With Greg Oden out for the season and trading away star Zach Randolph, it is fair to say not much was expected out of the Portland Trailblazers this year. But a quarter into the NBA season, the Blazers are making a little noise. Under coach Nate McMillan (one of the leagues most underrated coaches), Portland are winners of seven straight games (as of Sunday) and are at exactly .500 which is good enough for 10th place in a tough Western Conference.
The question now is, how good can this Blazers team be? For the short term, they will probably compete for the eighth and final spot- but that may be a stretch. In this seven-game winning streak, three were against sub .500 teams, and another two were against a slumping Jazz team. Prior to that streak they dropped nine out of the previous 10.
They will continue to have a lot of ups and downs like this throughout the season because of their youth and inexperienced. Especially in April, when they will be making their push for a playoff spot, they will have a very tough stretch. Where six of their last eight games will be against western playoff giants like the Lakers, Spurs and Suns.
Even though a postseason may not be in the cards this year, you have to give credit to them for just being competitive. For starters, they are without the Number One pick and the cornerstone of their franchise, Greg Oden, who is out for the season with a knee injury - but several players stepped up and picked up the slack.
Start with LaMarcus Aldridge, who is an early candidate for Most Improved Player, as he has nearly doubled his production from his rookie year by averaging 18.7 points (9 ppg last year) and 7.7 rebounds per game. He is playing more aggressive this year and is picking his spots well, and it shows he is shooting 53 percent from the field. Its going to be a very scary front court next year, when he and Oden clog up the middle together.
Also deserving of some credit, is the Blazers other second year stud, Brandon Roy. Last years Rookie of the Year has stepped into Portlands leader role as team captain. Averaging a very balanced 18.4 points, 5.2 boards and 5.2 dimes per game, Roy is a smart player who can do basically everything on the court. His four years at UW are proof that staying in school prepares you for the next level. No doubt, Brandon Roy is a future All Star that has the leadership skills to take the Blazers to that next level in the future.
Portland has some other nice pieces in their rotation. Travis Outlaw has been solid this year as has Martell Webster, who is coming into his own but is not there yet. Channing Frye has been a disappointment so far, he needs to be the player that we all saw two years ago when he was one of the top rookies as a member of the Knicks.
The split point guard play of Steve Blake and Jarrett Jack has been good, although this is the position that probably needs an upgrade for next season. While both are competent back-ups that can play both guard positions, they probably need a more pure point. D-Miles (remember him) has been hurt for three years, so when he returns at some point this season, it will be interesting if he can give them a lift off the bench.
The three-year outlook in Rip City looks very bright. Kudos to management for finally delivering a product the city of Portland can be proud of. The Jailblazers era that consisted of Isaiah Rider, Bonzi Wells, Qyntel Woods and Zach Randolph has finally passed. Now fans in Portland have something to get excited about for the first time since the Clyde Drexler/Terry Porter days.