Picking up on an idea that Mike Tokito dropped over at OregonLive.com this week, is the idea of position battles. It’s something that is probably more relevant in football, where goes duke it out day in and day out attempting to move up on the depth chart. In the NBA, more or less, the starting unit is set. In the off-season there are acquisitions who could threaten a starter’s spot (i.e. a guy like Andre Miller) or a need for depth sees a battle (Chicago signing Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver).
For the first time in three years, the Blazers can say they pretty much know who will be starting. There is actually a lack of position battles that we’ve come accustomed to the last two off-seasons. Last year, the big question was Andre Miller or Steve Blake? Batum, Outlaw or Webster? Sergio or Bayless? The year before it was Outlaw or Webster? Oden or Joel? This year, you pretty much know what’s going on which is good for continuity, and also good for sanity. Andre Miller and Brandon Roy are the guards, Batum, Aldridge at forwards and Oden at center (if healthy). And even then, if he’s not, Marcus Camby becomes the starter. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Just because the starters are set, does not mean there is no competition for spots in the rotation. Nate McMillan has shown an ability to play guys in different spots, remember in the playoffs he went with Miller and Bayless instead of the conventional thought of Miller and Rudy. It’s safe to say Jerryd Bayless has a spot, as he’s the #2 PG, but has also shown an ability to play alongside Andre Miller if that needs to happen. There’s 9.2 million reasons to play Wesley Matthews, and it looks as if he’s solidly behind Batum, but again could sneak and possibly play some minutes at the 2. There’s still a big question mark surrounding Rudy Fernandez even being in a Blazer uniform when the season rolls around, if he is, he’ll surely gobble up so minutes.
Then you get to the rookies. Last season, there were next to no expectations put on Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph. This season, Portland adds Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson to the depth chart. All are seemingly buried on the depth chart. I don’t seem them entering the rotation unless there is an injury or one of them shocks the heck out of me…which they have the talent to do.
The only question mark, if you ask me, is the backup power forward spot. My old buddy Coup felt strongly about seeing some different combinations with the bigs, potentially Camby and Oden on the floor at the same time. Using that same logic, Portland could at times put Aldridge at the 5 and go a little smaller. The question is who will emerge: Dante Cunningham or Jeff Pendergraph? It seems as if Cunningham has the inside edge to start, but different situations could call for the energy and toughness of Pendergraph. Last year, both showed they can play in this league. Now can they take it to the next level and carve out a spot in the rotation? Only time will tell.