Portland Trail Blazers All-Time Most Disappointing Acquisitions #7: Martell Webster

On Friday we covered the Blazers' first-ever lottery selection, Sebastian Telfair.   In 2004-05, the season following Telfair's arrival, Portland managed only 27 victories, exponentially worse than the season before.  This earned them an instant re-do in lottery land...except this time it was serious.  The Blazers weren't drafting in the mid-teens in 2005.  They were sitting pretty at #3 overall.  Center Andrew Bogut was out of reach.  Conventional wisdom had North Carolina star Marvin Williams going first or second as well.  But beyond that the field was Portland's for the picking.  The remaining talent wasn't ranked uniformly but plenty of names floated the airwaves as the next Blazers star.  "Star" is exactly what fans expected, too.  Only five times in its 35-year history had franchise selected higher and four of those had come in their first dozen years of existence.  This was big.  This player would define a generation.

Anticipation was thick leading up to draft night.  Then the reports came across the wire: the Blazers were moving down, trading their pick for Utah's #6 and a late-round selection.  The public reaction wasn't shock as much as puzzlement.  They didn't like anybody at the third spot?  Wheels turned and head scratching morphed into curiosity.  The team must have specifically targeted a player all along and knew that other teams wouldn't be interested enough to take him.  Who was that guy?  What kind of counter-intuitive genius was at work here?

Portland fans waited through the ensuing picks.  Bogut and Marvin Williams went 1 and 2, as expected.  Then the Jazz took Deron Williams with the third pick.  This was actually considered a reach by many experts, as Williams was guaranteed to be good but wasn't thought of as a superstar...certainly not as much as the dynamic point guard selected at #4:  Chris Paul.  A third point guard, Raymond Felton, went #5.  And then came the big moment.  With the 6th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, with their highest selection in 21 years, the Blazers would pin their franchise hopes on...

Martell Webster of Seattle Preparatory School.

Like Telfair in 2004, like Travis Outlaw in 2003, like Qyntel Woods in 2002, Webster was a high-school graduate with zero years of college experience.  The paucity of his body of work was balanced by an impressive actual body for a 19-year-old...NBA material for sure.  He was cut like a diamond.  His shot was supposed to be pure as snow.  99% of the viewing public hadn't seen him play but the Blazers had to know what they were doing, right?  They'd learned from those earlier picks for sure, right?  If they took a high school guy yet again, trading down three positions in the process, the master plan must be brilliant, right?

Webster's rookie season wasn't bad.  His 40% overall shooting clip was a tad disappointing but he took over half of his shots from beyond the arc.  36% from distance was a shade more mediocre than expected but his form sure looked nice.  His defense was painful to watch but he was a rookie.  Team reports painted him as a chronic hard worker.  The media portrayed his laser focus on eventual All-Stardom.  His personality wasn't offensive.  That was enough to keep people more excited than 6 points and 2 rebounds per game would indicate.

And then Webster plateaued.  He still wasn't bad.  He just never got any better.  His second season was a small step backwards with coaches reportedly frustrated by his lack of learning and attention to detail.  His third season saw him take more responsibility as a member of the starting lineup.  His defense improved from abysmal to decent and his shooting percentages rose a few points but his per-minute stats were no different than they had been his first year.  By this time his thunder had been stolen by two other draft picks anyway:  Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.  With the return of an injured Greg Oden on the horizon few people remembered Webster even existed, let alone that he had once been considered a potential savior.  Losing all but 5 minutes of his fourth season to injury cemented that status.  The loss of his actual spot followed the loss of his spiritual one as young forward Nicolas Batum endeared himself to coaches and fans with defense and an occasional flair that Webster lacked, even when healthy.

To be fair, Webster prospered when made the focal point of the offense.  His dribble drive wasn't good enough to justify giving him that position though.  He was brilliant when set up but the team wasn't geared to provide that opportunity.  

Webster's curtain call came in 2009-10 in which he played all 82 games, his minutes boosted by Batum's absence due to injury. It was a decent season, his best to that point.  But with a younger, cheaper, and perhaps better version of himself at the same position Martell's days in Portland were numbered.  He was traded on draft day 2010 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for middling pick Luke Babbitt and a soon-to-be-waived Ryan Gomes...steep depreciation for a five-year rental.  Webster managed 8.5 points per game on 41% shooting in his Portland career, picking up a little defense on the way.  It wasn't horrible but it was a far cry from expected return on a #3 overall pick.

Normally it's futile to look back at "could have beens" when considering draft history but with Webster it's all but mandated.  It's an integral part of the story and perhaps his most enduring legacy in Portland.  Sebastian Telfair may have been an accessory to the crime of the Blazers missing out on a point guard of the century but Martell Webster was caught red-handed, confession on record.  The Blazers have shuffled and drafted point guards repeatedly since the 2005 draft, never once getting close to a player of Williams' or Paul's caliber.  Their PG carousel just landed on Felton, the third point guard they missed out on in 2005.   Other names on the board at #6 that year:  Danny Granger, Andrew Bynum, Monta Ellis, and David Lee.  Some rightfully claim that taking Paul or Williams would have changed Portland's history, making the acquisition of future stars Roy and Aldridge less likely.  Fair enough, but how might taking Bynum (far less of an impact player) have changed the fateful decisions of the 2007 draft?  You can twist yourself in knots this way.  But that's what the name "Martell Webster" evokes:  speculation, stomach knots, then shrugs and "Oh well."

For becoming the Grand Marshal of the parade of underwhelming high school picks that preceded him, for the litany of "what ifs" left in his wake, and for his inability to compensate (even in the most rudimentary ways) for the opportunity cost of drafting him, Martell Webster earns the #7 position on our list of all-time disappointing acquisitions.

As always, agree or disagree about presence and precedence in the comment section.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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