My counterpart on this site graded the Blazers a B+ for last week's draft, and let me get this out of the way right now: I'm giving them a strong "A". I loved everything they did, and even while the clueless guys on the ESPN broadcast were killing them for their moves I wondered "wait, aren't these guys missing the picture?".
I've said all along that either Aldridge or Morrison would be perfect for this team, and the fact that they ended up with one of them -- PLUS Brandon Roy -- to makes for a great haul. And as documented here, I'm also excited about Sergio Rodriguez. He may not contribute much this season, but watch videos of the kid's skills: they're unreal. Portland has a strong young set of backcourt players for the future in Jack, Rodriguez, Webster, and Roy. With the NBA increasingly becoming a guard-dominated league, what other team has that much potential in their backcourt? I can't think of a single one. And I'll say this once: I don't even have a problem with the Ratliff-LaFrentz exchange. Yes, he's on the hook for one more year of contract, but Ratliff is injury prone, poor on offense (and let's not forget this team was the NBA's lowest scoring team last season), and I just don't trust him like I used to. Raef can shoot, and though he's overpaid he'll be a nice weapon off the bench.
2. Depth Chart
Now that we know Rodriguez and Pryzbilla will both be on the team next year, let's take a look at what I perceive as the team's depth chart:
PG - Blake, Jack, Dickau, Rodriguez
SG - Roy, Webster, Dixon
SF - Miles, Outlaw
PF - Randolph, LaFrentz, Aldridge
C - Pryzbilla, Skinner, Ha
A couple of notes:
1. I expect Roy to get some playing time at PG. Nate is on record as saying he'll get "some" time there, and with him playing the point in summer league that only reinforces this.
2. Yes, I do think Roy is the team's starting 2-guard, and Dixon is the third-stringer. Last season, Dixon was essentially the starter by default, and we don't really need him to fill that role any more. Between Roy and Webster, Portland should be able to get 35 or so minutes at the 2 and Dixon can fill in the gaps.
3. I expect Webster to get some playing time at SF. He's got the size, but he doesn't have the defense. None the less, if he's lighting it up and on the court with Roy and Blake or Rodriguez, it will be an interesting experiment.
4. I expect Aldridge and LaFrentz to both play a little C alongside Randolph. Especially LaFrentz. His mid-range shooting ability will help Zach's game on offense, and between C and PF I wouldn't be surprised to see LaFrentz to get 20-25 mpg.
3. Minutes Projection By Position
So where does that leave us? We all know that Portland is trying to deal Miles at all costs, and truthfully I do not expect him to be on the roster by the time the season starts in late October. However, the only thing Portland has done with the passing of Morrison is that they've painted themselves into a bit of a corner. If they do trade Miles, then clearly they'll need to acquire a veteran SF who can play starter's minutes. Because as of now, Outlaw is the only other SF on the roster, and he's shown that he's clearly not yet ready for it. So for now we'll do a by-position minutes projection including Miles, but I think you could easily substitute whomever they trade for in Miles' spot should a deal like that go down. Following is how I see the minutes shaking down for the first 10-20 games of the season:
Blake - 20
Jack - 20
Rodriguez, Dickau, or Roy - 8
Clearly the team will not be carrying four point guards, especially if we think Roy can play a bit here. I don't believe Dickau and Blake will both be on the roster at the beginning of the season. I expect one to get moved in either a Miles or Randolph trade, and they might even stash Rodriguez in the NBDL if Roy looks like he can play. But I do expect Blake and Jack to split the bulk of the minutes.
Roy - 20
Webster - 20
Dixon or Outlaw - 8
This projection is based largely on two questions: 1. Can Roy start right away? I believe yes. And 2., Can Webster really play 20 minutes per night? Again, I believe yes. This projection is based largely on the improvement that Webster showed during the last few weeks of the season, once Nate really started letting the kids loose. I truly do believe that Juan Dixon is the odd man out here, especially if Nate decides to give Outlaw another shot at SG minutes.
Miles - 25
Outlaw - 15
Roy or Webster - 8
Honestly, this is by far the toughest position to project. Assume for a moment that Miles or whomever they bring in to replace him gets the requisite 25 minutes per game. Is Outlaw even ready to play 15 per game as a backup? To me, that's a huge question mark. I expect Nate to experiment quite a bit with Webster or Roy playing the "3", especially when Portland is utilizing a zone defense where you can hide a guy like Webster's defense a little more. We may see a three-guard lineup quite a bit this season. My personal thoughts are that I'd like to see our young guys get the bulk of their minutes at the positions where they have the brightest future, so I would like to see Portland add a little depth. If Chicago does end up releasing Khryapa after all, he might be a nice direction for Portland to look to add said depth.
Randolph - 28
LaFrentz - 10
Aldridge - 10
Ten minutes per game for both LaFrentz and Aldridge at PF seems a little light to you, doesn't it? Nate is on record as saying he thinks Aldridge will play more PF than C. But I really don't see where he'd be able to take minutes from, especially for the first 25% of the season. Zach is the team's best player right now and you have to get him his 30 minutes. Raef LaFrentz has a skill that few others on this team posess (the ability to shoot consistently) so you have to get him 20 minutes per game between PF and C. And Nate's also on record as saying that he sees LaFrentz and Randolph playing together "quite a bit", which would lead one to think that LaFrent'z primariy position on this team will be backup C.
Pryzbilla - 28
LaFrentz - 12
Skinner or Aldridge - 5
I wouldn't be surprised to see most of those backup minutes go to LaFrentz due to reasons mentioned above; perhaps even all of them. We've currently got Raef pegged for 22 minutes per game between the two positions, which seems about right to me. Once Aldridge shows that he can play consistently and not take too much off the table then it's fair to expect LaFrent'z minutes to shift to center as Aldridge picks up more PF minutes.
That's what we're looking at right now. We'll be updating these projections a couple of times throughout the offseason as we learn more about the team or additional moves are made. Email any thoughts you have here, and stay tuned for an analysis of the brief flurry of trades we've had in the NBA later this week.