UPDATE: I think this thread has generated a fair amount of thoughtful discussion in it's first 150 comments. I would like to add a couple of thoughts and clarifications about my OP:
1) Several people have criticized my OP as being disrespectful of Steve, and looking back, I think their criticisms have some merit. My tone was a bit snarky in places. Steve deserves better; he has been an integral part of the teams dramatic improvement over the past two plus seasons. He is a good guy and a solid player. As my OP points out, his production has declined significantly (from 14.4 last season to 9.1, so far, this season), and I think that is a topic for legitimate conversation.
2) Several thoughtful defenders of Blake have suggested that Blake is making the team better in some intangible way that is not showing up in his individual stats that are the primary focus of my OP. This seems possible. Blake's non-adjusted +/- stats are the best on the team. Non-adjusted +/- is a notoriously fickle stat because there are so many uncontrolled variables that can have a huge impact on these numbers. Generally it is considered unreliable unless the sample size is very large, but it is a possible explanation.
3) In general, I think we should all keep an open mind on this subject. Those of us who have doubts about the three guard line-up should wait and see what unfolds on the court. Maybe the defensive concerns we have are overblown. We will know more when the team plays a few games against better quality opponents. Maybe Nate sees this is a transitional line-up. On the other hand, Blake's defenders need to keep an open mind as well. His production has taken the biggest decline of anyone on the team, if this trend continues, his role may need to be adjusted. You can give him credit for past service, and you can give him credit for team success, but at some point, he has to bring it on the floor. You can't keep a guy with a PER below ten in the starting line-up indefinitely when you have three guys who are more productive sitting on the bench.
4) Trout's injury occurred a few hours after my OP. Obviously, his absence is going to effect the rotation. Let's see how Nate handles this challenge and let's see how the team responds on the floor.
BOTTOM LINE: I think these developments all bear watching. Maybe the team will keep winning maybe not. Maybe Blake's play will improve, maybe not. Let's keep our eyes on the scoreboard and the stats for a few more games and then revisit this topic when things become a bit clearer. Again, thanks for the quality discussion.
Is it Blake's efficient scoring? Well no, his PER is at 9.6, which is absolutely atrocious, worse than any player on the team besides Howard. The other candidates for minutes: Bayless 20.6; Martell 15.0; Rudy 14.9; Miller 13.3
Is it that Blake's outside shooting is desperately needed? Well no, Blake is shooting at a 40% clip from three, but so is Rudy, so is Travis, and Martell isn't far behind. Even Bayless has shown an improved outside shot making over 40% of his jumpers and his lone attempt from 3..
Is it Blake's lock-down defense? OK, I am being a bit snarky. No one is likely to label Blake a good defender. Some might argue that he is the best we have at the point. Blake's Defensive Rating of 102 is a single point better than Miller's and 3 points better than Bayless' , but whatever edge he has over Miller and Bayless is, at best, slight. In particular, Blake tends to struggle against quick guys who penetrate.
Perhaps it is Blake's solid distribution skills? Well surprisingly enough, Blake is the fourth best assist man on the team so far this season. <strong>Assists Per 36 Minutes</strong>: Miller 6.0; Roy 5.2; Bayless 5.0; Blake 4.2; Rudy 3.2. Yes, you read that right, Bayless has more assists per minute than Blake.
Maybe it is Blake's ability to snag a few rebounds? Well, no. Blake is the worst rebounder of any of our perimeter players: <strong>Rebounds Per 36 Minutes:</strong> Bayless 4.3; Roy 4.3; Miller 4.1; Webster 4.0; Rudy 3.9; Blake 3.2.
Certainly, it must be because Blake makes so few mistakes? Well um, er, no. Blake has a higher Turnover Percentage than either Miller or Bayless: Bayless 14.2; Miller 16.0; Blake 16.2
I realize I am being a bit provocative. Blake is a solid player and he has played a significant role in the teams success over the past two seasons. However, Nate is the one who said that the players would determine who got minutes by their play on the floor. Judged by the very preliminary stats I have just presented, I think it is clear that Blake has not earned the minutes he has received.
To me, it is clear that those minutes should be split between Rudy, Webster, and Bayless. All three have been more efficient and effective than Blake. If Nate wants to stick with a three guard line-up, Rudy seems like the obvious choice alongside Miller and Roy. He can help spread the floor like Blake, but he is a more dynamic scorer, and he has better size to defend the two. If Nate wants to return Roy to his natural position and give the team stronger defense at the three, Webster is the obvious choice.
Bayless has been the team's most improved player, so far in his limited minutes. His PER and TS% have both jumped dramatically to 20.6 and .664 respectively. Furthermore, the stats suggest that while he is still a work in progress, his distribution skills are improving. His Assist Rate per 36 minutes is up to 5.0 and his Turnover Rate, while still having room for improvement, has actually been the best of the three PGs. Bayless has been the teams most efficient and effective scorer off the bench. To me, this is a case of, "if it is working, don't mess with it." Bayless has earned the back-up PG minutes even if Nate abandons the three guard line-up.
Nate should stick by his own motto that "minutes are earned." By that standard Blake's minutes should be significantly reduced.
All stats are taken from Basketball Reference.Com http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/POR/2010.html