With roughly a month of the NBA season already in the books, its time take a look back at how some of the younger teams in the league have performed. This new weekly feature here at DraftExpress will track the progress of players on some of the youngest teams in the League, giving an in depth look at their performance.
Coming off what can only be described as a highly eventful 2006 draft, the Portland Trailblazers came into this season with a renewed sense of direction. With a grand total of 7 players returning from last seasons 21 win team, second year head coach Nate McMillan
has looked for production from some of the teams least experienced players in the early going. The team hasnt looked bad behind the encouraging play of Zach Randolph
, posting 6 wins through their first 14 games.
27.2 Minutes, 11.6 Points, 3.4 Assists, 2.8 Rebounds, 38% FGBrandon Roy
has been hampered by a left heel injury since the third game of the season. However, the three games Roy played before going down provided us with a glance, albeit a limited one, of what to expect from him in the future. After a solid shooting performance in his debut, Roy struggled from the field in his last two outings. His struggles can be attributed to a number of things, including his lack experience in the Portland offense, his level of familiarity with his teammates, and his need to acclimate his game to a new level of play. Roys shooting has also been impacted by the roles he has played on the floor. His desire to differ to his teammates when he is playing point-forward has made him tentative early in games. He looks to score, but only from the spots that the offense would allow him to. This lack of assertiveness should subside as Roy becomes more comfortable with his teammates. As the game progresses, Roy becomes more aggressive. When he is playing off the ball, he drives more often and tends to look to score rather than set up his teammates. Regardless of how he has shot early on, it is clear that Roy can effectively score at the NBA level.
Given Roys development at Washington after Nate Robinson
s departure, there is no reason to believe that Roy wont continue to improve on the offensive end. Although he may never lead the team in scoring, he looks extremely solid as a second option. On the defensive end, Roy is solid, but not spectacular. It will be easier to evaluate his long term defensive potential when he returns to action. His all around game, coupled with Jarrett Jack
s steadying presence at the point, will give the Trailblazers a reliable backcourt for years to come.
26.1 Minutes, 9.8 Points, 5.6 Rebounds, .9 Blocks, 58%FG
After missing the first six games of the season with an injury, Aldridge has come back with some solid performances. Hes been finishing around the rim very consistently without forcing anything. Most of his production has come from good positioning, hustle, and face up jumpers. Although his back to the basket game isnt extremely advanced, he has displayed the ability to use his length to score over defenders and grab offensive rebounds for put backs. Aldridges best looks have come from kick outs on the pick and roll. He hasnt been hitting his mid range jumpers with great consistency, but this aspect of his game will roll into form as he shakes off the rust from his injury. Aldridge has also shown the ability to beat his man down the floor and get fill lanes in transition. Once he gets comfortable with his back to the basket and develops some go to moves, he could become a highly effective post scorer.
On defense, Aldridge has shown the desire to work hard and the potential to be a presence coming over from the weak side, but nothing stunning. He is rather strong despite his wiry build, and doesnt give away easy buckets in the post. Once Roy returns to the lineup, the team will have the opportunity to build chemistry between two of their most promising players, which should pay huge dividends for them in the long run. Aldridge has started the last few games, and Nate McMillan
is clearly willing to give him the minutes he needs to develop. When Raef LaFrentz
and Joel Przybilla
return, it will be interesting to see if Aldridge continues to see as many minutes. Since Jamal Magloire appears to be short term investment by the Blazers, it is safe to assume that well see a lot of Aldridge along side Zach Randolph
, who he could ultimately replace as Portlands go to guy in the post.
11.5 Minutes, 1.5 Points, 3.4 Assists, .5 Steals, 25% FG
With Roy out, Portland needed someone to handle some minutes at point guard, and Rodríguez filled in seamlessly. He finds the open man, makes good passes, has a knack for finding teammates in traffic, and pressures the ball on defense. For a player who doesnt get a lot of minutes, Rodriguez tallies a lot of assists. He is currently leading the league in assists per 48 minutes. One of the things that really jumps out at you when you breakdown his game is his lack of turnovers. For someone throwing so many passes around and through defenses, you would expect him to turn the ball over a lot more than he does. He ranks second in the league in assist to turnover ratio, which is truly astounding for a rookie point guard. In terms of pure passing, he is one of the most promising players youll ever see. However, he doesnt bring a whole lot more to the table at this point in his career.
Rodriguezs jump shot has good form, but he has struggled to knock down shots from the perimeter when left open. He finishes well around the rim, but his lack of height makes it hard for him to be consistent when he is he met with any sort of resistance. Rodriguez will likely lose most of his minutes when Roy returns, but he has shown some unique qualities and definitely will find a place on this team in future. Rodriguez has the skills to be effective as a backup right now, but he wont be able to start until he puts on some muscle and improves the consistency on his jumper. He is definitely someone to watch out for in the future.
35.1 Minutes, 11.9 Points, 6.0 Assists, 1.4 Steals, 45% FG
Jack is clearly one of the leaders on this young roster. Just a second year player himself, Jack has had a steadying presence on the players around him in the early going. Hes been much more efficient in finding open teammates than he was last year and has developed into one of the better assist men in the league. His free-throw shooting has been off the charts this season, placing him amongst the top handful of players in the league in this category. His shooting from the field has been up to par, but he has struggled from long distance. Three-point shooting is one of Jacks clear weaknesses, and his inability to shoot the three at a consistent clip is holding back the rest of his game. If he could add some range to his shot, it would really open things up for the rest of his offensive arsenal. It will be interesting to see if Jack looks to improve his range, or remove the three pointer from his game in a similar to the way Eric Snow
has throughout his career.
Defensively, Jack is very solid due to his strength, size, and quickness. He has shown a knack for coming up with loose balls this season, and has used superior positioning to create turnovers. Jacks defense is much like the rest of his game: steady. He is in no danger of losing his starting spot, and is a player the rest of the team looks to for direction. His abilities to control the tempo of a game and play intelligently have made him a valuable player. Coupling his presence with that of Brandon Roy
gives Portland one of the most reliable young backcourts in the league.
21.9 Minutes, 6.8 Points, 2.2 Rebounds, 40%FG
Webster is one of the players the Blazers are putting a lot of stock in for the future. A former lottery pick out of high school, Webster is still trying to fulfill his immense potential. With great form on his shot, Webster already looks great as a spot up shooter. Whether hes coming off a screen or spotting up, the ball looks great coming out of his hands. One of the biggest knocks on Webster coming out of high school was his handle. This is still an issue, but Webster has shown some improvements in his ball handling. If he can improve his ability to take his man off the dribble and create his own shot, he could develop into a great offensive player. Another aspect of the game Webster struggles with at times is shot selection. It sometimes appears that he is forcing shots from the perimeter. This is likely the byproduct of Websters inexperience. As he matures, hell need to realize that by moving effectively without the ball, he can become a much more prolific scorer.
Webster has a strong frame, and doesnt back down defensively, but his lack of superior quickness makes it hard for him to defend top flight players. Given the minutes that he plays, it appears the Nate McMillan
still views Webster as a developmental player. He has already shown the ability to contribute on the offensive end, but it will take time for him to become the player Portland thought he could be when they drafted him sixth overall. Webster has started the last few games, but even with increased minutes, his production hasnt really changed. It will be fascinating to see how he responds to his increased playing time in the coming weeks.
12.8 Minutes, 3.6 Points, 1.5 Rebounds, 43% FG
Graham has been a solid option off the bench for Portland. With so many injuries plaguing their roster in the early part of the season, Graham got the opportunity to see the floor. Although he wont dazzle you with his game, Graham will play smart and work hard on defense. He has shown the ability to knock down the occasional open jumper, but will not see as much time when Brandon Roy
returns. Grahams standing with the team next season is contingent on the recovery of Darius Miles
from his season ending knee surgery.
23.9 Minutes, 9.4 Points, 3.8 Rebounds, 48%FG
Outlaw has really came into his own this season, showing that he can still become the contributor the Trailblazers once thought he could be. After being drafted out of high school in 2003, it became obvious the Outlaw was going to need some time to polish his game. He was very raw, and to an extent still is, but he has shown marked improvement in each of his first three seasons in the league.
One part of Outlaws game that has clear improved is his mid range jump shot. His length and athleticism make it essentially unblockable, and his form looks above average. The thing that is really troubling about Outlaws jumper is that when he misses, he tends to miss badly. This could be the result of a lack of confidence or improper footwork. Outlaw wont ever be a great three point shooter, but his number of attempts indicates that he is trying to improve. When his shot is falling, he has had no trouble putting points on the board, but he could certainly stand to improve his consistency on a game to game basis. With consistency, defenders would have to respect him further away from the basket and he could use his athleticism to attack the rim more regularly, something that he doesnt do terribly often right now. His jumper has been a work in progress since he got in the league, so it should continue to improve as the season goes on.
The thing that makes Outlaw so intriguing is his blend of length and athleticism. He looks good defensively when he is playing on the perimeter, and has shown that he can block some shots around the basket. He sometimes gets caught up on help side, leaving his man open for jumpers, but he contests every shot he can. Sometimes this works against him, especially when he is guarding more experienced post players. He tends to go after pump fakes, allowing his man to draw the foul and get to the line or drive around him to the rim. Outlaw has improved in almost every facet of the game, but still has a long way to go. Fortunately, at just 22 years of age, he has ample to time to work on his game. Look for Outlaw to maintain his current production levels throughout the season as he continues to get consistent minutes off the bench.