Dissecting the Blazers

    Every true sports fan can relate to the nauseating feeling that plagued Portlanders for nearly the entire NBA season last year. There is no feasible way to hide it or cover it up. The fact is that the Blazers were terrible last season and the fans were forced to struggle through the tough times in hopes that down the road everything would be much better.

    With the NBA regular season just a couple of weeks away, it is safe to say that the Blazers have indeed moved down the road. The only question that remains is whether they moved down the road entitled “better" or the one entitled “worse." Through a slew of off-season moves and acquisitions, the Blazers are praying that they possess all of the right ingredients to become a better team immediately.

    Here’s what to expect for this year’s Blazers squad:

    Point guard: There is only one survivor from last season’s logjam at this position. Talented, however, unpromising guard Sebastian Telfair was dealt to Boston on draft day, for a first-round pick. Then Mr. Ordinary, Steve Blake, was sent packing in the trade that brought Jamaal Magloire to the Rose City to shore up some much needed big bodies. So, this season second-year head coach Nate McMillan has handed the keys to the team over to fellow second-year Blazer Jarrett Jack. The former Yellow Jacket appeared in all but three games last season. However, some concern lays in the fact that he only started four of those games. There is no doubt that Jack has a promising career ahead of him, but it is alarming that a player that can count the number of his starts on one hand is supposed to orchestrate the offense of an NBA team. If any player is going to overcome the skepticism, it will be Jack. Not only is he notorious for working hard to improve, but he also has the natural ability to make the most of this situation. Backing Jack up this season is also a point of concern since the Blazers only have unproven rookie Sergio Rodriguez and dependable, but limited veteran Dan Dickau. Also, look for star rook Brandon Roy to get some time, especially early in the season so McMillan can assess his ability to run the team. The Blazers know what they have in Dickau, but rookies Rodriguez and Roy could compete for some serious playing time by season’s end.

    Position grade: C+


Shooting guard: Portland’s success at the two-guard is really going to depend on which player actually gets the nod to start. The good news is that the Blazers have several players that would do perfectly fine if given the job. The bad news is this situation is eerily similar to the point guard battle of last season because there are a couple of very gifted players, but no one player that has stepped up to solidify the position. Most appealing to fans is rookie sensation Brandon Roy, who has been given the title of savior by many around the city. Roy’s maturity has been publicized nearly as much as his composure on the court and great athleticism, making him a great addition to the Blazers for many reasons. Another young Blazer that wants a crack at the starting gig is second-year player Martell Webster. Although his numbers weren’t awe inspiring last season, Webster appears to be playing with more offensive intensity thus far in the preseason. The sure shooter collected 25 points on six of 11 shooting with three from behind the arc against the Warriors on Tuesday. The wildcard in this mix is agile veteran Juan Dixon, who started the majority of Portland’s games at shooting guard one year ago. In the role, Dixon averaged a shade over 12 points and shot over 38 percent from downtown, making him a viable option if the young studs fail to pan out. On opening night Roy will start at the two, officially beginning his campaign for his last name ROY (rookie of the year).

    Position grade: B


    Small forward: Darius Miles is defined as the starter at small forward. However, based on his attitude and toughness the last few years, others like Travis Outlaw or Martell Webster may get some extended playing time. It seems as though Miles has done it all in a Blazers jersey. He has had extremely successful nights where he was the number-one option and backed it up by playing like a scoring machine, and then he has had nights where he has thrown temper tantrums – for instance, when he changed into his street clothes at halftime against the Clippers last season. Miles is an excellent player when he has his head on straight. He is long, lengthy and athletic, which is quite the combination. But, if he can’t play up to his potential and still has behavioral issues on a regular basis, don’t be surprised to see him on a cut list very soon. Playing behind Miles is the up-and-coming Travis Outlaw. Outlaw’s athletic ability is seriously freakish, possibly in the top five in the whole league. During the off-season he worked hard to develop a better jump shot to accompany his ability to jump out of the gym, and the results have been staggering so far. With his complete game, Outlaw finally looks like a player worthy of the first-round pick Portland used in 2003. He won’t contend for the starting job, but look for Webster to earn some playing time at the three spot. Although Miles will begin the season starting at this position, Outlaw’s improved play could propel him into the starting lineup by the all-star game.

    Position grade: B-


    Power forward: Like the small forward, this position has an incumbent starter and a couple of players that are vying for the starting spot. Zach Randolph comes into the season the starter at probably the most competitive position in the Western Conference, with stars like Tim Duncan, KG and Amare Stoudemire. This is exactly why Z-Bo’s declining numbers of 18 points and eight boards a game last season won’t cut it this year. His numbers better inflate early and often, which shouldn’t be a stretch considering his improved jumper and array of post moves. After having perimeter players carry the team last year, Randolph will be counted on to score more this year since much of the offense will be run through him in the post. Contending to back up Randolph is veteran journeyman Raef LaFrentz and rookie LaMarcus Aldridge once he returns from surgery. LaFrentz isn’t a traditional power forward. He prefers shooting behind the arc and is extremely limited with his back to the basket, so most likely his biggest contribution will be snagging boards and contesting shots at the basket. Aldridge is a bit of an unknown for the Blazers. He played well during summer league, but that was against the lower echelon of the league. In college, Aldridge was known as a raw talent that had yet to develop a great offensive game, especially in the post. He has the potential, but no one knows how quickly he will pick up the NBA game. As long as Randolph can be a factor on a nightly basis he is safe to keep the starting job, but if he begins to slip up, Aldridge may steal some of his playing time.

    Position grade: C+


    Center: This is undoubtedly the best battle of any position this season, which is good for the Blazers and even better for Joel Przybilla and Jamaal Magloire, as long as they can remain civil about it. In July, Przybilla tested the waters of free agency but decided to sign a five-year $32 million deal with Portland, so he has a lot for motivation just to live up to that contract. In 56 games last season, he averaged about six points and seven boards. Portland can live with the lack of offensive production, but they will need Przybilla to grab a few more boards this season. Magloire, on the other hand, offers more offense with a touch over nine points a game last season and more rebounds at nearly 10 a game. If the determining factor were which player can score more frequently, then the nod would go to the former all-star Magloire. But the Blazers have enough players that can out the ball in the basket, which is why Przybilla will get the starting spot even though his numbers aren’t as good as the former all-star. Coach McMillan is comfortable with Przybilla on the floor but Magloire isn’t trailing far behind. This should be a position that gets exchanged all season long.

    Position grade: A-


    When November rolls around and the Blazers kick off the season in Seattle against the Sonics, management, coaches, players and fans alike will hope that enough changes have been made to avenge last year’s nightmarish season.