Remembering The Roster
By caseyholdahl Posted in: ArmonJohnson, BrandonRoy, ElliotWilliams, geraldwallace, GregOden, LaMarcusAldridge, LukeBabbitt, MarcusCamby, NicolasBatum, PattyMills, WesleyMatthews
It took a little longer than usual, but the 2011-12 NBA season if finally upon us. Or at least, it almost is. The ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, free agency, training camp, media day (and the day-long live video chat that goes along with it), Wells Fargo Fan Fest and two preseason games all have to be squeezed in before the start of the regular season on Christmas Day. It's a tight schedule, but it can and will be done.
Since it has been seven months since the end of the 2010-11 season, it's probably worth taking a few moments to refresh ourselves as to who comprises the Portland Trail Blazers roster.
We might as well start out with the most unknown position on the team. Of the point guards who were on the Trail Blazers' 2010-11 roster, only Armon Johnson remains, and he played just 277 minutes in 38 games. So 2011-12 is basically a reset at the point.
Raymond Felton, acquired on draft night from Denver, comes into camp as the all-but-guaranteed starter at the point. There's an outside chance that Nolan Smith, who Portland selected with the 21st pick in the 2011 draft, comes in and wins the spot, but that seems like an incredible long shot, even for a player who is widely regarded as "NBA ready." Armon Johnson's prospects are about the same.
The wildcard in this bunch is Patty Mills, who is currently playing in China with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. The narrative vis-a-vi players who signed in China is that they're contractually obligated to play for the duration of their contract, meaning that most can't return to the NBA before March 2012. But in Patty's case, there are rumblings that the terms of his contract might be month-to-month. If that were the case, and if Mills wanted to come back to Portland (and all signs seem to point to that) he'd probably go into the season as Felton's backup, though Smith will certainly be gunning for that spot.
There was a time not long ago when it would be unnecessary to describe Portland's situation at shooting guard as anything but "Brandon Roy and whoever is backing him up 10 minutes a night." But unfortunately, it seems as though those days are behind us. If you're reading this, you're already well aware of the issues which face Roy, specifically the absence of cartilage in his knees, so there's no reason to spend too much time wallowing in that karmic injustice.
Luckily, the Trail Blazers hedged their bets on Roy's knees by signing Wesley Matthews before the start of the 2010-11 season, a move that some questioned at the time, but is now widely regarded as one of the best signings of a ridiculous 2010 free agent class. Initial implications are that Matthews is the starter at off-guard going forward. Roy figures to get the lion's share of minutes backing him up, or playing alongside Matthews in a bigger lineup. There's also rumblings that Nicolas Batum is in line to grab some minutes at the two, due mostly to the uncertainly regarding Roy and Gerald Wallace's preference to play small forward.
While both the point and shooting guard positions are in a state of flux, Portland's situation at small forward is dialed in. Gerald Wallace, acquired at the 2011 trade deadline from Charlotte, moved back to his natural small forward position after Marcus Camby's knee injury forced Nate McMillan to play the 6-8 forward at the four. Though he's capable of playing power forward in a small lineup, Wallace's skills are best utilized on the wing, and, health permitting, he's likely to remain the starting small forward for the foreseeable future.
Batum, brimming with confidence after a successful stint with Euroleague team SLUC Nancy, is the super-sub at small forward (assuming he's not playing two-guard). Luke Babbitt, after a forgettable rookie seasons, still sits at third on the depth chart, though he could force Nate McMillan's hand if he can find the shooting touch that convinced the Trail Blazers to draft the University of Nevada-Reno product.
First, the good news. Last season, LaMarcus Aldridge established himself as one of the preeminent power forwards in the NBA and a legitimate go-to guy in the post. The bad news? After Aldridge, the cupboard is bare. There are guys, such as Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Camby and Chris Johnson, who can play spot minutes at power forward, but none are an actual solution to Portland's power forward problem.
Team president Larry Miller has already declared publicly that post players are the team's focus going into free agency, so it's very possible that Aldridge's backup for the 2011-12 season isn't currently on Portland's roster. As strange as it sounds, that's probably a good thing, assuming the team can lure the right guy.
Even without the services of Greg Oden until at least mid-January, the Trail Blazers are set up fairly well at center, at least when it comes to lanky, defensive-minded shot-blockers. Marcus Camby, who, at 37 years of age, enters his 15th and possibly final season in the NBA, is still a solid defensive presence in the post and a better-than-average rebounder. Camby has also shown an ability to throw lob passes for dunks from the high post, a nice ancillary for a team that losses one of the great lob-throwers in NBA history in Andre Miller.
Camby's backup looks to be Chris Johnson, who showed serious potential after signing a contract with the Trail Blazers late in the 2010-11 season. While somewhat limited offensively, Johnson has great shot-blocking instincts to go along with a great wingspan. He might be the thinnest 6-11 player in the league, but there aren't any bangers in the NBA anymore anyway.