A day after Brandon Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in an attempt to salvage his season, the Portland Trail Blazers got more bad news on the injury front. Center Marcus Camby tore the medial meniscus in his left knee during Monday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and will need arthroscopic surgery of his own–becoming the fifth Blazer to undergo knee surgery this season alone. Camby figures to miss somewhere between four and eight weeks, a period that could be devastating as Portland chases a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
To try to estimate the impact on the Blazers’ record, let’s take a look at a potential frontcourt rotation in Camby’s absence. I would expect LaMarcus Aldridge to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 minutes a night, with 14 of those coming in a small frontcourt with him at center alongside Dante Cunningham. Joel Przybilla, still working his way back from a torn patella tendon that sidelined him at the start of the season, is unlikely to be able to ramp his minutes up beyond 20 per game. That leaves 14 minutes in the middle for Sean Marks, with Cunningham playing the remaining 22 minutes at power forward.
Here is how the various combinations of those players have performed on the floor this season, per BasketballValue.com:
Combo ORtg DRtg Net Min Aldridge/Przybilla 91.0 100.0 - 9.0 15 Cunningham/Aldridge 104.1 103.4 0.8 14 Aldridge/Marks 108.1 113.2 - 5.0 11 Cunningham/Przybilla 103.5 101.4 2.0 5 Cunningham/Marks 90.6 114.1 -23.5 3 Aldridge/Camby 110.5 107.9 2.7 - Cunningham/Camby 104.8 104.5 0.2 -
If you weight by minutes played and add things up, this simple estimate shows Portland getting outscored by five points per game. That’s surely a bit pessimistic. The big issue is that Aldridge and Przybilla have yet to click this season, struggling to score. That combination is likely to improve both because Przybilla is getting healthier and because it will mostly be playing with the Blazers’ starting five. The small frontcourt has been reasonably effective (more so than Cunningham and Camby), but Portland has struggled badly whenever Marks has been on the floor. Even 14 minutes a game for the Kiwi big man figures to be problematic for the Blazers. Nate McMillan could reduce that number by playing more smallball in favorable matchups.
If we assume that Portland can play even with Aldridge and Przybilla together in the frontcourt, our estimated point differential for the team in Camby’s absence becomes -2.2 points per game, which seems reasonable. A favorable scenario would have Camby returning after the All-Star break and missing 14 games. Over that span, a team with a -2.2 differential could expect to go 6-8, which is only a game difference from the 7-7 we’d expect from a team that has been right around .500 this season. But that loss goes up as Camby misses more games, and the concern for the Blazers is that even an impact of two or three wins could mean the difference between the playoffs and the lottery. They are currently 2.5 games up in the race for the eighth and final spot in the West postseason.