I hope that everyone is watching their calendars, but for those of you that are not, we are officially one week to the day from the inaugural tip of the 2010-11 NBA season. Portland finishes preseason action Thursday night at home against the Nuggets, but after that every time we reconvene to hash over wins, losses, and every other stat and story, everything will count.
As we all know, or should know, at this point, Portland has not had the most confidence inspiring preseason. I was thinking about a few of the losses we’ve had so far, and I’ve decided some of them can be rationalized like this. Utah and Golden State are both teams that are integrating major new pieces this season. For Utah, the addition of Al Jefferson restructures their whole offensive system. Golden State is working in a new coach, and some new major rotation players, chief among them David Lee. These are important things because these teams have a lot more to work out before the season tips for real. That doesn’t explain the loss to Denver, but we can rationalize that by saying that Portland almost never wins in the Mile High City. Of course I’m not saying we should let the Blazers off the hook for apparently loafing through the preseason, I’m just saying that we are much further ahead in or rotation development, lineup, and offensive sets than at least two of the teams we’ve played thus far.
I said all of this to set up this question that I now pose to you: Which Trail Blazer has impressed you the most in the preseason? Before I let you answer, I will run down the stats for everyone we’ve seen take the court over the course of the last six games.
Starting with the rookies:
Luke Babbitt: Selected 16th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to the Blazers for Martell Webster, Babbitt has seen plenty of minutes in the preseason, due in part to the lack of big men. Babbitt can play both forward positions, but the bulk of his minutes during the regular season are likely to come at the 3 spot. Babbitt’s numbers thus far: 6.6 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 15.4 minutes per game, shooting 36% from the field, and shooting 50% from three.
Armon Johnson: The 34th overall pick, Johnson has emerged as somewhat of the leader of this year’s crop of rookies. Johnson is a tenacious defender, and a great rebounding guard. Johnson shooting range isn’t spectacular, although at home the other night against the Warriors he did knock down a three without blinking. Johnson might play himself into the rotation, but that remains to be seen, and is one of the hot topics of the preseason. Johnson’s numbers thus far: 6.5 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 assists per game, 14.7 minutes per game, shooting 56% from the field, and shooting 40% from three.
Elliott Williams: The 22nd overall pick, Williams has seen less of the court than almost anyone on the Blazer’s roster. Williams has gotten in to only four of the six games Portland has played, and scored in only two. Williams is a freak of nature athlete with incredible leaping ability, as was shown in the Fan Fest and open scrimmage, but has a ways to go before he will be a contributor. Williams’ numbers thus far: 1.5 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game, .8 assists per game, 12 minutes per game (out of the four games he has played), shooting 12% from the field, and shooting 0% from three.
On to the other players that have not seen much of the court.
Patty Mills: A fan favorite, Mills has seen very very little playing time in his second preseason with the Blazers. Mills has seen action in only three games, and only at the very end of those games. Mills’ numbers thus far: 1.7 points per game, 1 rebound per game, 0 assists per game, 4.3 minutes per game, shooting 33% from the field, and has made his only three-point attempt.
Raymond Sykes: Like Patty Mills, Sykes has not played too much this preseason. The last member of the four training camp invitees, Sykes has put his big body to use in a few game situations, but has really only been on the court when games have already been decided. Sykes has seen action in only four games. Skykes’ numbers thus far: 3 points per game, 1 rebound per game, .3 assists per game, 9.8 minutes per game, and shooting 44% from the field.
The Rotation players.
Rudy Fernandez: Rudy was the center of all the chatter in the lead up to the preseason, but since the games have started much of the talk has stopped. Rudy has played great, and I’m sure everyone is crossing their fingers that he can carry it over into the regular season. Rudy’s numbers thus far: 12 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game, 21.8 minutes per game, shooting 48% from the field, and shooting 59% from three.
Jerryd Bayless: Bayless has looked solid at times and has looked a little lost at times. This season has to be a breakout season for Bayless, he doesn’t really have a choice. Bayless has shown that he is ready to hustle and work hard, but the question is will that be enough to hold on to the backup point guard position. Bayless’s numbers thus far: 8.5 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game, 20 minutes per game, shooting 39% from the field, and shooting 39% from three.
Dante Cunningham: DC has started three games in the preseason, due to the loss of Jeff Pendergraph to injury, and whether he likes it or not he is going to be in heavy rotation at least for the beginning of the season. The question about Cunningham is how will he build on last season when anything he did on the court counted as something good. The scrutiny will be a thousand times more intense this year, DC is going to have to step up. Cunningham’s numbers thus far: 10.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, .8 assists per game, 30.3 minutes per game, and shooting 56% from the field.
Wesley Matthews: If the MVP for the Blazers had been awarded a week ago, Matthews would likely have gotten the majority of the first place votes. However, Matthews left the win against the Warriors with a sore tendon, didn’t make the trip to Oakland, and may not play in the preseason finale against Denver. Matthews’ injury is minor, and he’s being held out as a precautionary measure, but still it’s not something anyone wants to see. Otherwise, Matthews has been outstanding. Matthews’ numbers thus far: 12.8 points per game, 2.6 rebounds per game, 2 assists per game, 19.8 minutes per game, shooting 49% from the field, and shooting 40% from three.
And finally the starting five.
Andre Miller: Miller has been hard to read in this preseason. He hasn’t played great and he hasn’t played terrible either. He seems a little like he doesn’t care, but that’s just kind of how he carries himself all the time. He does look a lot more relaxed, I’m sure because he isn’t fighting for a starting job, but he might be the biggest question mark in the starting lineup going forward. Miller’s numbers thus far: 7.7 points per game, 1.7 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game, 21.7 minutes per game, and shooting 37% from the field.
Marcus Camby: Camby has looked tough in the games that he has played, and I’m kind of impressed that he hurt himself diving for a loose ball in practice. Camby hasn’t played since the Coliseum game, but word is he will be back for Opening Night, and everyone knows we need him. Camby’s numbers thus far: 2 points per game, 5 rebounds per game, .7 assists per game, 15 minutes per game, and shooting 33% from the field.
Nicolas Batum: Batum has been pretty excellent so far. At Media Day he mentioned that he might be looking for his own shot this season, and he’s backed that up with his play. His three ball will stretch defense, and by adding Batum’s offense, Portland’s starting five as it is now doesn’t have anyone that can’t attack the basket and score points. Batum could be a major offensive player this season. Batum’s numbers thus far: 9.2 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game, 23.2 minutes per game, shooting 52% from the field, and shooting 45% from three.
LaMarcus Aldridge: LA has been easily the most consistent Blazer player this preseason. Aldridge has worked on his strength and seems to be ready to take the ball hard to the hoop. There have been a few times, though, when Aldridge has been matched up against a slower player and instead of blowing by them LA has opted to pull up for the jumper. That has been LA’s story the whole way, but this could be the year that changes. Aldridge’s numbers thus far: 16.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, .8 assists per game, 27 minutes per game, and shooting 53% from the field.
Brandon Roy: B-Roy is an interesting case, and like Andre Miller his performance so far has been hard to read. Nobody doubts Brandon’s ability, skills, or desire to be the leader of a contending team, he just hasn’t really shown up yet. There’s a possibility that the stress from last season’s preseason (the whole contract negotiation thing) made him want to relax a little this year before the season start. Who knows. What we do know is Brandon needs to show up for Portland to have a chance. Roy’s numbers thus far: 8.6 points per game, 1.6 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, 26.6 minutes per game, shooting 40% from the field, and shooting 33% from three.
Whew! OK, that’s done. Time to vote.