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Portland’s New Trio Signals A Changing Of The Guard

If the lockout goes down as expected, the Portland Trail Blazers will enter the summer having answered one of their biggest personnel questions and practically set its starting lineup in June.

Point guard Raymond Felton joins from Denver in a draft-day switch with Andre Miller. Unlike Miller, Felton doesn’t need the ball in his hands on every possession to be effective as a scorer and is an equal at distribution. And on the day he was introduced by interim GM Chad Buchanan along with draft picks Nolan Smith (No. 21) and Jon Diebler (No. 51) on Monday, Felton put the ball in the Blazers’ court about making him a franchise point guard.

“I’m definitely looking for something long-term here,” Felton said in the news conference.

Felton played in Roy Williams‘ secondary break system at North Carolina, and under Larry Brown in Charlotte, he was able to run, as well. He sees himself as a guy able “to push the ball up the court, but I can also run a half-court team,” which will be critical in Portland’s offense, centered around LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, to the extent his knees are healthy. Felton fit in immediately in New York under Mike D’Antoni‘s system, as well, and hinted in his comments he’d like to break the Blazers out of its methodical offense, when he can.

“I’m looking forward to working with these guys as soon as possible,” Felton added. … “I’m just going to come out and play basketball. The fit is great. A very young team, athletic, we can get up and down the court. We have a post man who can put the ball in the basket just in case we have to play half court.

“Adding these two guys right beside me (rookies Smith and Diebler) is some young talent that can really come out and I think can really help us out right away.”

How much will the Blazers’ three new guards help? Here’s a prediction:

Felton’s spot: Starter. Eight years younger than Andre Miller and has averaged more than 30 minutes in his career, valuable given his backup in Portland will be in flux through training camp (Patty Mills, Nolan Smith or Armon Johnson, who shined in last season’s first month) and he could be asked to play many minutes early. He’ll succeed in the same areas Miller did, by lobbing to Aldridge and company for finishes, and adds a three-point threat (he’s 33 percent for the career, 35 last year) that Miller never possessed. He didn’t like being a backup in Denver, and without a clear challenger at PG, there’s no reason to believe Felton shouldn’t shine in his new role. He’s reunited with Gerald Wallace, who he played five seasons with in Charlotte. Wallace’s slashing ability complements Felton’s vision and should pay dividends soon after the season starts (whenever that is).

Smith’s spot: Wing backup. Before No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving was hurt in December, Smith was a two-guard. That he took on Irving’s PG duties, increased scoring by three a game to 20 per, and still was a defensive stopper showing his adaptability in the backcourt. Question is, will Portland treat him as a one or two? If they’re smart, they’ll keep his role narrowly defined as a rookie; Smith struggled in the NCAA Tournament when his role switched from full-time PG to Irving’s unclear running mate again. He runs the pick and roll well, but Duke let him isolate for his own shot, as well (see 10-straight points to keep Duke from losing against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament). His pick and roll ability would work well with Aldridge or Nicolas Batum. Of course, Nate McMillan doesn’t have a reputation for leaning heavily on rookies. He’s also a proven winner, a trait McMillan loves.

Diebler’s spot: Make the team first. Never a guarantee for a second-rounder to make a club in a regular NBA offseason anyway, now there’s the roadblock of a lockout in his way and no summer league. He’s 6-6, which helps tremendously in getting his prodigious three-point shot off. As DraftExpress notes, he made 52 percent on his seven three-point attempts he averaged for adjusted 40 minutes last season. Every Ohio State opponent knew his strength and he still broke Kyle Korver‘s NCAA record. That’s the good. His defense isn’t necessarily the bad nor the ugly, but it’s clearly the area where an improvement could get him a roster spot and the status quo might put in him the D-League for a spell. But say he makes the League, just for fantasy sake, a Felton-Diebler-Batum backcourt rotation would give Portland two long, accurate three-point shooters, who in small bursts together, could change the offense from inside to out.

What do you think about the addition and the Blazers next season?

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