Czar Asks You

The Portland Trail Blazers are second in the league in free-throw percentage behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their clutch shooting ability from the line translated into wins this week.

In Tuesday’s 106-99 win over the Suns, the Blaze went a remarkable 32 of 33 from the foul line, finishing with 17 straight freebies in the fourth quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge sank 10 consecutive free throws in the game while Roy went 9 for 9.

Miller was sidelined against the Suns due to a one-game suspension following an altercation with Blake Griffin. But he was on a roll from the line prior to the miss, knocking down over 30 consecutive free throws, 9 of which helped cement a win over the Clips to snap a 6-game losing streak.

Miller doesn’t get to the line quite as often as Roy and Aldridge, but when he does he hits the mark. Ranked 9th and 10th overall respectively, guards Brandon Roy and Andre Miller lead their team in FT%.

All three guys will get a chance to hit some more foul shots tonight when they host the Magic at the Rose Garden.

Will Miller be able to keep his streak alive? Who will finish the season with the highest FT% – Miller or Roy?

Around the League: Jump Starts

Certain teams started out the season like they were supposed to: The Lakers are undefeated, while the Heat and Celtics are 4-1. Meanwhile some other teams have surprised us. There were big question marks about the Hawks, Hornets and Blazers heading into the season and all three have gotten off to a much better start than expected.

The Hawks steadily improved through each year of Coach Mike Woodson’s six-year tenure, culminating with three straight playoff appearances and an impressive 53-win season in 2009-10. In light of ownership’s decision to let Woodson go and the absence of any spectacular improvements to the roster, Atlanta’s future seemed tenuous. But since former assistant coach Larry Drew took over the reigns, his talented bunch (led by nine-year veteran Joe Johnson who’s averaging 19.6 PPG) have come out of the gates flying to five straight wins to lead the Eastern Conference.

Afflicted by injuries, superstar point guard Chris Paul was only able to play in 45 games last year, and his Hornets had to settle for a disappointing 37-win season. With Chris Paul’s rehabilitation ongoing this summer, all the speculation surrounding rumors that he would demand a trade, and the firing of Coach Byron Scott, New Orleans was bracing for another touch-and-go season.

But CP3 stayed, and in his first NBA campaign Head Coach Monty Williams has gotten off to an excellent start. Boasting a perfect 4-0 record, the Hornets trail the champion Lakers by just one win. And their future looks bright as Paul appears back to form, averaging over 35 PPG and 9 assists for fifth in the league.

Touted as the next big thing just a few years back, the Trail Blazers were plagued with injuries last season. 13 players combined to miss 311 games including Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Considering Portland is still without big men Oden and Przybilla, they have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start. Last night the Blazers came up just one point short of a win over Durant and the Thunder in overtime to put their record at 4-2.

The Blazers capitalized on a fortuitous opening season schedule, catching the Knicks, Suns and Clippers who are all struggling with subpar starts. Portland is getting a balanced attack from Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller who work well together. And guys like Nicolas Batum are stepping up while they await the return of their bigs. Nate McMillan is an excellent coach. Having assisted Coach K and Team USA, he didn’t have much down time in the off-season but came back ready to go. Przybilla is targeting November 26 for his return to the lineup so if the Blaze can stay healthy, they should continue to contend.

Fratello’s Fantasy Picks: Beyond the Draft

The NBA season is a long one and player values fluctuate throughout. Put these guys on your Fantasy watch list and see how their numbers are adding up when it comes time to tweak your roster and bolster your reserves down the line.

Taj Gibson  (Bulls – PF)

Taj Gibson is so important to Chicago right now because of the injury to Boozer, and he will play significant minutes until Boozer comes back.

Whether starting at the four position or coming off the bench, Gibson did a solid job for the Bulls last year and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Gibson put up 18 double doubles and showed he can rebound the ball, averaging 7.5 boards per game. Now the Bulls need him to step up his level of play as his offensive game continues to grow and develop.

Gibson has a toughness about him, and Tom Thibodeau likes tough-minded players. With a new coach to impress I expect Gibson to work hard to make significant contributions in order to keep up his minutes as the season progresses.

Jonny Flynn (Timberwolves – PG)

Last year’s sixth overall draft pick Jonny Flynn will be sidelined for the start of the season due to a hip injury that required him to undergo surgery in July.

The Wolves picked up veteran Luke Ridnour to fill in for Flynn during his absence. And though Ridnour will challenge him for the starting point guard position, Flynn will likely run the show once he returns to full health.

Flynn exhibits a tremendous passion for the game. While undersized, Flynn possesses strength, athleticism and quickness.

An explosive scorer off the dribble, Flynn’s first instinct is to light up the scoreboard. But the above-average passer has two great low posts to dish to in Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. I expect these guys to get results as the Timberwolves look to drastically improve upon last season’s record.

Steve Blake (Lakers – PG)

Steve Blake was an excellent pickup for the Lakers after their reserve guard Jordan Farmar shipped East upon signing a three-year deal with the New Jersey Nets.

Blake can make an open shot, and it is so important for the point guard to be a spot-up shooter to be effective within Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Rather than relying on speed and quickness, the triangle offense requires getting to certain spots and being able to make a shot after running cuts. Blake can do that – he can hit the open three.

Blake’s minutes will likely fluctuate. But because of his age, Blake can play significant minutes if Phil needs him in order to save Derek Fisher for the back stretch and the playoffs when the Lakers need him most.

J.J. Redick (Orlando – SG)

Entering his fifth year with the Magic, J.J. Redick has gotten better and better each of the last three seasons. A great free throw shooter with unlimited range, Redick went from being a guy who really struggled during his rookie year to someone who appears to be playing with big confidence.

In turn Stan Van Gundy has gained more confidence in Redick and his minutes have increased accordingly. Redick is a terrific shooter; he’s got toughness, and he figured out how he can play and be a contributor on an NBA club.

Stan continues to take stock in Redick, as evidenced by the three-year deal Redick signed prior to the start of the season, reportedly worth $20.19 million. Redick should continue to improve as both a shooter and a defender.

Joel Przybilla (Trail Blazers – C)

Though Joel Przybilla will not rejoin the Trail Blazers’ bench until November when he recovers from the ruptured patella tendon that ended his season last year, he could become valuable soon after his return because center Greg Oden will likely be out until at least  mid-December.

Przybilla is a very serviceable center who will give you good minutes. An effective screener, Przybilla allows Portland to get high percentage shots on offense. He also creates a number of second shot opportunities because of his rebounding skills. Last season Przybilla was a productive rebounder and shot blocker who effectively covered the front of the rim.

These are Przybilla’s strengths, so if you’re looking for a boost in these boxes he could be an asset. Anything he gives you offensively is gravy.

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