Unflappability

The ongoing discussion of Greg Oden’s performance in the general vicinity of Shaquille O’Neal the other night (against him isn’t an accurate description) has brought up an interesting point I want to address further.  First let me share that I don’t think there was anything unexpected, let alone wrong, with what happened against Phoenix.  Oden still has the experience and physical limitations we’ve been talking about all season and Shaq still has an ego.  That’s about the size of it.  However the episode does reveal part of Greg’s personality.  He’s not on solid ground right now--again, for perfectly understandable reasons--and when he’s not on solid ground his performance suffers.  He’s not shown himself to be a person who relishes the challenge of the unknown.  He’ll be the biggest, and perhaps the most effective, guy in the charge but he won’t be the one out front…at least not at this point.

 

I was trying to think of a way to describe the characteristic that Greg is missing right now and the closest word I came up with is “unflappable”.  Certain guys will simply go out there and perform no matter what happens.  Everybody goes up and down, of course, but these guys make down look good and up look great.  You can’t shake them or intimidate them.  They rise to the occasion. 

 

As I was going over the roster I realized how few of our players really evidence this quality.  The guy who stands out above all the others is Brandon Roy.  A bad night for him is 16 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.  That’s not very far below his average.  Furthermore he can miss shots, get bumped around, and get run ragged and still show absolute confidence taking his next shot or tenacity making his next drive.  He never gets kept out of the lane for a full game.  He never seems to get down on himself.  He can be having the worst game of his life and he’s still the guy who will take the game-winner…and you’ll like it that way.  He is truly unflappable, or as close as the Blazers get.

 

And really, if you’re talking prime specimens, he’s about it.  You can make arguments for a couple other players.  Steve Blake is pretty steady and always seems to pull himself out of the fire.  He’s also on quite a streak lately.  But he also has down games where he all but disappears, even in the subtle areas like smart defense or setting the offense which make him so valuable.  Joel Przybilla is a candidate with his lunch-pail effort but he’s had good and bad months and seasons, not just games or quarters.  You know he’ll give his all out there, but his all isn’t always effective.  When he’s ineffective he tends to shrink on the offensive end in particular.  Defensively he commits fouls.  He’s one of the current most unflappable guys on the Blazers, yes.  But he hasn’t evidenced that quality over the entire course of his tenure here.

 

After that things get sketchy quickly.  Oden is going to be a cornerstone of the franchise but we already see that this isn’t a strong point with him.  Aldridge doesn’t slump often but when he does he seems to go south big time.  He also fluctuates in his rebounding and defensive effort.  Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster have both been up and down depending on the situation confronting them.  It’s a little early to tell on Rudy.  He could be a strong candidate for eventual “unflappable” status.  But right now he, too, tends to shrink away when things aren’t going right for him.  Batum is another strong candidate but he’s been known for sporadic play in the past.  Channing, no.  Sergio, no.  Jerryd, no…or at least not that we can see.  He may possess that quality and just not have had the chance to show it yet. 

 

Running down the list you see the value of Brandon Roy to this team and why he’s the clear leader here.  This will become more pronounced as the Blazers start playing more important games.  Good, veteran teams are in the business of making you uncomfortable.  There’s no way around it.  They’re going to knock you out of your tree.  This is true in critical games leading up to the playoffs.  This is true the first time you enter the playoffs.  This is true the first time you advance to the penultimate and ultimate rounds of the playoffs.  How you react in the face of uncertainty, discomfort, and the challenges they bring will, in large part, determine your success (or at least your early success).

 

Reaction number one is to say, “Thank goodness for Brandon.”  Reaction number two is to muse whether one of the attributes the Blazers will be looking to bring on board is exactly this attitude.  Certainly it could develop in some of our current non-Brandon players, but in my experience unflappability tends to be a personality trait as much as a learned behavior.  You pretty much either have it or you don’t.  Most people overcome its lack by becoming accustomed to circumstances that once intimidated them.  (That’s the avenue Oden is going to take through this first season.)  Obviously that’s possible for the Blazers but more desirable would be the chutzpah to get it right the first time…or at least to have a chance to get it right.  In order to do that, we probably need at least one more steady, fearless guy with talent to watch Brandon’s back.

 

This doesn’t mean we need a crazy dude.  We’re not looking for the next Vernon Maxwell or Xavier McDaniel here.  We just need a guy who jumps at the prospect of facing the unknown, who flourishes in those circumstances, and who is steady enough that you can’t tell the difference between the nights he’s comfortable and the nights he’s struggling.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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