One thing is certain, it was nice to be back in the Rose Garden. I won’t ruminate too long on this evenings happenings. FanFest is a cool thing, I don’t go every year, but I did this year, and I have to say, it wasn’t a bad time. It’s nice to see fans turning out to catch half a glimpse of a Blazers “practice” and a real look at some early action.
Of course the star of the evening was Wesley Matthews. He can bring it on both ends of the floor, and most nights when it’s another team lined up against the Blazers, it will be his defense that people talk about, but during the scrimmage he was all about the offense. Brandon Roy looked excellent, relaxed and as smooth as I’ve ever seen him, as he knocked down three straight three-pointers, but every time Matthews came down the court and matched Roy. Shot for shot. For the first ten minutes of the evening it was Roy vs Matthews.
Something that hasn’t been brought up too much in the early talk about Matthews and what he brings to the Blazers is how he will work Brandon on the practice floor. Every night of the season B-Roy is likely to see a defender less skilled than the one he goes up against time and again in drills. The benefit of that could be off the charts.
Matthews was honored as the evenings MVP, and he earned it. He showed that his range is solid, his athleticism is top level, and that he can run the floor. Coming off the bench he is going to destroy second units. Nate McMillan’s job just got way harder; how does he keep Wes Matthews off the court?
Other than Wesley Matthews introducing himself to the home crowd, FanFest was relatively uneventful. During introductions Roy and the newly bearded LaMarcus Aldridge got their customary cheers, Marcus Camby got a load ovation when he told the fans that they were the reason he chose to re-sign with Portland for this season, and Rudy Fernandez got a nice recepection, a few boos from some fans, but for the most part welcoming, which hopefully is music to his ears. For my money, though, it was Joel Przybilla that got the loudest cheers, although he did have the unfair advantage of being the final Blazer introduced. It’s clear that Rip City will he deeply sad if Joel ends up getting traded for his expiring contract.
The scrimmage itself was really a tale of two generations. The vets looked relaxed and played well, and the rookies looked tight, rushed shots, and for the most part contributed little. I haven’t had the privilege of seeing Luke Babbitt in the gym personally so I don’t have any first hand knowledge of his perimeter game, but during the scrimmage he looked reluctant to let it fly, the opposite of the older players who were launching threes left and right, and apart from one athletic drive to the hoop he didn’t score too many points. I like the look of Babbitt, and I feel like he could be a real contributor once he gets comfortable. It’s a good thing Friday night was only a scrimmage.
Armon Johnson and Elliott Williams both had their moments. Johnson is quick and strong, and as his speed of play catches up to the speed of the NBA game he will be a great point guard. It’s true what’s been said about Williams, he can fly. The rookie out of Memphis put down some nice dunks in the pregame lay-up line, and had an excellent two-handed throw down at the end of the scrimmage’s first half. It’s unlikely that any of the Blazers’ three rookies will get many meaningful minutes in the upcoming season, but they’ll all be contributors sooner rather than later.
The second year players looked a little better than the rookies. Donte Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph both looked fit, worked hard, and showed that they are ready to bang underneath. Pendergraph throw down some nice dunks early, lost a little steam near the middle, and recovered to make two crucial free throws that put the white team, the second unit, ahead for good. Pendergraph and Cunningham looked like guys on a mission, and that’s great to see. They’re going to have to earn their minutes this year, and the whole team will get tougher for their efforts.
As far as the starters and rotation players were concerned, everybody looked loose and relaxed, and played well during the scrimmage. It’s clear that Andre Miller and Roy are meshing better this year than they were at this point last year. Miller is probably far and away more comfortable knowing that he has sole possession of the starting point guard spot. The four of Portland’s starting five that participated in the scrimmage, all three centers sat out of all the festivities due to their various injuries, looked cohesive and ready to get to some real competition.
The white team ended up with the victory, if it really mattered, after letting the black team back in in the middle of the third period. The team reported an attendance of 11,525, which wasn’t too shabby. The lower bowl was almost entirely filled, and there was a smattering of fans hanging out up in the 300 level.
It seemed for the most part everyone left satisfied. There were no injuries, no drama of any kind. The team looks solid, ready for the long season to begin. Those who didn’t know got their first taste of Wesley Matthews, and that was good enough.
Preseason begins on Tuesday. That means that pretty soon Portland will get a chance to enjoy some real basketball. If the attitude from the FanFest crowd is any indication, enjoy it they will.