I was rather impressed by Portland on Friday night. They looked really, really good.
Brandon Roy is just an absolute surgeon. We already knew this, but it bears repeating over and over and over again. Moreover, if you combined LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden’s skill sets together into a single player, that guy might be First Team All-NBA. Ok, that’s probably an exaggeration, but Oden’s defense is already that for real and, actually, even his post moves/jump hooks looked pretty impressive the other night. (I wrote a little more about that while giving Oden a Lion Face over at Hardwood Paroxysm yesterday. I’m biased, but I’m a big fan of both that Lion Face/Lemon Face series as well as Trey Kerby’s Morning Bells over at HP. Good place to check out every morning — after stopping by BTPH, obviously.)
Yet, more so than having an amazing “Big 3″ or whatever other shallow distinction people want to dub the star-studded rosters of teams like the Celtics and Lakers, the Blazers just have a whole corral full of thoroughbreds. I’m not positive that the numbers bear this out, but, qualitatively, there seems to be almost no drop off when they go to the bench. They remain just as potent offensively and, in some ways, get better. It’s like a hockey team that just keeps running out quality guys. After Brandon, Greg and LaMarcus, it doesn’t really matter whether the other guys are Miller, Pryzbilla, Outlaw, Blake, Rudy, Martell or Bayless (and, remember, Nic Batum isn’t even playing until after the All-Star break). They lose very little, if anything.
And because all their wings are fairly similar stylistically, and because Oden and Pryzbilla are fairly interchangeable, the only real difference is that they lose a post threat when LaMarcus is out, and they lose a PG who can hit threes when Miller replaces Blake. Obviously, having different looks to throw at other teams is a good thing though, so the advantages gained by going with a lineup of something like Miller/Rudy/Roy/Outlaw/Aldridge is a great thing to have, too.
Ultimately, Portland just has a whole roster full of ballers. I really enjoy watching them. And they’re gonna be a problem in the West all year, perhaps even giving the recently-terrible-playing Nuggets a run for the Northwest Division title.
On the other hand, I was also really impressed with the Jazz on Thursday — and they’re the same team that then lost to the Sacramento Kings (without Kevin Martin, no less) at home on Saturday night.
So, perhaps, the Spurs just aren’t that good right now? I’m not yet ready to say anything is really wrong at their core, obviously, and I will always maintain that the only thing more pointless than preseason results are November results. But they certainly aren’t playing well. And seeing Tony Parker hurt his ankle on Friday — fresh off his ankle issues last season — starts to make me think “Oh, no. So it’s not just Manu and Duncan’s health we have to worry about this season but Frenchie, too?”
They have way too much talent to not be a factor out West, of course, but when looking at their front court in particular, it’s hard to believe they have the size to bang in the Playoffs with the likes of Pau/Bynum or Nene/Kenyon — and, perhaps, even Oden/Aldridge. In the last five years, Timmy has usually had a Rasho Nesterovic or Nazr Mohammed-type guy alongside him to help absorb the sizable defensive burdens of playing high-level post defense. Sure, no one is ever going to single out Rasho or Nazr as major difference-makers on those Spurs teams, but they were both high-level defenders for Coach Popovich, and there is no one on the current roster, with the possible exception of an in-my-eyes-completely-washed-up Theo Ratliff, that can even fill that “secondary big body banger” role beside an increasingly aged-looking Tim Duncan. I really think they need that guy and, no, Matt Bonner is not that guy. And as much as I like the Antonio McDyess pick up, he is not that guy anymore either, if he ever was.
It doesn’t need to be anyone high-profile. Just someone to bang with Nene for 15 minutes a night and battle with Bynum on the block. Timmy can’t be expected to do that for 30 minutes per night anymore — at least not if you still expect him to have the energy to hit his patented, back-breaking bank shots in the final three minutes of close Playoff games. I’ll always remember a great quote from Charles Barkley after Nazr Mohammed, who was having a pretty damn good year at the time in New York, was traded from the Knicks to the Spurs: “Isiah is building a championship team — too bad it’s in San Antonio.” I think they need to make a similar, under-the-radar, spackling-up-the-holes-in-the-roster move this year.
(We’ll explore that “spackle” concept more down the road. A lot of teams are too slow to identify that one little thing they need to fix their weakness. Often, it’s just a small thing, but, more often, teams make some big, unnecessarily radical move that fixes some things but creates new issues. Look for that spackle, GMs.)
Anyway, I’ll be watching the Spurs closely to see how this plays out, and all this is something I had the pleasure of discussing with my 8th Seed brethren Jeff Garcia and Michael De Leon on Friday night after the Spurs loss to Portland. Check the video below from their live post-game SpursCast where I joined them to offer my two cents.
I come on at the 23:30 mark. Some minor technical difficulties pop up right as I’m coming on, but we fight through it and chat for 20 minutes or so.
* Alright. I’ve had just about enough of this. Brandon Roy needs a nickname. Neither his first nor last name work on their own and I’m done writing out the whole thing. I’ve waited and waited, internets, but you’ve given me nothing to work with here. You’ve offered no good options. So he’s now “Daggers.” Me and Capital_T were unsuccessfully looking for a guy to call this anyway, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seem many bigger daggers than that one he hit against the Rockets last year. I mean, the purity with which that ball went through the net was just like someone getting stabbed. It’s official. Done and done. Put it on the board.