Scouting the 2008-2009 Blazers: The Bench

After taking a look at the possible starters for next season, it is time to take a look at the Blazer reserves.

Joel 'the Thrilla' Przybilla
Offensively Joel is very, very limited. He has no mid-range game whatsoever and little if any post-up game. He is never really an option at that end of the floor. With that said, he does have some positives. He is an above average offensive rebounder, does a nice job on the high pick and roll, and gets most of his points on broken plays or follow up shots. Since he takes virtually shot from inside of 8 feet he ends up shooting a good percentage.

It is on defense where Joel really shines. At times he is a dominant defensive rebounder who can totally control the boards. He uses basic fundamentals to block out the opposition and has above average timing and good hands. He is also a shot-blocking machine, particularly close in. He probably had more blocked dunk attempts than anyone else in the entire league. He is not particularly mobile, however, so his strength is against the big, strong post-up centers. Quicker guys tend to give him problems.

Probably the biggest weakness for Joel is his injury prone tendencies. He has never played a full season in the NBA. A lot of his injuries have been freak type things...but they keep happening. It is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Overall Joel is an excellent role player who can provide rugged interior defense and rebounding. He won't provide much scoring but you know that going in.

Channing Frye
Frye has a nice mid-range jumper that can be devastating when he is on. However, he is somewhat reminiscent of Brad Sellers...he is a big man whom is seldom seen inside for whatever reason.

Defensively he has a bit of a mean streak. You won't get any easy buckets against him...but you will score. At times he is a decent rebounder but too often he loses focus.

Frye is an intriguing talent. He was once a lottery pick but has never fulfilled his promise. With Oden coming in he will not get any minutes at the Center position and he will be fighting Travis Outlaw for minutes behind Aldridge. As a result, he will be towards the end of the bench or else gone via trade.

Josh 'McBob' McRoberts
McRoberts spent a bit of time in the D-League. He needed more time. Rumors abound that the popular McBob was kept around as a "comfort factor" for Oden. Expect that to continue. With Oden, Przybilla, Aldridge and Frye in front of him you will not see McRoberts on the floor even if by some miracle he is still on the roster.

James Jones
Jones is an intriguing talent. He provides excellent outside shooting and will go inside on occasion. Last season he was leading the league in 3-point percentage after the All-Star break before slumping. He is very dangerous shooting from the corner but, unlike Martell Webster, he does not just plant himself in the corner and make himself easy to defend. He will move side to side a bit to make the defense move. Nor does he limit himself to pumping up shots from outside the arc. Just often enough to slow the defense he will pump fake and drive to the rack. He is also more willing than most Blazers to get out on the fast break.

Defensively he tries pretty hard but is not very effective. Quick players habitually break him down and make the defense scramble when in the man to man. He is a bit more effective in the zone as his long arms and quickness let him be a bit disruptive in the passing lanes.

Jones also has a bit of a mean streak. When he and Frye are on the floor together at the same time you can expect to see opponent bodies on the floor at some point. Both tend to take a lot of fouls and have a lot of those fouls be hard fouls that are sometimes borderline dirty, a fact I am not fond of.

The other factor to consider is Jones also seems to be injury prone. He missed a lot of games last season.

Jones is most effective when he can come in to provide some long distance shooting and instant offense. In that role he is a valuable, lethal player whose deficiencies can be hidden. The more minutes he plays the easier he is to expose. Properly used he is the type of player who vastly improves a team as evidenced by the Blazers well over .500 record in games he played last year. He shares the Small Forward role with Webster and sometimes fills in at Shooting Guard, although with Rudy Fernandez arriving to back up Brandon Roy the latter minutes will be curtailed a great deal.

Jones is a great role player on a team like Portland. He is not expected to provide major minutes but performs very well in 15 - 25 minute per game stretches.

Travis Outlaw
If ever there was a player without a position, it has been Outlaw. He has played everything from Center to Power Forward to Small Forward to Shooting Guard and with varying degrees of success...within the same game. He is too fast for opposing Power Forwards, too tall for opposing Small Forwards, and can stay with most Shooting Guards. He can bomb away from 3 point land or drive as well as anyone on the team. He is a match-up nightmare for the opposition. He is also an exciting player; he probably had more momentum changing plays than any other Blazer. His highlight real hammer cocking dunk over Andre Iguodala of the 76ers got as many cheers as any other highlight with the possible exception of Roy's.

His offensive strength lies in his versatility. His .396% from long range trailed only Jones and Steve Blake. He shot a few too many from outside which dragged down his overall percentage, though that will improve with experience. He is great at creating his own shot as well. One of his favorite moves is to face up his defender, make a quick jab step to create space, and pull up for essentially an uncontested jumper. It works because his outside shot is good enough to make that respectable, he has the speed to get to the rim and power to finish, and he elevates so high that it is all but impossible for a defender to bother his shot.

Additionally, he is one of those players who is not afraid of the moment. He took the shot that really defined the Blazers season. Early on the Blazers had been struggling, losing games they should have won, not competing in some games. Against a Memphis team they needed to handle with just seconds left on the clock the ball ended up in Outlaw's hands. It is significant that he did not start that game...or many others...but he was finishing it. The young man created his own shot and in a shot that beat the buzzer by a photo-finish microsecond made the clutch bucket to give Portland their first road win...and first of 13 straight that carried the Blazers from a 6 games under to 7 games over .500 record. Arguably, that shot saved the season. And while it was the first of the game-ending shots he would take, it would not be the last.

Coach McMillan quickly learned Outlaw is a player he can rely on in the 4th quarter. If Roy is the Blazers' best prime time player then Outlaw is 1A. He is clutch, he is not afraid of the big shot, and if he misses it then he does what the best players do...he forgets about it and goes back in his mind to the one he made.

Defensively he is unsteady. At times he is spectacular. At various times he was focused, was moving his feet, and with his length he can bother the shot of virtually any player he faces. However, in the zone he tends to get lost, leave his area of responsibility and does not help on the boards as much as someone with his size and leaping ability should.

Outlaw is a high motor guy with seemingly boundless energy. He can transmit that energy to the crowd in a variety of ways...he can deliver a highlight reel dunk, he can make a sky-walking, out of nowhere block, or he can make an energy play. He reminded me a bit of Jerome Kersey a few times this year when he caught up from behind to reject break-away dunk or lay-in attempts. And he is only going to get better.

For whatever reason, mostly because of his contract, he is repeatedly brought up as the Blazer most likely to be traded. That is the biggest mistake Portland can make. He has future All-Star ability, can play on the floor inside or outside, and is taking charge of his career. He has been durable and coach able and his only downside is some have questioned his basketball IQ. He does get a little lost at times but it is important to remember he is still young, only 23. Physically, he has the tools to be a top 5 player in the league and is developing the mentality. It remains to be seen if he will put it all together.

Rudy Fernandez
Fernandez is an international star and good enough that many people claim he would be the 3rd pick in this year's draft behind Beasely and Rose. The excitement over his impending arrival has been felt throughout the city. In international play he has been a prolific scorer with above average passing skills. He is also rumored to have questionable man to man defensive skills. In the interest of full disclosure I have not really followed the international game so all I have is rumor and innuendo.

He will be providing backup minutes at Shooting Guard behind Brandon Roy. Since Roy played nearly 38 minutes per game last year, there is not a lot of time, particularly if Jarrett Jack is kept around as he, Jones, and Webster all took turns at the position last year. However, it is anticipated the Blazers will experiment with running Roy at the point a bit more this year which will give Fernandez a bit more playing time. Either way, Portland has the roster to give him time to develop and learn the NBA game.

Jarrett Jack
Jack was projected to be the starting point guard last year but just a handful of games in he proved to be unready. He slid quietly into the role of instant offense off the bench and at first played really well but then he hit an extended slump before again hitting his stride towards the end of the year. Jack is a more natural shooting guard than point when you examine his skill set.

Offensively Jack is at his best when he is penetrating. He can get into the paint virtually at will but once he gets there he sometimes gets lost, deciding too late whether to shoot or pass. He has a nice little teardrop running one hander and is good at drawing contact. When he gets to the line he is the best foul shooter on the Blazers. He is okay from the 3-point line but is not going to make anyone tremble. Either way he tends to get sloppy with the ball and tends to turn it over in bunches.

Defensively he is an average on the ball defender and a decent ball hawk out top in the zone but he tends to get overpowered by guards who can post him up.

Overall he is a streaky player. When he is playing well he makes solid contributions, stays within his game, and is a serviceable player. When he plays poorly he can really hurt the team. Hopefully another year of experience will help him gain a bit of consistency. If not, he is likely to be the odd man out in the rotation.

Sergio Rodriguez
Sergio is a real mixed bag. He can be a spark plug who wins lost games or a goof who loses games that were in the bag. He tends to get himself into McMillans doghouse and disappear for long stretches.

At his best Rodriguez is penetrating the lane and creating havoc for the defense. He has excellent court vision and is lightning quick. He can break down any defender and will find the open man. In one notable game he had something like 8 assists in 5 minutes. However, at other times he looks for his shot and that is when he costs the team. He is a lot like Jason Kidd...he has talent, he just uses it for the wrong end and the opposition is more than willing to let them shoot it.

Defensively he is a wreck. He tends to let his man by him way to often, he gambles too much in the passing lanes and the others have to cover for him.

The best use for Rodriguez is to change the pace of a game. He gets the ball up the floor in a hurry and with him on the floor the Blazers give a completely different look than when Blake, Jack, or Roy is running the team. He can play 5 - 6 minutes at a time at a high level and his deficiencies are not badly exposed there. When he plays longer he tends to get abused and the team suffers.

The Bench
As a whole the Blazer bench has a lot to offer. There is versatility, firepower, defense and rebounding. Properly used there are players who can change the pace and flow of the game or shore up holes. The biggest problem the Blazers will have is finding minutes. I would anticipate that Raef LaFrentz and Von Wafer will not be on the roster at all and some combination of 2 -3 players from among Frye, Webster, Jones, Jack, Rodriguez, and Blake will be packaged together in trades.

The bench can contribute significant minutes and in Outlaw, Przybilla, Jack, and Jones they have guys who are capable of stepping in and starting if a starter gets injured. For that matter, if he sticks around you could include LaFrentz in that category.

With another year of development the bench figures to be a strong point for this team.

Coming up next: Projecting next year