The New Look Blazers
It has been while since my last blog, so I feel right now is the perfect time to reflect on the 2010-2011 season as it is in full bloom.
Between injuries, players exposing their true potential, the faster-paced tempo, and an uncertainty as to where the team is headed, Portland has really changed this year. Almost immediately, the all too familiar injury bug took a massive bite in the Blazers roster; rookie guard Elliot Williams dislocated his right patella in the beginning of November forcing him to miss the entire season. Sound familiar? Yes. Ironically, Portland's two Centers Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla were also suffering from the same debilitating patella problem. The "Vanilla Gorilla Pryzbilla" fortunately has since been able to play. Oden, however, will be spending the rest of the season on the bench. It doesn't get much better from there as former All-Star Brandon Roy is now out indefinitely due to soreness in both of his knees.
If this blog has seemed negative so far, don't be worried because I am an optimistic person so here comes the news to cheer about! In Roy's absence, Mr. Lamarcus "L-TRAIN" Aldridge went from shooting mid-range jumpers to now surrounding the paint and dominating the glass. As a Power Forward, Aldridge's size and speed makes him almost impossible to guard once he drives the lane. He has become a dunking machine while gobbling up double-digit rebounds along the way (a difficult thing to do when you have a player like Marcus Camby on your team). LMA is averaging (20) points and (9) rebounds for the season which is undoubtedly a dramatic increase from last year. Since December 15th, that total has even improved to an incredible (25+) points and (10+) rebounds per game. There will be no more bottling up #12 from Texas, no more settling for jumpers (he can still hit those shots if needed), no more inefficient games, and absolutely no more trade talk. Portland has unleashed a beast, Lamarcus has proven himself and is here to stay with All-Star caliber numbers that speak the truth.
Speaking of players who are on the rise, how about we discuss PG Patrick "Pattycakes" Mills. The enthusiastic Aussie native has taken to the hearts of Blazer fans (including myself) with not only his entertaining personality, but his impressive play as of late. Patstacks is electric off the bench, along with fellow international players of Batum and Fernandez, and can score one of his famous "3-Goggles" 3-point shots at a critical time where production is necessary to stay in the game. While a little careless at times, Mills is a one-of-a-kind player with great potential giving Portland a much needed spark. You cannot mention the Blazers bench without talking more in depth about Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batuuuuum. Last year, there was a bit of controversy regarding Rudy wanting out of Portland; however, you certainly cannot tell as of right now because he is arguably playing the best basketball of his career. Before now, if Fernandez was struggling from beyond the arc he was probably not going to score or step up on defense. This year, he is no longer settling for shots right before the final second in the shot clock and wishing for a bit of luck. Fernandez is now driving the lane and scoring easy layups while averaging (8) points and (2) assists a game. While that seems a little lower than his prior years, Rudy's turnover ratio has decreased, he is playing fewer minutes, and his aggressiveness has skyrocketed. Now on to Nicolas Batum # 88, the beloved Frenchman hasn't been quite as successful from long-range. However, despite his 9.2% decrease of 3-pointers, Batum is averaging more points (10.8), more minutes (28), and more steals (1.5) per game in relation to his previous season.
The bench can be a little sloppy at times, but their hustle and determination makes them very capable of maintaining or extending a Portland lead. Unlike last year, the starting five is a faster-paced team revolving around LMA and newcomer Wesley Matthews from the Utah Jazz. While only in his second year, Matthews has stepped into his role in Portland beautifully. When he was signed, people in the Rip City didn't exactly know how to react to his large contract (they obviously did not see the potential Portland's Front Office did). With more than (15) points and (31) minutes a game, Wesley is a very high percentage FT shooter (84%), effective 3-point shooter and can hold his own defensively as he did last night to secure a rare victory in Houston. As reported on "Twitter", Wesley HATES losing which makes him fit perfectly in Portland's system.
While the younger more exuberant players are so exciting to watch, I don't know where Portland would be if it weren't for the talent and leadership of PG Andre Miller and C Marcus Camby. These two starters are able to clean up rookie type mistakes with offensive rebounds (Camby) and critical buckets (Miller). Marcus Camby has put up remarkable numbers this season in terms of rebounding, he has exactly (11.5) a game AND gobbled up (20) boards on two separate occasions. Camby can also score with his long arms creating numerous tip-ins and will even use his unusual "windup" to shoot a jumper when nothing seems to be available. I am still amazed that he can score because it looks so odd, but hey whatever works (6.4 P/PG). His value on the team is undeniable, and Marcus is even quoted as saying he would rather retire than leave Portland. Talk about devotion. You have to love the guy for everything he does. As I stated earlier, Miller is a key player on the Blazers roster. He is not flashy, cannot shoot three's very well, and will never take a dunk, but "Dre" is an iron man who will put up consistent numbers and score baskets at exactly the right time. Even without the fro (which I loved), "Dre" is extremely reliable, underrated, and one of the best passers in all of the NBA. You don't see Miller addressing the media very often, but regardless of popularity he gets the job done at the free throw line, has a very efficient shot that you cannot ignore, he never gets injured, and he can pass the ball beautifully. He averages (12.6) P/PG, (3.6) Rebounds, and (7.3) Assists.
As of right now, Portland is 19-17 and 8th place in the playoff race. With all of the diversity this team has faced, that is a better record than I would have anticipated. There is no doubt this is a dangerous team and performs stellar at the Rose Garden with their faithful fan base. Whether it be Patstacks coming at you from downtown Portland, or the new twitter craze among the players, or even the beloved 3-Goggles tradition , this Blazers team is about as exciting as can be. The new run-style tempo that has taken over the offense, and the lasting effectiveness on defense has everyone involved in the Rip City anxiously waiting for more basketball. It has been a pretty interesting season from the 6-game losing streak, to the road woes, to the injuries, and even to the guys who have stolen the spotlight. 2011 has only just begun. It will be unpredictable to assume how the season will finish; but, until then I will continue to watch the determination and passion that is this year's PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS!