I like to pride myself on being one of those people who gives credit, where credit is due. I give the Boston Red Sox organization a tremendous amount of credit for the team and culture they have built in their city, even though I would love to see Fenway Park and that obnoxious green wall burn to the ground. However, as painful as it is for a Yankee fan like myself to admit, the Sox built there team the right way. Great evaluation of talent and even better drafting has allowed them to create a young, talented and affordable (by today's standards) lineup. And don't look now, but the Portland Trailblazers are doing the same thing in the National Basketball Association (NBA), so I think it's about time somebody starts giving them credit too.
Everyone knows that the Trailblazers drafted Greg Oden with the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Everyone knows the 7'0'', 280 lb, 20-year-old big man, regardless of his Kimbo Slice or Rick Ross'esque beard, has more hype and potential than any big man coming into the league since Shaq. Kind of off topic, but here is Shaq's new commercial, I saw it the other day and laughed for an hour, tell me what you think. Back to what I was saying though, it's the other draft picks besides Oden, that everyone doesn't know about which makes this team built to win:
- Brandon Roy: The second year point guard who excelled at the University of Washington was the steal of the 2006 NBA draft. Roy is making a mere $3.1 million per year, and producing like a $10 million player. Roy is not only the general on the court for this team, but he is their emotional spark as well, he leads the team in points (20.9/game) and assists (5.3/game) and has become one of the most feared point guards in the NBA. At 6'6'', Roy's size presents match-up problems for almost any point guard in the league. He is electric with the ball in his hands, is a tremendous shooter from range, and can finish around the basket as well as anyone in the league. The Trailblazers go, as Brandon Roy goes.
- LeMarcus Aldridge: The second year forward out of the University of Texas has really evolved into the consistent everyday starter they expected him to. Aldridge is a great compliment to the beast that is Greg Oden. Aldridge's ability to hit mid range jump-shots opens up the paint for offensive rebounds and easy baskets for the sometimes offensively-challenged Oden. Aldridge is averaging 15.7 points per game, and is being paid very moderately for his efforts. By moderately, I of course mean that LeMarcus is banking over $4.5 million per year, but in the NBA that's a very average salary.
- Rudy Fernandez: Fernandez has been one of the great surprises of the NBA this season, the rookie who earned so much respect during the Olympic Games playing for Spain, has become a consistent outside shooter for the Blazers. He is averaging 11.1 points per game and is shooting an astounding 42.6 percent from beyond the arch. His presence as an outside shooting threat has really opened up a lot of opportunities for other players like Roy to get to the basket and score. Fernandez has been a very positive investment for this organization as well since he is only making a little over $1 million per year.
Now, the Trailblazers are by no means the favorite to win it all this year, but I can assure you, they won't be flying under any one's radar for too long. Portland after a somewhat shaky start has been on a tear; they are off to a 12-6 start, and have yet to lose at home this season. It would be nice to see a new powerhouse grow in the Western Conference that can compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. It's a shame to say, but in this era of free agency, the Blazers only have a few years to do it with this team, before all these growing stars are going to be paid like the superstars they are.
The Blazers have two games against the lowly and dysfunctional New York Knicks and Washington Wizards but face a big test on Friday when they face the defending champion, Boston Celtics at home. So it won't be long before we can see just how good this team is.