I’ll be the first one to say that I dislike the way Travis Outlaw plays the game of basketball. It looks so unnatural. He isn’t fluid, fundamental or pretty. Basically, he uses raw, unadulterated athleticism to defy the laws of nature and make the orange ball go through the red circle. In fact, I’m inclined to think this is how he thinks about the game.
I am responsible for starting a heavy, anti-Travis sentiment throughout my house. It’s come to the point where my roommates are starting to shake their heads every time he touches the ball. This is my fault. Since before the season began I’ve been preaching the wrongs of Travis and how much he hurts this team. The one-dribble pulls. The lazy defense. The terrible passes. Even the “oh my god Travis what the hell is tha…” shots that somehow find the bottom. Just about everything he does bothers me.
Now, I’m not saying I’ll ever like Travis’ game. I’m simply too versed in the fundamentals. From my point of view, if NBA players are graceful swans, Outlaw is a headless Chicken. However, last night, for whatever reason, I realized something. There’s a reason Travis Outlaw is a legitimate player in this league.
Let’s pretend Travis gets the ball at the top of key. He pump fakes and starts penetrating right. His freakishly long steps allow him to elude his defender, but instead of taking it into the C underneath the hoop, he thinks better of it and decides to spin the opposite way. Now he’s whirling around his defender and across the lane. Uncontrollably, he “pulls up” off his right foot. Unfortunately, his momentum is carrying him quite far, so this “pull up” turns into an off balance, leaning runner off the wrong foot. Meanwhile, all his defender can do is watch and say “I’ll give that to you all day long my friend.” The ball comes out of Outlaws hand with a sideways, knuckleball-like spin that makes Tim Wakefield jealous. You sit on your couch and put your hands over your face, shouting “god dammit Travis!” You start thinking about who the Blazers could get back in a trade for ‘ol Catfish and wonder why this hasn’t happened yet. Then, something miraculous happens. The ball goes in. Nothin’ but net. Straight wax. You stare in disbelief. You feel kind of violated, but sort of happy at the same time. You stand up to go have a cigarette.
If you can’t fully imagine the complexity of the situation above, you haven’t watched a full Blazer game this year. This type of thing happens often. Obviously, not everything Travis does matches this description, but I’d say it’s close.
Now, imagine being the defender in this situation. You’re guarding an athletic savant one on one. You play perfect defense and force your man into an impossible shot. He makes it. Then this happens eight or nine more times. How demoralizing is that? Soon, your team is wondering what the hell must be done to stop this one they call “Catfish.” Before long, the fourth quarter comes along and this mystic keeps stabbing you with knuckleball daggers, rendering you useless in your pursuit of victory due to frustration. People…this actually happens!
Sure, Travis shoots a lot of bad shots. He makes plenty of boneheaded passes. He often dribbles himself into traps and ruins the flow of the offense. He frequently misses defensive assignments. But, after it’s all said and done, Travis Outlaw makes plays. And he usually makes them when we need them most. His best games come when no one else can score. When he knows people are counting on him, he comes through. Whether this “clutchness” is a result of mental fortitude or plain ignorance to the situation does not matter. The fact is, the guy continues to make plays, and is undoubtedly responsible for winning us more games than he’s lost.
TO is really starting to come on. When he can hit the three, attack the basket, play hard in-your-face defense and sky for amazing rebounds, he is indispensable. He’s starting to do these things on a more consistent basis. Add that to his friendships with teammates and good-natured attitude and it’s easy to see why the guy we all love to hate is still around. I might never marvel at the beauty of his game, but I’m finally starting to understand why Travis Outlaw is such a valuable part of this franchise.