Oct 11

Solid Start in SoCal

By mikebarrett
The final box score, and even the final score of the game, don't mean too much in the exhibition season.  What I watch for are signs of rhythm, confidence, flow, comfort, and organization.  So, while I usually have the final stats sitting in front of me during a blog about a particular game, I haven't even taken last night's out of my bag.  

I don't mean to imply that the win wasn't nice, because learning to win, especially for a young team, or a newly-reconstructed team, is an important part of the growth process.  But, there were more important things on this night.  

As we mentioned on many occasions during the first week of training camp, Trail Blazer practices have been very well organized and at times have sounded like a symphony of dribbling balls, squeaking shoes, and whistles.  Every move in camp, every drill, meeting, and mock scrimmage has taken place with a very specific direction in mind.  It isn't always that way. In short, Terry Stotts and his coaching staff have been impressive.

While last night's victory over the Lakers doesn't count for much, it was a chance for the Trail Blazers to face a mini-exam.  

I always remember teachers I had in school who would issue us a test on the first day of class. While that was a lot less enjoyable than an NBA preseason game, the results served the same purpose- to establish a baseline.  It told us where we stood, and what areas needed extra attention.  

This was just one of seven exhibition games, and while the win was enjoyable, other things were just as pleasing.

Yep, Kobe and Dwight Howard were sitting behind the Laker bench in expensive clothes.  No one is pretending this game was in any way a measuring stick for that team.  But, at least in some ways, it was for the Blazers.

I didn't really pay that much attention to LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, or Wesley Matthews. We know what we've got there.  Even J.J. Hickson, outside of getting very winded during a couple of stretches, is not a concern.  His effectiveness has been established.  

This was about Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, and some other guys who are trying to crack the roster and still others who are trying to make the team.  And, as mentioned above, it was interesting to see how this team is taking to this new offensive and defense system, as a whole.  

Fortunately, we got good indicators, all the way around, about all of these questions- not rock-solid answers, but good indicators.

Lillard admitted to me after the game in our TV interview he was nervous in his first preseason game, going up against Steve Nash.  I liked that.  He's got a great sense of humility and sky-high confidence at the same time.  So, just speaking individually about him, it was a very good night.  Yes, it was just one preseason game, but I couldn't help but think afterward that he is what we thought he was.  

Nash is never going to be confused with a lock-down defender, but it was nice to see Lillard get him on his heels on many occasions.  While a bit tentative early in the game, you could see Lillard getting more and more comfortable as the game went on.  During a stretch in the second half, when Portland had lost its lead, Damian took charge of the offense and the Lakers didn't appear sure how to deal with him.

As Stotts promised, we saw Lillard at the point and at the shooting guard spot.  This probably won't happen in every game, and he'll certainly play a lot more at the one, but Lillard's deadly outside game gives Portland some real flexibility in terms of what they want to do with him.  And, as you know, just because he can have a scorer's mentality, it doesn't mean he's not a great distributer.  He is a very good pick-and-roll player, and because of his shooting range, you can't go behind the screen.  This won't only greatly benefit Aldridge, but Matthews and Batum are going to find themselves with a lot more open shots because of the threat Lillard brings at the point.

After getting on the team bus after the game in Ontario, I sat behind Blazer assistant coach Kim Hughes.  Hughes is basically in charge of Portland's big guys, and has been glued to Meyers Leonard's hip since the players returned.  So, I was very curious to see what Hughes thought of Leonard's first outing.  He seemed pleased, but also said there's a lot of work to be done.  Leonard picked up two quick fouls, and that's going to be an issue for him.  But, it was nice to see Leonard quickly adjust and play some pretty solid defense on Pau Gasol.

Leonard's ability to run the floor has been well discussed, and we saw a few examples of that against the Lakers.  He caught a lob pass and jammed it through on the break on one occasion, and got another bucket in transition later.  Just the threat of Leonard busting back down the floor will have an effect.  I'm not going to say it'll cause his man to leave the offensive boards to run with him, but it will make a difference.

While the bar was set a little higher for Lillard going into last night, we just really wanted to see Leonard in control, with an understanding of the offense, and basically wanted him to look like he belonged.  Remember, he's not nearly as experienced as Lillard, and is younger.  The fact that Meyers was efficient, and was a presence, was enough for me in this one.

A couple of other individual notes-
Adam Morrison has a long way to go if he wants to make this roster, but he was solid last night. He was aggressive, and hit his first two shots.  The coaches know he can shoot.  The fact that he was interested in defense, and in the right place most of the time, was more impressive.  

I'm not at all concerned that Joel Freeland didn't have a greater impact on this particular game. He had a nice spin move for a bucket late in the game, and will be in the rotation.

As I've said for a few days, Ronnie Price has perhaps surprised me more than anyone so far.  I always knew he was a capable backup for Deron Williams in Utah, but didn't realize he's as tough as he is.  The fact that he's already been a great mentor for Lillard, and has a firm grip on the offensive this early, there are no worries here.

Luke Babbitt has shot the ball as well as anyone during camp, but struggled from the field against the Lakers.  It was nice to see him rebound, and show his improved strength.  He's going to play the power-forward spot exclusively, according to Stotts, so he's got to continue to do these things to get minutes.

Nolan Smith was playing with a sore knee, but showed the aggressiveness at times that we saw early in summer league.

Victor Claver may not get many minutes early in the season, but I thought he looked like he belonged on an NBA court as well last night.  He's got to be more aggressive when he gets minutes, but should learn that.

Jered Jefferies will be in the rotation.  He does a lot of little things, and can play multiple positions.  Seeing him draw a couple of offensive fouls, and grab a few rebounds, showed you what he does with his time.  Good mentor, and knows what he is.

Camp continues in Phoenix, as the Trail Blazers will practice today and look to take another step on Friday night against the Suns.  
Previous Story: A Break for the Better


  1. Good to hear your evaluation for those of us outside the comcast broadcast area.

    by Ancientone on 10/11/2012 9:20 AM
  2. Thanks MB for the great recap. I agree across the board... very astute observations, which makes you good at what you do! I know some of Batum's attacks at the rim went unsuccessfully, but that is exactly what I was hoping he'd attempt, so I am pleased there. Also, the thing I love most about Wes Matthews is that scrappy hustle ranging from end to end on the court and I saw some of that last night too. Lillard is such an incredible upgrade from Felton, and, well, let's just say I am very very happy with Stotts and Olshey too. Good job, Paul Allen, got to credit him a lot for what he's done this off season.

    by jsciv314 on 10/11/2012 10:30 AM
  3. Hey Mike, I told a new friend of mine, and hopefully a commenter, that you would blog the morning after the game and if it was an exciting regular season game and we won you would blog in the middle of the night.

    I only got to listen to the second half of the game, but that was the best half. DLill is for real.
    It sounds like Leonard will take less time then what people thought.
    I worry about Babbitt, but his rebounding and D is better and his shot will start falling, I am sure.
    I like the idea of DLill playing the 1 and the two. We need two ball handlers in the game at once to stop what Phoenix did to Dre in the play-offs.
    I have been getting some good reads on Price, glad he will be of big help, of course that would put Nolan as the two back up most of the time, unless Barton beats him out.
    Hope Barton makes it back before pre-season is over, but a ham-string is very troublesome.
    Dave at Blazers Edge says that Claver looked OK but maybe needs a little D league for familiarization, What do you think. I know it is not your call, but I know that you know LOL.
    Tone mentioned that LaMarcus looked good going left off the dribble and it opened up his game a lot. I was very interested in that.
    As you said you knew what Batum and Matthews could bring, but after their struggles because of some of the teammates from last year, I was really interested in how they responded this year; with Wesley improving his dribble and scoring and Nic moving up in the ranks with no GW.
    All in all it was a great first outing as none of us out side the comfortable combines of the Rose Garden knew for sure what to expect.

    by Hg on 10/11/2012 10:58 AM
  4. WOW! So MANY good things (I'd love to talk 'bout them all but then I'd need 2 post a blog & I just don't have that time b4 the next game ;) to say but I'll keep it very brief.

    Dame= just awesome! I know it's just preseason & u shouldn't read 2 much into #'s but just look @ his line given that he played great in the amount of time he played (aka efficient!), AND against a HOF pg (2 defend Nash is tough but on offense Dame had it kinda easy; I think this was the best 1st matchup for Dame to help him build confidence all the while playing against 1 of the best ;), AND this IS his 1st REALish NBA game against a tough team (EVEN w/o D-bag12 & Old Man Mamba)! He had a better 1st game than I thought he would, not bc of lack of skill but bc of a little bit of nerves & unfamiliarity. He's got an NBA body, conditioning (thx to how hard this guy worked b4 he was drafted AND all the grueling training after), poise, & aptitude; all he needs to do now is have actual game experience (to get the feel of things) & increase his knowledge base (this only happens over time & again experience; some things just can't b told to him/any1, he's got to b in it to feel/know what it's like i.e. playoffs). He's as ready/far along as 1 can b given his circumstances, u couldn't ask for more. :)

    W/ Meyers, I was very pleased w/ what he did out there & his line was great (ESPECIALLY w/ this being his 1st REALish NBA game 2) but unlike Dame (a few areas of improvement but I CAN tell he'll shore things up & he's going to b 1 of the elite in this league), I c a lot of areas of improvement (just as Kim Hughes said & Mike pointed out i.e. fouls); not surprised by this ;) Meyers looked good last night but throughout the game u could tell (on his face/body language) he was a bit nervous/tentative (BUT aggressive; how's this possible? Hahaha ;) probably from the fact that the bigs dictate more of what the guards do (Meyers had to make sure he was in the right position & getting use to how to react to all things, aka he was doing a lot of thinking out there ;) Meyers will eventually b fine but as Hughes & others have said, I can c it will take ~3yrs to really c the player that is/can become but until then, he's going to b able to do a lot of good things to help our guys! :)

    Our vets r awesome! I love these additions! Olshey knows his stuff! When Ronnie's on the court, u can feel his presence over the team/game. :) I like Jared a lot too, his work will b much more behind the scenes but will b the little differences that give us important advantages/win games! :)

    Like I said, would LOVE 2 say much more but gotta go, time's up! Go Blazers!

    by Simpson on 10/11/2012 11:03 AM
  5. @jsciv314
    I really felt that Raymond and Jamal was the downfall of the Blazers last year and anything we got to replace them would be a terrific improvement, but like you I couldn't be more pleased at the tremendous improvement that DLill brings

    @Jeff Platt, get a handle and pitch in then I can pick your brains before Tuesday night bowling. Seeing Mike and Mike and the game gives you so much more then I get from Wheels and Tone, but hey I do love those two also.

    by Hg on 10/11/2012 11:04 AM
  6. I've been looking forward to this game for quite a while and enjoyed it. Thought both Lillard and Myers did well. Can't wait for opening season game which I'm going to try and be at!


    by mgb on 10/11/2012 12:27 PM
  7. Here's the NBA.com recap:

    I've been all over the internet to read what people are saying about the Blazers, and it's nice to see more and more Lillard critics get silenced and some to even admit they're going to eat crow. Some of these are fellow Blazer fans while others follow other teams. This started in Summer League and with Damian's play last night, more have came out with admitting they were wrong about him. It's nice to see the guy I had my eye on 2 months before the draft, well before Neil Olshey was hired not only become a Blazer, but is thriving. Maybe I'm feeling good like I did in July during Summer League after all the heat I received for even considering Lillard as the man Portland needed. Thank you Brooklyn for trading us your draft pick.

    by Shem on 10/11/2012 3:16 PM
  8. The rook can shoot !! Will be nice to have some scoring from the point. He also grabbed some long rebounds.
    Thought Joel looked solid. He has good size. Looks like he will be a dependable rebounder. I will be isolating on him more but he appears to not waste motion. He gets to the right spots.

    by Divotking on 10/11/2012 3:47 PM
  9. Center and point guard are probably the hardest positions for a college player to come in NBA-ready. We've got a potential all-star PG in Lillard. If Leonard develops up to his potential, this past draft could be one the Blazers best ever.

    Hard to find words for how nice it was to watch a real game again, even an exhibition. I think last season's shortened schedule made the summer layoff seem longer than usual. Glad to have Mike and Mike back at the mic!

    by dgpdx on 10/11/2012 4:00 PM
  10. I think Batum has the most to prove on the roster and I hope his game steps up a couple of notches.

    by mbmurr1 on 10/12/2012 8:01 AM
  11. So far I've been most impressed with the play of Joel Freeland. He rebounds well. Plays good position defense. He was the only big that jumped out to stop the ball penetration and was able to slide back down to his man. I would like to see him on the floor with LMA. Maybe next game.
    Meyers is green but has the potential to work in this league for a long time.

    by Divotking on 10/12/2012 8:29 PM
  1. Leave a comment

Most Commented

The most commented posts in the past month

Blog Archives