we win 48-50 and don’t make the playoffs, we’d probably just tip our hats to the conference)."

'77 Blazermania:

Associated Wax: A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory

Michael Bay's Twitter Season Projection:

michael_bay: You know, I never once died of dysentery in Oregon Trail. I guess my microorganisms are like mini Bandon Roys.
about 2 hours ago from web

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