Mailbag

I still get a lot of e-mail nowadays, but because of the ease of commenting and the wonderful diary feature at this site, I don't get as many out-and-out questions via e-mail as I did back in the Blazer Thoughts days.   That's why I was pleasantly surprised when I got TWO today!  In celebration, I shall address them posthaste.

John writes (in essence, I paraphrased):

We've now won three games on this road trip, almost won a fourth, and have a chance to win another against a weak Memphis team.  They're doing better than I expected!  Do you think we've finally turned the corner and are on our way to becoming a legitimate mediocre team?>

I am also impressed by us pulling out some victories on the road.  Although the last couple games have been...hmmmm...less than artistic, we were able to win them and that is a sign of progress.  Winning is ALWAYS better than losing!  Unfortunately, despite the improved record, I don't think we're much farther ahead right now than we were when we left for the trip.  The Detroit win was gutsy, amazing, and maybe our best game of the season for all-around consistency.  Since then, though, we've been really hit or miss, not just game-by-game but quarter-by-quarter and sometimes possession-by-possession.  The Milwaukee game was pretty good but blundered away down the stretch.  Indiana was up and down.  Toronto was an ugly win full of sporadic play and the Philly game was even worse.  Plus we had the fortune to get these teams at opportune times.  Indiana was without Jermaine O'Neal, Toronto without Chris Bosh, Philadelphia without Allen Iverson, and Memphis might also be without Pau Gasol.  With a developing team like ours you can't take any victory for granted, but frankly I think I'd be a little surprised (and probably upset) if we hadn't won at least some of those games.  I bet there will be more .500 stretches like this in our season, but I bet there will also be more 6-loss-in-7-game stretches also, like the one that preceded this trip.

One thing has remained fairly consistent throughout the season.  When we do win, we do it with defense (or at least with enough defense to control the tempo of the game).  In six of our eight victories we've held our opponent to 91 points or fewer.  Only once have we won when the enemy topped 100, that being opening night against Seattle.

Caren writes:

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on Juan Dixon's recent struggles....I normally tape the games and watch them the next day.  But I have to admit that when I see his stat line that says 0-8, I don't usually go back and watch the tape at all, and when it says 6-15, I fast forward though just to see the ones he makes.  Is it just a normal slump, is he taking bad shots, is he getting blocked a lot?  I haven't read anything about it, aside from one comment that he was annoyed with himself...  I'm glad Nate has kept him in the rotation though!

You're a true Dixon fan, Caren.  I hope if anybody at Blazers HQ reads this they'll pass on your support to him.

First of all, you picked a lucky day to write.  If you read the Philly game recap you'll know that your boy won this game for us.  Zach hit the ultimate game-winning shot but Dixon hit the one right before him.  Plus he shot 6-13 for the game (good for a guard) was the second leading scorer, and was literally the only guy who kept us afloat in those middle quarters when we were struggling so hard to score.  Plus he had 4 steals, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds.  He gets the game ball.

There are several things to like about Juan...reasons that Nate keeps playing him even when fans are down on him.  He's a veteran (on this team anyway) and you don't see him out of place on the court much.  In fact he's somewhat of a calming influence on the younger players, reminding them when they forget where to go in their offensive sets.  Of late he's been taking an active hand in delivering the ball as well.  Plan A in this offense is Zach.  Plan B consists of Roy and Jarrett.  But when plans A and B aren't working for whatever reason, Juan gets the call.  He may be the only guy on the team that can consistently get a good shot off of his own dribble while under pressure.  He's not shy.  He doesn't think about it or doubt himself.  He just goes out and does his job, which is to shoot.  Some people get down on Juan because he occasionally gets Zach-level tunnel-vision and puts up shots without discernment, but those times have been comparatively few as he has grown older.  He does a pretty good job of picking his spots.  He'll not be a starter, but he's one of those spark guys off the bench.

Yes, Juan has gone through a mighty slump lately.  That's not unusual for him, as he is a career .410 shooter.  As TV announcers are fond of mentioning, he's a streak shooter.  He can miss six in a row and then hit his next ten.  The shooting percentage is low, even for a guard.  But the way I look at it is this:  a lot of those shots he's taking are devilishly difficult, as he's the last-ditch bail-out option.  Would I rather have Kyle Korver's .500 shooting clip?  Sure.  But if you toss the ball to Korver at the last second when he's tightly guarded and tell him to do something quick, that percentage is going to sink like a rock.  I remind myself that if it's a choice between Juan shooting 40% and a shot clock violation, I'll take Juan.  I'm going to live with a lot of missed buckets, but I'm also going to get those nights when the offense is entirely constipated and Juan is the only prune in sight.  This slump may have been his worst as a Blazer, but then this may also be the most consistent role he's had since he's been a Blazer.  Either way, he's already coming out of it and I don't think it was anything more than another streaky dip.

The major strikes against Juan are three:  his height, his range, and his defense.  

--The shooting range is self-explanatory.  The Blazers need guards who can spread the floor by being an outside threat.  Juan isn't a sharp enough marksman to warrant the attention.  Often opposing teams will sag off and dare him to shoot it, which not only allows them to rotate quicker to our interior guys, it allows them to pressure Juan himself when he puts the ball on the floor and drives.

--It's not that Juan is entirely out of place on the defensive end (like Martell sometimes).  Rather he isn't that effective even when he's in the right place.  He can be beat off the dribble.  He can be shot over.  He can just plain get overpowered too.  That's a bad combination and unless he really, really concentrates and has a ton of help behind him, he's a liability...on bad nights a severe one.  

--Juan's height is probably his greatest weakness.  He's a shooting guard and that's all he's ever going to be.  6'3" just isn't big enough.  Allen Iverson is the greatest small shooting guard in the league (and maybe ever) and plenty of people dislike his game and question his potential contributions to a winning team.  And the only way Juan even begins to resemble Iverson besides height is shooting percentage.  His height will always make it difficult for him to get off clean shots (and thus always keep his percentage low).  His height will always make it difficult for him to defend too.  It's to his credit that he's carved out a spot in the NBA at all with this liability.  However there are those (and I may be among them) who question whether Juan will still be with the team if and when it becomes good again, because winning teams don't have an abundance of spots for players with liabilities and guys who are willing to fill Juan's "gunner" role are a dime a dozen.  Simply put, if Martell and Travis were better all-around players right now, or even more consistently aggressive offensive threats, or even if they were a couple years older, Dixon might not be playing much.  Brandon Roy is all three of those things, and he's coming back from injury pretty soon.

I predicted in the pre-season that Juan Dixon would see far more minutes and prove far more useful to this young team than most fans would want to see.  His value to the team at this particular time was underrated by most Portland fans.  I think that has proven true, as so far he is averaging a career high 26 points a game.  I assume that meets with your enthusiastic approval, Caren!  On the other hand, I also predicted that his minutes would diminish as the year wore on, and that by the end of the year his role (and future) with the team would really be up in the air.  Barring injury or the trade of one of our young backcourt players I anticipate that also will hold true.  With one year left on a relatively modest contract Juan is ripe to be thrown into a deal somewhere as a salary-balancer.  It would not surprise me at all if he were in a different uniform by training camp next year.  I like Juan a lot, but I would also understand the move.  If it does happen, I hope you'll keep reading Blazersedge anyway!

I don't know if that completely answers the question, but at least we've managed to give Mr. Dixon some well-deserved ink.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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