Will Rudy Fernandez and Greg Oden live up to the hype? Blazers preseason analysis.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 marked the NBA debut of 3 highly touted rookies for the Portland Trailblazers; Center Greg Oden, Guard Rudy Fernandez and guard Jerry Bayless. Though they have been practicing for a couple of weeks and last Friday performed in a scrimmage at the Blazer Fan Fest, this would be their first appearance against a rival NBA team.

The game proved to be a laugher. It did not look like it in the first half. Sacramento led by 10 after the first quarter and at the half it was just a 3 point game. The third quarter was the game, however. Last season Portland struggled with the 3rd quarter all season, often turning large leads into small deficits and small deficits into insurmountable mountains. On this night it would be the opposite. 

Led by Jerryd Bayless they cranked up the defense and destroyed the Kings 32-13. To be fair, the Kings were without Brad Miller and Kevin Martin, so if anything it is a tribute to them they stayed with Portland for a half. Then again, this being preseason, how serious can you take results?

One thing we know is the dominant quarter the Blazers put on was something they were not capable of last year. It speaks volumes to how much they have improved that they now have that capability.

Preseason is mostly a time to settle on rotations, try out some new combinations of players, Coach McMillan did that. In the first half he started Sergio Rodriguez and Martell Webster. In the second half he started Jerryd Bayless and Travis Outlaw instead. Was it a fluke the Blazers went on a huge tear? That is a question that still needs to be resolved.

Also to be resolved is whether Greg Oden will be able to rein in his impatience. After sitting out his rookie year he was anxious to show the fans something. Unfortunately, this resulted in him pressing. Early on he tried to bull over everyone and throw down a dunk. Mikki Moore was having none of that and Oden got off to a slow start. Once he had gotten one dunk down, however, he was off to the races.  He shot 5 for 8, showed good court vision when he was doubled, and late in the game he had a spectacular block that brought the Rose Garden to its feet.

He also showed how he can help Portland. He will be a dominant force on the boards once he gets acclimated to the NBA. When the Blazers missed he showed a knack for finding the ball and throwing it down with wild abandon that had the Kings interior players running for cover.

It was great to watch Oden. He improved over the course of the game. Early on it was obvious he was pressing. As a result he stifled the offense. On defense he was so intent on sending back shots that he repeatedly was out of position and the Kings were able to exploit him for easy opportunities. By his last stint on the court he was taking his time on offense, making the correct defensive reads, and showing everyone what he could do. For a first effort it was perhaps a C+. We saw flashes of what he could do but it took him a while to get going.

Bayless meanwhile was an offensive no-show. His vaunted penetration skills seldom showed up, he was not looking for his shot, and he was willing to take a relatively passive role in the offense. Defensively, however, he was every bit the pit bull Blazer brass has advertised. His on-the-ball defense was a key in triggering the Blazers' third quarter run. Bayless will get a B for his effort. When his offense was not there or needed he did not force it. He found his role, fulfilled it, and controlled the game defensively.

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Spanish sensation Rudy Fernandez. And it was deserved. His stat line was rather modest. He shot just 3 for 6 for 6 points, 1 rebound, and 5 assists. That line is deceptive. His 3 misses were him bombing away from 3-point land after the game was decided and had turned into a bit of a rat-ball festival. They were also about the only unspectacular things he did all night.

He introduced himself in the second quarter. Breaking down his defender, he arched a left handed finger roll over another onrushing defender to score his first points as a Blazer. It was spectacular. He was just getting started, however. Midway through the third quarter Sergio Rodriguez made a no-look pass to Fernandez for a spectacular all-oop dunk that had the Rose Garden rocking as it has not been for quite some time. Later, after showing off his passing skills, he took another Rodriguez alley-oop attempt. This pass was behind him so he caught it, flew to the reverse side of the basket and somehow dropped it in for the score.

Not content with showing his flair for the spectacular in scoring the ball, Fernandez then went to work on his assist total. First he made a spectacular, highlight reel between the legs pass to LaMarcus Aldridge for a dunk. Oh, not his own legs. The DEFENDER'S legs. 

Shortly thereafter he found Aldridge again with a stunning wrap-around pass. Still later he had a high post pass where he found Martell Webster cutting baseline. With his back to the cutter and without turning his head he placed a pinpoint pass in Webster's hands for the dunk. Webster had 2 crowd-pleasing dunks off Fernandez .

It was a phenomenal show by Fernandez. If he does these things with any consistency he will be the odds on favorite for Rookie of the Year. He makes the players around him better and electrifies the crowd. No doubt about it, the Rudy show drew an A+. 

Overall the Blazers showed tremendous improvement. Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw will battle it out for the starting role. Both of them helped their cause tremendously with their showings.

Webster is moving better without the ball, is much more aware on defense, did a tremendous job of helping on the boards, and showed flashes of being a lock-down wing defender.

Outlaw was a bit weaker defensively but showed improved versatility with his step-back jumper, the ability to make spectacular defensive plays, and was a player on the boards. McMillan has two excellent choices. It may come down to who works better with Fernandez on the second unit.

Aldridge showed great maturity. His first half was a complete stinker. He waited, let the game come to him, and ended up having a nice second half. He did not get down on himself and stayed in the game.

Overall it was an exciting showing. The Blazer "veterans" such as Webster, Outlaw, and Sergio Rodriguez showed great improvement. Newcomer Ike Diogu showed a toughness the Blazers were lacking last year. 

Tomorrow night against the Warriors, there are rumors that Oden and Brandon Roy will not be playing. Last year that sort of news would mean a loss was expected. This year, it will still be an upset, even in preseason, should the Blazers somehow lose this game. And that is pretty exciting.

110-81 may have been the final score, but the final result was probably the amplification of expectations for Blazer fans.

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