Thursday, July 27, 2006

2006/07 Preview : Portland Trail Blazers

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Starting Lineup 2006-07: Blazers

The topic on many fans’ minds is as to the starting lineup the Blazers will use this season. Given the influx of young talent, it’s a question of building for the future or winning now. Hopefully the two scenarios don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Here is an early look at the potential 2006-07 depth chart. This will need revisions as the season draws nearer.

Point Guard

Likely starter: Jarrett Jack. After serving his apprenticeship behind Sebastian Telfair and Steve Blake last season, many are predicting Jack ready for a solid season. Look for Jack to average close to 8ppg and 7apg in approximately 30 mpg. His strong defensive ability benefits from his body strength and will be a great asset to the starting unit.

Steve Blake is likely to get a large share of the minutes, particularly when Jack is struggling. Blake’s ability to distribute the ball with few mistakes means he is a safe, yet unexciting choice at the point.

Shooting Guard

Likely starter: Martell Webster. Webster started 18 games in 2005-06 and showed flashes of brilliance, such as his 24 points against Boston (Feb 24) and his average of 13.7ppg during the month of April. His ability to shoot the ball from range gives the Blazers a much needed outside threat – a weakness of the team that only scored 4.4 treys per game last season (23rd in the league).

Webster will have strong competition from Rookie of the Year candidate, Brandon Roy. After a very strong showing at the Las Vegas Summer League and a stellar college career at the University of Washington. A large amount of the Blazers’ scoring – particularly from the outside – will be relied upon from this young duo.

The question is then, what becomes of incumbent starter, Juan Dixon? Look for Dixon to have extended minutes at SG in the early going, as the youngsters struggle to find their feet. Dixon provided a solid scoring option last season, particularly when Darius Miles was out injured.

Small Forward

Likely Starter: Darius Miles. Miles is again the unquestioned starter here, however his future with the Blazers is uncertain. The Blazers have reportedly been shopping him all off-season with little apparent success. Unless a deal comes to fruition before season-start, look for the troublesome versatile swingman to provide a strong scoring threat. His ability to penetrate and length leads to matchup problems for other forwards.

Webster may spend some time at small forward, as he has the height and size to do so. Jack, Roy, Webster and LaMarcus Aldridge have formed a special bond during Summer League and in order for all of them to be on the court at the same time, Webster has said he thinks he has the capability to swing to the forward position.

Travis Outlaw has had another strong Summer League showing (he was one of the stars and predicted sleepers after the 2005 Summer League). His defensive prowess and athleticism mean he should get some minutes – how many minutes will likely depend on the situation of Miles.

Power Forward

Likely starter: Zach Randolph. ‘Z-Bo’ is the indisputable leader of this team. The success of the Blazers to a large extend depends upon his work ethic and the mindset he portrays to the younger members of the team. Being such a young squad, thrusts Randolph into this role perhaps prematurely, however Paul Allen didn’t give him $10.7m last season ($84m over 6 years) to be a role player. If the recently turned-25 year-old can put up a solid 20-10 every night, the Blazers have a chance to surprise some teams.

Overall second selection in the draft, Aldridge, brings a different look at the four spot off the bench. His long body and ability to get double-doubles should demand some attention down low and assist the frontline on defense. His progress will no doubt be closely scrutinised by fans, after media speculation has placed Roy as the more likely ROY candidate, despite being a lower pick.

Brian Skinner and Joel Freeland provide different looks in the reserve role here and it will likely be the experience of Skinner that wins the twelfth position on the roster. Skinner is a bruiser with a strong ability to rebound, whilst rookie Freeland adds athleticism and versatility up front.


Likely starter: Joel Przybilla. There were some very tense times in the Rose City until Przybilla made his final selection to stay with the Blazers. He gave strong consideration to Detroit and San Antonio before having faith in what the team was trying to build in Portland and sticking around for the ride. His re-signing makes a dramatic difference to the face of this team. His ability to rebound and block shots shores up the inside for the next five years.

Raef LaFrentz, acquired in the Telfair trade with Boston, provides a scorer off the bench at centre. His ability to spread defenses with his three-point range means that Randolph can operate in the low block. The big call on LaFrentz often is that he is soft – a trait which means Coach Nate McMillan may be hesitant to give him many minutes. Przybilla shoring up the middle means he shouldn’t be called upon for more than 15 mpg.
On the outer
Ha Seung Jin: The big Korean may have seen the temporary end of his NBA time, as there does not appear to be room on the roster for him and his progress at Summer League has not been impressive enough to secure his spot.
Sergio Rodriguez: Will have trouble finding a position at the point with Jack, Blake and at times, Roy manning the one spot. This doesn't mean he won't be on the squad at some stage.

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