Over the weekend I was able to send some questions to Blazer's Edge editor Dave Deckard about his team and the game tonight. Blazer's Edge is one of the best team specific websites on the web, and if you haven't visited them, I recommend it. They have a fantastic fan base and readership as well.
1.) What's the starting line up? Any injuries that we need to be aware of?
None so far, but with the Blazers it's prudent to ask.
Four out of the five starting spots will be set in stone this year barring trade or injury. LaMarcus Aldridge starts at power forward, naturally. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews fill the wing positions. Both are able defenders who can hit the long ball. Either can score big upon occasion but they're versatile and excellent role-players rather than stars at this point. Rookie Damian Lillard is lighting up the league at point. He's averaged 21 points and 9 assists in his first three games.
J.J. Hickson starts at center and he's rebounding the cover off of the ball. He's not a true center on offense or defense, though he's closer offensively. His energy has been impressive so far but it remains to be seen whether he can hold the starting position all year.
2.) It feels like a bit of a rebuilding year with so many young players. How has LaMarcus Aldridge reacted to all the changes?
It's a bit of a rebuilding year for the Blazers like it's a bit of an election week for the country. Portland's in full-on rebuild mode. They just happen to have a star, a rookie, and a couple of mid-priced role players around which they're looking to build. The rest of their roster is pure transition. And frankly, even the main pieces are adjustable down the road.
Publicly Aldridge has been supportive. His on-court demeanor indicates that he's into the season too. No worries there. At this point in his career he's still invested in leading a team, being the #1 option. Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven and all that. That may change down the road if the Blazers don't improve. But if that's the case, it'd mean Aldridge wasn't making them better anyway. At that point a divorce would probably be mutual, considering his current and eventual salary demands. In short, this looks like a no-lose situation. If the Blazers grow around Aldridge it won't be an issue. If they don't then it'll be time to wipe the slate clean anyway.
3.) There are four rookies on the roster, beyond Damian Lillard, should any of them see time in the rotation?
Would any of them see time in a real rotation? Leonard, perhaps. Portland's bench is populated by guys so obscure that anyone with any promise should be able to crack the rotation. So far Coach Stotts is playing his starters for huge stretches and salting in a couple bench guys for 15 minutes each of relief duty. Beyond that nobody's going to see more than 7-8 minutes. So far the top relief spots have gone to Leonard and whichever guard is in favor that day. Even they aren't really ready to play. That bodes ill for later in the season. For now the Blazers will get away with playing as few bench people as possible.
4.) I know Blazer fans have some high hopes for Lillard. What are your expectations for him? I drafted him early in fantasy based on some early returns from pre-season.
You are a happy man then. He's a rookie. He'll go up and down. The hallmark of his game so far is poise. You don't see him get too far up or down no matter how his game is going. When he makes a shot it looks like he expected it. When he misses he doesn't hang his head. He just goes after the next one. In his best looking game of the season he scored 23 and dished 11 assists. In his worst looking one so far he scored 20 with 9 assists. Though he'll surely have worse outings as the season progresses, I'm thinking his downs might not get that far down.
Lillard's passing is quite advanced considering he's played three NBA games so far. His defense needs work, but you can't have everything. Overall he's got the tools to succeed. Coupled with his demeanor and his offensive basketball IQ, a bright future lies ahead of this kid. He may never be a transcendent superstar but he's going to be a really good starting point guard at worst and a legit star/All-Star at best.
5.) Looking at your roster, there doesn't seem to be a traditional center outside of Meyers Leonard. Is this going to be an issue or are the Blazers looking to go small and push the tempo?
Yes, and yes. Rebounding will remain the key. Hickson has done well in that department so far. Forwards and guards have given him plenty of help. As long as the Blazers can rebound on both ends they can generate a few fast break points and inside attempts from put-backs. As soon as the rebounding dries up this team is in trouble.
Portland has no choice but to go small but that fits their current offensive philosophy anyway. They don't like to iso in the post. Even Aldridge is shying away from the block this year (so far, anyway). Defense could prove troublesome though. The Blazers give up points in the paint. So far their best recourse against superior big men has been to foul. I'm not sure how long they can keep that up. Choosing between giving up shots at the rim or free throws doesn't seem like a sustainable defensive plan.
6.) What are the goals for the team this year?
First, develop the young guys.
Second, see who sticks and what level they'll stick at. This season is really an extended audition for two years from now for everyone outside of Aldridge and Lillard. Will Batum or Matthews reach a dependable scoring level? Can Leonard learn some fundamentals? Will anyone off that bench distinguish themselves enough to avoid being jettisoned the first time the Blazers need cap room?
Third, get comfortable with the Stotts system of ball and player movement.
Fourth, develop principles of endurance through hardship, hard play no matter what the circumstances, and a striving for wins no matter what the scoreboard or standings chart say.
Fifth, take your lumps, get out without major injuries or eating each other alive, then walk into next summer with another lottery pick plus potential cap space for a reasonable free agent.
The official line on that last one will be "fight for a playoff spot", of course. But the Blazers would settle for no injuries and another year to add onto the roster.