Joe Freeman over at the Oregonian is tickling our homer bones again with another article on...what? It's like a funny bone, except for fans. Home-team rooters? OK, fine. I'll admit it's probably the worst phrase ever invented in the history of blogging. Can we just talk about Freeman's article now?
The subject of the pre-season prose this time is Martell Webster. As always, the article is more than worth a read. Martell reiterates his stance that Nicolas Batum may aim to start, but he (Martell) is about winning. I'm not suggesting you buy that old saw completely. Rather it hearkens to a debate Casey Holdahl and I had on the last podcast. We were making cases for small forward starting. He took Batum and I took Webster.
Granted, I don't believe Martell will come out of the gate with the starting role in hand. He's been off too long to be sure of. He's not had much practice with the current (grown up) incarnation of the Blazers. Batum almost certainly starts the season getting his name announced every night. But down the road I have a hunch that Martell is going to challenge for that role. I'd bet at some point he takes it.
This has nothing to do with a poor assessment of Batum. Of the two, Nicolas is the future of the position. Nicolas also has plenty of skills and enough talent to recommend him in the present. But that's just it. Batum has enough skills that he'd make a great flexible bench player. You can send him off the pines to guard anyone who's hot at any of the three small positions with the starters. You can form a running second unit including Fernandez, Batum, maybe Outlaw, probably with a little left over Andre Miller to push tempo and steady any jumpiness. Whichever center is in reserve you'll need more defense. If Rudy and Travis are out there you don't necessarily need more shooting, let alone if Blake plays out there too. Batum's a nice fit.
Webster, on the other hand, is a small forward who will guard the opposing small forward. Though he can sure dunk purty if nobody is in front of him he's not the agile, slasher type. Roy and Miller are though. What do they need? What does LaMarcus need to execute his mid-range game or Greg (assuming he's there) in the post or cutting low? They could use more outside shooting. Batum has range but not the kind of confidence in his marksmanship that Webster has. Nicolas shot 37% from the arc last year but most of those shots were astonishingly open. Webster shot better in his last active season while attempting twice as many threes, many of which were more difficult. Webster will keep opponents more honest than Nicolas will. His defense won't be the same which is a strong argument for Batum, especially with Nate McMillan preaching defense from the opening of training camp this year. But again, Batum's defense is usable anywhere, anytime, starting or not. Martell is going to be a better starter than reserve.
During the podcast Mr. Holdahl pulled the old, "If they're doing well why would they change?" argument on me. I must admit, it's convincing. Then again with the expectations on them, the league more ready for them, and the general tendency of things to slip the second time you try them I'd venture there's a better chance for the Blazers to have a disappointing first couple months this year (versus their expectations) than in years past. Heretofore if things just went pretty well everybody was satisfied. This year things will have to go incredibly well for anyone, including the team, to be happy. A handful of games above .500 in mid-December is going to generate questions this year when it would have generated celebration in years past. And those questions could well generate the kind of tinkering that would lead to Martell getting a try.
What say you? Is there any chance Martell enters the starting lineup for any reason besides injury this year? If so, why and/or what will it take? Feel free to share other impressions from Freeman's piece as well.