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Just How Good is Portland?

It's a valid question, and it's really the one on the minds of most NBA fans as they follow their team of choice. For Blazer fans, it's no different.

The Blazers are unquestionably a team on the rise. Of course, when you're coming from a 21-61 record (in 2005-2006), quite honestly it's hard not to be a team on the rise.

Portland Wins by Year It's just that this team has not only risen, it's risen like a shot. Following that 21-61 record, subsequent records were 32-50, 41-41 and then last season when they finished the regular season schedule at 54-28.

Look at the chart at the left. It looks to be about a 30 degree incline. At first glance, it's relatively easy to estimate where the Trailblazers record should end up in 2009-2010. If we are to believe the graph, we could project that the Blazers will win around 65-67 games next season. What the graph does not account for however, is the increased statistical difficulty to increase the number of wins in a given year, due to a finite number of games played.

Only a handful of NBA teams have ever made it to the 65 game plateau. A team winning 65 games is exponentially superior to a team who has won 55 games...when compared to a team that has won 45. You get the point. We can't expect the chart to keep the same pitch of incline. At some point, it has to level off.

Perhaps a more realistic question to ask would be, are the Portland Trailblazers likely to get to the 60 win plateau this year? Of course this is a speculative question, but during the Summer, fans are allowed a few indulgences.

We have to start with that 54 win team from last year. If Portland did personal development, no free agent acquisitions, no Martell have to assume they get back to 54 wins. Why? Because they've already proven that they can do it. It's no longer a hypothetical.

Next, let's consider each individual area of off season improvement.

This examination would have to start with Andre Miller. This Summer's only free agent pickup by Portland, he is a seasoned veteran with a proven background. He's tough and wily, rugged and skilled. He's limited in his range, both in terms of shooting and in terms of defensive range.

Still, he is a net upgrade over Steve Blake, and it could be argued that in nearly every way, he is a significant upgrade over Steve Blake.

Assuming Steve moves to the reserve role, he would have to be considered as an upgrade over what Sergio Rodriguez was last year. Of course, Sergio was traded to Sacramento, allowing Portland to move up two spots in the draft.

If there were no other improvements, how many additional wins do the Blazers get for their point guard upgrades?

Let's keep this conservative. Let's put the Miller/Blake over Blake/Sergio upgrade at 3 additional wins.

The next improvement of note has to be the return of Martell Webster. This is a hard one to call because we haven't seen more than 5 minutes of Martell since the 2007-2008 season. It's likely that he'll come back a little rusty, but his offense will soon flourish.

His consistency has been in question, but his potential is only limited by his work ethic and desire. Since Martell, a self-described gym rat, has spent every possible minute working out or taking shots from a chair, the assumption has to be that the desire is there.

Martell is an absolute stud, but because we really don't know what he's going to do, let's not add any wins for Martell's return. The assumption will be that whatever he brings is a bonus.

Greg Oden --- in my mind this is the biggest key to the Blazer's next step to greatness. If Greg can come in and put up numbers like 17ppg, 12 rpg, and 3 bpg, the doubters will be silenced.

Realistically, we should expect to see numbers like 14ppg, 10rpg and 2bpg for Greg this season. Not spectacular, but a very solid offensive contribution. More importantly, if he can consistently clog up the middle by staying in games, he makes the Blazers that much better. He'll do exactly that.

Greg has worked out this summer with former Blazer Brian Grant and various coaches. He also participated in the USA minicamp for projected and hopeful future USA Olympic Team participants.

To see what Bill Bayno thinks of Greg Oden's offseason progress, click here. (For some reason, there's a keyboard playing in the background...but just listen past that.)

In order to watch day one of his minicamp practice, click here.

For day two, click this link.

Casey Holdahl  gave a very positive report.

If Greg makes moderate improvements and stays in games this year, he will add 6 wins by himself. He's that valuable. We're not even including any of the benefit he'll receive from playing alongside Andre Miller and Brandon Roy (presuming Miller and Oden make the starting rotation). But let's stay conservative. A healthy and slightly improved Greg Oden picks up an additional 4 wins for the Black and Red.

Since players like Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw and even Jerryd Bayless are all very young and very talented, it is likely that all of them will improve significantly this season over last. This is a tough one. But we'll give the Blazers another 3 wins for the annualized improvement to their core. In particular, look for Lamarcus and Nicolas to really step things up this season.

The net value of Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendregraph compared to Channing Frye, Sergio Rodriguez or Raef LaFrenz is about zero.

That's about it.

If we are still talking pure numbers, that puts the Blazers at 64 wins next year...which is slightly higher than most of the projections floating around.

In real life, you just can't break it all down like this. But the truth is that these individual components all add up to a much better team. And 64 wins is not unreachable for this team.

But once again, we're going to settle back down to earth and project 62 wins for Portland this year. Truth is, it will be very difficult to break 60, and it will take all of these components coming together in a synergistic fashion in order to get there.

Still, 60 wins puts you in the contender category.

And in 2009-2010, Portland will be just that...a legitimate contender.


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