Expectations: Travis Outlaw

Perhaps no Blazer has more to gain or lose this year than Travis Outlaw.  As near as I can tell there are a couple of theories on the way this could go.

As I mentioned in one of the comments yesterday the success of the Blazers offense may hinge on whether they can find an effective third scorer to keep defenses from keying on Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge.  Travis certainly seems a prime candidate to be that third scorer.  At this point you can probably say he's a more likely candidate for that role than Greg Oden is.  Towards the end of last season he showed flashes of offensive brilliance.  He also has that coveted ability to create his own shot.  In fact by his own admission he's open every time he touches the ball because of his incredible leaping ability.  I don't think anyone's feelings would be hurt if Travis capitalized on that and started averaging double-digit attempts, either as a starter or as the primary scorer off the bench.  If he becomes a legitimate threat we become dangerous.  If he successfully fills any role this year it will be this one.

On the other hand Travis has pretty much flat-lined when it comes to consistency, even with his offensive game.  He has no go-to shot.  He has no defined scoring area where he's money.  We should be rising out of our seats every time he touches the ball with daylight on the way to the hoop.  Instead we have to wait and see whether he's actually going to catch it, whether he can transition the catch into a scoring motion, whether he's going to be aggressive or just try to finesse it in, and whether--after all that--the shot is actually going to go down or just doink off the back of the rim.  And we're talking about layups and dunks here.  That ain't good.  Whether Travis is ready to assume any kind of scoring role, let alone a major one, remains to be seen.

What's more Travis is at his best scoring when he has the ball in his hands.  One of the problems with last year's offense was that we had way too many endpoints and not enough conduits.  Travis is a holdover from that style.  But no matter how fancy his shots look I don't think anybody is going to be pleased to see him thinking, dribbling, and juking away half of the shot clock before he either gets a shot up or bails.  This is especially true with a number of other developing scorers on the team and even more true since most fans have their hopes pinned on a slightly faster paced motion offense this year.

Most of the rest of Travis' game follows the pattern of his offense.  He can rebound but he doesn't consistently.  He can defend a little, maybe more than a little when sagging away on help, but he doesn't consistently.  He can run the floor quickly enough but he doesn't consistently.

So what do you do with expectations for this guy?  We all hope he continues to grow and develop...well...consistency!  What level of consistency and production he will end up having is up in the air.  I believe he will get more shots and minutes this year than he has in the past.  I just don't know what he'll do with them.  I could see him averaging in the mid, or even high, teens.  I could also see the coaching staff pulling their hair out and benching him.  Best guess is some of both.

In short, I'm crying uncle on this one.  I'm not even going to put up numbers for Travis.  Neither am I going to define what I think would be a good season other than saying that for good or ill I want to know more about Travis at the end of this year than I did at the beginning, which pretty much has yet to happen in any year he's played so far.  I guess that would be "good" if you want to look at it that way.  Somebody wiser than I will have to contribute specific details beyond that.  I guess that means all of you.  The comment section is wide open.

A quick aside:  EnglandDan mentioned yesterday quite rightly (and I think someone else mentioned it before) that we're not covering defense as much as offense in these expectations.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  The cheap one is that offense is more easily quantifiable via statistics and more predictable to boot.  It's much simpler to say, "I think Lamarcus can average 20" than "I think Lamarcus will be able to sag off against the Golden State forwards and help in the lane but he can't do that against Dallas or we're going to get baked."  I don't even know if the defensive scheme against either team will call for him to sag off.  However I'm pretty comfortable saying he'll be a top two main offensive option for us no matter who we're playing.  The second reason is even better.  Our defense is going to evolve into something so different in the next couple of years that you won't even recognize it.  Even in the very earliest stages there will be no comparison between having Lamarcus and Greg Oden defending the hoop and having had Zach there.  Once he gets going Oden's presence alone is going to fundamentally change how everyone on this team plays defense (and is perceived to play defense).  Until we have seen that in action it's going to be very hard to say what it's going to look like or what we can or should expect.  Therefore all we can really say at this point is, "Player X brings this to the table and will probably need to work on that."  We should know a lot more next summer.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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