Discussing the Portland Trail Blazers with Ben Golliver of Blazersedge

Perhaps you've heard this before but when it comes to Blazersedge, there's no doubt in my mind that you're looking at the best NBA team blog in existence. The work Dave Deckard and Ben Golliver do day-to-day is nearly unparalleled and gives sports blogs a blueprint for success. We at Orlando Pinstriped Post have tried to take their formula, so to speak, and incorporate nearly everything they do with our own spin to it. And it's worked. That's a credit to Dave and Ben.

 

A few days ago, I was able to ask Golliver a few questions to preview tonight's game between the Orlando Magic and the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

What type of evolution in Greg Oden's game were fans of the Portland Trail Blazers seeing before he went down with a season-ending injury? Does two season-ending injuries change how general manager Kevin Pritchard perceive the team's future with him, if at all?

The beginning of this season saw the reemergence of "Smooth Greg". While coming back from the microfracture, Greg was zombie-esque in his movements. He didn't trust his body 100% and it led to a lot of fouls on offense and ugly shot attempts on offense. Greg came into camp in very good shape and with a new comfort level with the ball in his hands. Most if not all of the explosiveness was back on defense too. He was aggressive, assertive, much more chipper and animated. He was happy to play basketball again and it showed. And he enjoyed some nice success.

 

I don't think Kevin Pritchard's perception of Greg has changed yet although I think a reality has set in about his potential for continued health problems going forward. For a long time the standard response when it came to Greg was that all of his injuries had been fluke injuries and were unrelated. Although that's still the party line I think there's definitely a growing sense that Greg can't be taken for granted as a championship-calibre franchise center. His ceiling has come down a bit. I think their goal now is that he's able to enjoy a successful career in a complementary role to Brandon Roy. It's been a long time since I heard a Bill Russell comparison. I think they'd be more than happy with Dikembe Mutombo at this point.

 

Pritchard will have a decision after next season regarding Greg's contract. Given their relationship it's hard to imagine a situation where Pritchard doesn't take care of Greg financially, which hopefully gives Greg some piece of mind as he works through his recovery.  

 

More after the jump.

 

I know there's been a lot of talk concerning Andre Miller, how the team has been trying to acclimate to his game, and vice-versa. How has that "marriage" been working out between both parties?

All of the off-court, emotional stuff between Miller and Nate McMillan was overblown to a degree but the on-court relationship between team, coach and player still has a way to go. Miller's basic approach is that he should be playing the most minutes of any Blazer point guard and the important 4th quarter minutes as well. McMillan's approach has changed as the team has undergone injuries: first he wanted Miller to captain his team's second unit so he could have a more up-tempo unit, and then later in the season he decided to go with an unconventional 3 guard lineup (that didn't include Miller) to close games. More recently (since their argument went public last week), he's given Andre a shot in the fourth quarter with average results.

 

Interestingly, Brandon Roy has had a great December and has been playing heavy minutes alongside Miller. So the earlier questions about whether the two could play together seem at least slightly off-base. However, Miller's inability to stick the long-range shot and so-so defense remain big question marks in the Blazers' system. The hope internally is that Bayless will be ready to challenge seriously for the starting spot next season as he has the physical tools to defend and has shown a jumper (albeit a streaky one).

 

It wouldn't surprise me to see either Miller or Steve Blake traded in advance of the trade deadline. Miller was seen as a temporary fix and his contract is guaranteed only through next season. So if he doesn't move this year there's a decent chance he moves next year. 

 

It's unfortunate for all parties involved that the series of injuries got in the way of McMillan's plan for Miller because there were flashes where this group seemed like it had elite potential with Miller coming off the bench. Such is life in the NBA.

The Blazers have been dealing with injuries all season, yet are 24-16 and in the hunt for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference. I know a lot of people have the same question and that is ... how?

More of less because of Brandon Roy. He's a top 10 player and his game is a perfect fit for the slow-down system Nate McMillan likes to run. This team has also gimmicked a number of wins by mixing up zone and matchup zone defenses to confuse teams and by pulling together in the face of adversity. For the last 2-3 years this team had played hard on every single night with only a few exceptions. At the beginning of this season, when fully loaded with a roster as deep and talented as anyone this side of Orlando's, there was a little bit of let-up. It wasn't the same day-to-day intensity. McMillan started getting on his guys to put forth max effort. But since the beginning of December the full bore effort is back and the results follow from that. Let's be honest, if you kill yourself for a win in December or January in the NBA and you've got a top 10 player, you're going to win some games. Finally the fact that the team plays such a rigid system has frustrated fans in the past but it's proven to be a big asset in the face of the injuries. McMillan has been able to plug-and-play rookies into defined roles with some really good success.

Now that he's been getting more minutes, what type of impact has Jerryd Bayless had (looking at the numbers and reading your reports, he seems to have moments of brilliance)?

Bayless started the season playing phenomenally efficient in limited minutes. His mid-range shooting was on fire and his ability to get to the free throw line was top-notch. As his minutes have increased and he's being asked to do more he has responded with both positive and negative results. His shooting has tailed off a bit which hurts him overall because he plays best on both ends when his shot is falling. On defense he is showing good progress from last year when he was a major liability due to fouling guys out on the perimeter. The best development for Bayless is his improve ability to kick-out to spot up shooters off the drive and he's had some big assist nights that have left McMillan smiling. The big question right now for him is: has he done enough (and done it consistently) to keep a spot in McMillan's rotation now that Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum will be returning to the lineup shortly. I think he has but it will probably be a smaller, niche role than the one he desires. Bayless has done a good job of bottling his frustration over lack of playing time up to this point but I wouldn't be surprised to hear some rumblings with his name in them before the trade deadline. That being said I think he's the least likely Blazers point guard to be moved.

 

I like to thank Ben for taking the time to answer my questions.

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