In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Brandon Roy v. Deron Williams – I’m trying to figure out what position Brandon Roy will play this season. He moves like a shooting guard, but has the skills of a point. With (former Jazzman) Matthews turning heads and making a name for himself, that should open Roy up to run the offense (as he’d like). He’s versatile, strong, a great passer, and has a great shot from the outside. Deron will be able to bully him on the offensive side with his size and speed, but I don’t see Deron being able to rise up on that shot too easily. They’re a mismatch on each other, and as a Jazz fan I want to give Deron the edge, but Roy has proven to be one of the more formidable offensive weapons in the west.
Wesley Matthews v. Raja Bell – After telling Wesley he wasn’t worth the cash and before the sheets went cold, we turned around and nabbed wily vet Bell to replace him. It wasn’t a slap in the face per-se (since Wesley’s pocket book really came out the winner here) but make no mistake, Matthews felt somewhat betrayed. I agree with the decision of the Jazz front office, but that doesn’t mean Matthews did. He’ll play with a chip on his shoulder and with real purpose this season, especially when the Jazz are in the building. I thought Wesley was good last year, but if the preseason rumblings actually mean anything, then he’s actually playing up to his massive contract and could prove to be a handful when we see them in the regular season.
The Blazers were ridiculously banged up last year, and down the stretch it got downright comical. If you think about it, it’s amazing what they did with such a rag-tag group of guys. Almost all of their players went down with one injury or another. Well, it’s a new year and everyone is (mostly) healthy. People are excited to see Greg Oden in action, and see what he’s really made of. Because of his injuries, he’s always come across as an unfinished product, but he has the right tools to be a fantastic NBA player. He has good footwork. He’s huge. He’s got good hands around the rim. Those are three qualities that I would kill to have in a Jazz big man. It’s easy to look back at that draft and paint Portland the goat for not taking Durant, but remember… at the time, Durant couldn’t even bench the requested 185 lbs in the combine and the only major worry with Oden was his wrist. It’ll be exciting to see how he fits into the Portland scheme… assuming he can stay on the floor.
Last season was the 11th winningest season in Blazer history. The Blazers won 50 games (.600) and finished 3rd in the Northwest division. They played the Jazz (division rivals) four times and came up short in all four contests. Utah was Portland’s kryptonite (and from the looks of the preseason, it’s going to continue). Saying that, when you look at the whole picture there is a clear trend with the Blazers, and it’s not that they lose consistently to good teams. Quite the opposite: Portland takes care of business with crummy teams. Take a look at the list of teams THEY swept: Toronto, Sacramento, New Jersey, Minnesota, Indiana, Detroit, Charlotte, and (even) mighty San Antonio. The Blazers, unlike the Jazz, won the games they were supposed to win. Lesson to be learned: if you beat the teams that you should beat, then you’re doing a HUGE service to your team when playoff seeding comes around.
Nate McMillan is a good coach. He has a turn-around reputation because of his successful stints in Seattle and (currently) in Portland. When he originally arrived in Portland, the team was a mess. There were major cap problems, and serious off the court player issues. McMillan helped subdue those issues and has been instrumental in coaching up a young, talented team. Can he build on last year’s success and produce a competitive product in the midst of woeful front office conditions? I think so.
The Blazers are at an interesting point in their franchise. They have all the talent they need to become a league power, yet injuries (for the most part) have held them from taking the last step from good to great. This is a statement year for the Blazers. Either they take that final step and establish themselves as a team to reckon with, or they risk falling into a cycle of failure. Superstars don’t sit happy on failing teams, and Brandon Roy has already begun voicing his desire to keep the offense running through him. This year represents their chance. The two biggest obstacles? 1) Health. If Roy and/or Oden can’t remain healthy, this team could be circling the toilet come playoff time. 2) The front office. Portland’s front office is a disaster. Paul Allen is a loose cannon and make no mistake; people throughout that organization are terrified of what lasting damage he can and will do. The firing of Kevin Pritchard was a complete and utter misstep, compounded now with Nate McMillan’s reluctance to sign an extension with the team. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and this could be a rager. Still, if that front office can reign itself in, and Roy ingrains himself as the (healthy) leader on offense, they should be a tough team to beat all year and an even tougher out come playoff time.