SI Vault
Mark Bechtel
October 28, 2002
One of the game's deepest benches got deeper, but with no leading man to complement a talented supporting cast, the result could be deep trouble
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October 28, 2002

5 Portland Trail Blazers

One of the game's deepest benches got deeper, but with no leading man to complement a talented supporting cast, the result could be deep trouble

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2001-02 record: 49-33 (third in Pacific)
Points scored: 96.6 (11th)
Points allowed: 93.7 (8th)
Coach: Maurice Cheeks (second season with Trail Blazers)



2001-02 KEY STATS


Scottie Pippen


10.6 ppg

5.2 rpg

5.9 apg

1.63 spg

41.1 FG%


Rasheed Wallace


19.3 ppg

8.2 rpg

1.28 bpg

1.28 spg

46.9 FG%


Dale Davis


9.5 ppg

8.8 rpg

1.2 apg

1.06 bpg

51.0 FG%


Bonzi Wells


17.0 ppg

6.0 rpg

2.8 apg

1.53 spg

46.9 FG%


Damon Stoudamire


13.5 ppg

6.5 apg

0.89 spg

40.2 FG%

35.3 3FG%



2001-02 KEY STATS


Derek Anderson


10.8 ppg

2.7 rpg

3.1 apg

0.97 spg

40.4 FG%


Ruben Patterson


11.2 ppg

4.0 rpg

1.4 apg

1.05 spg

51.5 FG%


Jeff McInnis#


14.6 ppg

2.6 rpg

6.2 apg

0.78 spg

41.3 FG%


Arvydas Sabonis?#


10.1 ppg

5.4 rpg

1.5 apg

1.02 bpg

47.9 FG%


Zach Randolph


2.8 ppg

1.7 rpg

0.3 apg

44.9 FG%

66.7 FT%

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
?2000-01 statistics
PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

Anyone who thinks depth can't be a problem has never stepped in a puddle or coached the Trail Blazers, whose second unit would make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The NBA's deepest team got even deeper over the summer when 37-year-old center Arvydas Sabonis ended his one-year sabbatical and rejoined the team. Sabonis's return was spurred by, of all things, the Brazilian soccer team, which won the World Cup in June. "For eight months I disconnected from basketball," Sabonis says. "Then, the next day [after the final] I went and practiced."

The 7'3" Lithuanian has been a fan of Brazil since childhood, drawn to the squad by, among other things, their well-orchestrated style of play. After watching the cohesion and passion with which the Samba Boys played during the World Cup, Sabonis realized how much he missed the intensity of pro competition. If the Blazers are going to be successful, they are going to have to play a hoops version of the Beautiful Game. Whether that is possible will depend largely on how coach Maurice Cheeks doles out playing time.

Cheeks has a number of delicate decisions facing him. At point guard, for instance, the team signed free agent Jeff McInnis and traded for Antonio Daniels to compete with the incumbent, Damon Stoudamire, who makes more than $13 million and has intimated that if he isn't the starter, he wants to be traded. Then there's the small forward position, where 37-year-old Scottie Pippen is one of the NBA's 50 greatest players of all time but not one of the 50 greatest players of the present time. Assuming that Pippen fully recovers (as expected) from off-season surgery on his right knee, 27-year-old Ruben Patterson will again be relegated to the bench. "He's Scottie. He's going to play that position," says Patterson. "I'm not mad about it, because I respect Scottie and I learn a lot from him."

He also outplays him. The 6'5", 224-pound Patterson outscored Pippen in nine fewer minutes per game, was seventh in the league in field goal percentage and is one of the game's best defenders. (He averaged 16.5 points and 5.4 boards in his 13 starts.) "The way Ruben plays, he can get 18,19 points a game without having a play called for him, just because of his hustle, the way he rebounds and the way he runs the floor," says Stoudamire. With one year in Portland under his belt, Patterson, who signed as a free agent from Seattle before last season, showed up at camp displaying more leadership qualities and an all-around improved game. "His shot looks better, he's handling the ball better, he's not trying to force things as much," says Cheeks. "I'm looking for great things from Ruben."

The addition of Sabonis, who reported to camp in very good shape, gives Portland 15 to 20 minutes a night of decent offense and someone who can lean on Shaq. But he's a supporting player, and the Blazers have plenty of those; what they need is superstar power. "We have a lot of pretty good players," says Cheeks. "We don't have, like, great, great players."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]