With around six weeks left until training camp and one of the wildest off-seasons I can remember is coming to a close, I pause to think about something. The Blazers have an odd off-season of their own, however this is one of the rare times I can remember an off-season where Blazer fans weren’t really throwing around the word ‘breakout’ like it was their job.
A little context for those who don’t know. Over the past few years of Portland’s recent ‘run at glory’ if you will, the Blazers have been known for their young talent and the potential they have. Over the course of the past couple years, some players have come of age, some have not, with a lot of ‘put up or shut up’ moments coming in between. Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, LaMarcus Aldridge, heck even Sergio Rodriguez had the ‘b’ word attached to him. This year, when I look at the roster, I wonder who could we talk about a breakout year for?
I’ve narrowed the list to about 5 guys who could potentially have a ‘breakout’ season. Obviously guys like B-Roy, Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are off the list. For Roy he’s a superstar and the other two…well…they…are just old. The rookies are off the list because they haven’t been around enough to be judged to be ready to break out. I have about as much faith in Rudy Fernandez as an adult does in the Tooth Fairy. I don’t think anyone in the world knows what to expect from Greg Oden and putting expectations on him will drive people straight to Kells. It comes down to the following guys: Nic Batum, Jerryd Bayless, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The last name on that list may surprise you, but I’ll explain later. I hesitated to put Wesley Matthews on this list–and almost did. But here’s the thing: I don’t know how a Blazer fan could say Wesley Matthews is going to have a ‘breakout year’ unless they subjected themselves to all 82+ of Utah’s game. He might have a real good year, but he’s not breaking out from any expectations we’ve had of him…because the majority of us don’t know what to expect. The other three have the potential to really change things up.
Starting with Batum, whom I believe should be at the top of this list. Yeah I know he’s only 21 and he has a ways to go…but boy the potential is there for him to have a real nice year. Despite only playing in 37 games due to injury, Batum improved the majority of his numbers from rookie to sophomore year. His PPG went up (5.4 to 10.1), rebounds (2.8 to 3.8), field goal percentage (44 to 51), three point shooting (36.9 to 40.9) and PER (12.92 to 17.31). Talk about efficient…in his rookie year his PER was with the Julian Wright’s and Al Thornton’s of the world. Now he’s knocking on Paul Pierce’s door (18.24). If he can continue to develop his offensive game and his aggression to go with his efficiency and defensive ability…watch out.
Technically in a way, Bayless has broken out, then be locked away, then was ‘FREE’d, then played bad, then was up and down, before looking great in the Phoenix series. Let’s not forget how aggressive he played during those 6 games, nearly breaking Rudy’s soul into pieces. Averaged 13, 3, 2, got to the line 4 times again and was nearly as efficient as LaMarcus Aldridge according to John Hollinger. With no Steve Blake or Sergio Rodriguez around, there will be none of that ‘locking Bayless up for the first few months’ jazz in the 10-11 season. He’s proven that when given time he can contribute, and with more time coming, who knows where his limit is? We’ll all find out together.
Now when it comes to LaMarcus…we’re not talking about your traditional ‘breakout’ year. As I mentioned yesterday, this is a guy that averages 18 and 8 year in and year out. He could potentially take his game to the next level, knock on 20 and 10′s door and maybe get some All-Star mentions. I think the LMA bandwagon would be a lot stronger had he gone through the Team USA process, but it’s ok. We all could see a more consistent, stronger, meaner, post-oriented, LaMarcus Aldridge.
So I ask, who do you think could have a breakout year for the Blazers?