Blazersedge Mailbag: March 4th, 2011

We have a brief off-day to tackle the Mailbag questions that are piling up again.  If you have a query or want to see a topic discussed, e-mail it to blazersub@yahoo.com.  Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line to help me sort correctly.

A brief note before we tackle the questions.  As is customary with each major event that the Blazers experience, we've picked up a new wave of readers, participants and folks leaving comments.  That's wonderful and I'm glad that after all these years the site still attracts folks.  Just a few reminders of site guidelines that keep everyone sane and keep conversation fair:

  • It's a non-profanity site, including disgu$ed profanity.  All-symbols in comic strip style is all we allow.  People sometimes write wondering about this but people also write saying they appreciate being able to let their kids or their classroom peruse the site without fear.  Besides, folks, we strive for meaningful, public discourse here and that entails certain niceties that don't necessarily hold in more casual conversation.  
  • We don't allow ad hominem statements.  Talk about the points people make, not the people themselves.  "You're a fool and here's evidence X, Y, and Z" is stronger when you just list X, Y, and Z without the distracting attack.
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On to your questions.  They are edited and in most cases paraphrased for clarity.

Brandon Roy:  Is he really the cause of Portland losing?  Does he "gum up" the offense?

No and not at this point.  The evolution of, and relationship between, Brandon and the team is far more complex than a simple cause and effect.

Flashback to a couple years ago.  The Blazers are a young, up-and-coming team populated with inexperienced players and B-level scorers at best.  Roy emerges as an All-Star, All-NBA talent whose major ability seems to be scoring at will against multiple defenses.  He averages 22.6 ppg.  He shoots 48%.  He pitches 5 assists per game as a shooting guard.  His usage rate is 27.4% and his offensive rating is an eye-popping 123.  Compare that to the current numbers of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James:

  • Kobe:  46% shooting  USG 34.3  ORat 112
  • LeBron:  49% shooting  USG 31.9  ORat 114

The peak-level Brandon Roy dominated the ball far less than Kobe or LeBron on a team stacked with far less proven talent, shot just about as well or better than those two, and blasted their offensive rating all to heck.  This guy was gold.  And the team needed him to be!  Who else was going to pick up that mantle?  We've seen that LaMarcus Aldridge can do it for a month now, but recall what people (myself included) were saying about him just last season.  And we were saying it because it was TRUE.  This team centered on, ran through, and relied desperately upon Brandon Roy and even with all that he was still more of a team player than selfish superstar.

Now skip back to a season ago and the beginning of this year.  Roy's knees have gone bad.  Anyone who took half a glance at him could tell he was slow, hobbled, had no explosiveness.  Yet his role had not changed.  Aldridge had plenty of chances when Roy was out of the lineup in 2009-10 and couldn't produce consistently.  When Roy came back the team had to depend on him.  His USG rate actually went down to 26.7 last season and stands at 23.6 now so he's not been using more plays than he was at his peak, fewer in fact.  But with a glacially-paced, knee-less Roy those same plays took longer and resulted in worse shots and/or passing opportunities.  This is where the "gummed up" perception comes in.  It's true in the sense that a half-speed, non-jumping Roy can't fill the role that he used to when fully healthy and deceptively quick.  The Blazers reached this same conclusion and sat him indefinitely.

Now come back to today.  Roy may not be fully healthy but he's certainly more speedy and fluid and able to jump than we've seen since the end of 2009.  He's been driving to the hoop more like the Roy of old.  He's been elevating on his jumpers.  The ball has not stalled with him any more than it "stalls" with Aldridge or Gerald Wallace when they make their moves.  His rust is considerable but that's to be expected and not to be confused with any particular predilection towards selfishness or isolation ball.  He needs to work back into rhythm.  And the Blazers still need him in rhythm as a volume scorer because they do not have that option in the backcourt now and it's hurting them.  In some ways the acquisition of Gerald Wallace was a statement that this team needed another star scorer.  That potential is still alive with #7.  Portland wants him back.  Aldridge and Wallace and McMillan and all his teammates want him back.  They need Brandon to fill that same role if he's capable.  The next couple months and next year will be, in essence, an extended audition to see if he's capable.  That's not gumming up the offense, that's fulfilling both his potential and Portland's need.  The Blazers will, and should, keep relying on him and testing him until he proves he can't do it.  From what I've seen early on, even if he doesn't get much better than this health-wise, he can still do it at an acceptable level.

I think people are confusing "gumming up" with "blowing off rust".  Someone asked the other night if his 3-9 performance against was evidence of him ruining Portland's offense.  Nicolas Batum shot 4-9 that night.  Did he ruin it?  Also Atlanta and Houston both took Portland out of its offense altogether, including devastating effects on Aldridge who went 6-14 and 5-11 in those games from being denied and swarmed.  That was far more of an issue for Portland than anything Roy did or didn't do.  Aldridge also went 9-27 against the Kings in a fracture, jumper-oriented performance.  If anyone is "gumming up" things, it's him.  But he's not gumming up the offense either because that's his role.

People are also trying to cite relative record with and without Roy as an indicator that he's somehow bad for the team.  One flaw is that they're throwing the hobbled Roy games in there when Roy isn't hobbled as much anymore.  Another flaw is that they're comparing two months of soft schedule against the likes of Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, the Clippers, and Sacramento to four games against the Lakers, Nuggets, Hawks and Rockets...games in which Roy played limited minutes returning from a lengthy absence.

But let's say that those assertions have some slight merit.  Let's say that right now the Blazers do function better without Roy than with him.  Function better to what end?  Let's say the Blazers perform at a B- level with Roy and a B level without him.  Is anybody thinking that a solid B is enough to get them anywhere?  There's no doubt that the only real A level potential here is for a team that integrates a mostly-healthy Brandon Roy.  B- and B both get you tossed in the first round.  The Blazers have to get Roy healthy and get this team working together or get Roy healthy enough to trade him for equivalent talent eventually.  Neither one of those conditions is satisfied by artificially limiting him to preserve the rather nebulous idea of team flow in these next few games.  The potential of a functioning, contributing Roy in this year's playoffs alone--not to mention beyond--more than trumps a few integration pains in the immediate future.

Miller, Matthews, Wallace (especially) and Aldridge all like to get out and run the fast break. Is Brandon Roy's preferred style of play hurting the Blazer's ability to play to their strengths from a personnel standpoint? How can Nate reincorporate him into a decidedly different roster?    

Roy isn't averse to running per se.  I'm sure he'd be happy to dunk or just watch Aldridge and Wallace do it.  It's not like he's standing on the court yelling, "Wait for me!" as they streak down the court.  Roy has been slower up and down the court because of injuries.  Also the Blazers played a controlled, halfcourt offense because of their youth and matchups the last time you saw Roy healthy.  That has changed.  Now you see Nate motioning them to run it up the court.  They'll always need someone to score in the halfcourt, though, especially when and if Oden returns.  So why would you want to avoid Roy who doesn't hurt the running game and vastly helps in the halfcourt?

Click through for questions about the starting lineup, minutes, headbands, Miller on the boards, Kevin Pritchard, expiring contracts, and more!

At what point should Brandon Roy and/or Gerald Wallace start?

Immediately for at least one of them, eventually for both.  As I've indicated in the last few game recaps Portland's offense is suffering greatly from the lack of guys able to put the ball on the floor and create their own shot quickly.  You don't want Andre Miller doing it because he can be guarded for the dribble alone and because nobody else will touch the ball if he assumes that role.  Aldridge is effective but his moves take too long to develop and allow the defense to set.  The opponent doesn't have to worry about Batum or Matthews dribbling to the hole at all.  Sure either one will score now and then but on average it's a bad idea.  Both Wallace and Roy have that ability and both can shoot a little bit.  The likeliest solution in the short term will be Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward with Batum, Matthews, and Miller.  Eventually I think you're going to see Point Guard, Roy, Wallace, Aldridge, Center.

Assuming everybody can play fully, how do you get minutes for all the Blazers?

I start Miller or whatever point guard the Blazers have and don't let him sit for long.  I start Roy, Wallace, Aldridge, and Camby.  I bring Matthews off the bench to spell Roy, Batum to spell Wallace, shift Wallace over to power forward to play behind Aldridge, and let Aldridge back up Camby at center.  I might be able to get extra minutes for Roy behind Miller eventually if he needs them.  I don't worry about getting anyone else playing time.  They have to make do with what they can catch or beat out one of these guys.  In essence it's a 7-man rotation with guys 8-10 playing spot minutes when required or advantageous.

As I said in the comment section of another post, I get Roy, Aldridge, and Wallace together in an inarguable triumvirate to control the shots on this team.  I say as long as it's in the hands of any of these three, we're good.  Do what you feel and watch out for each other.  Everybody else is on notice that they need to defend, rebound hard, and hit an open shot if one of these guys passes to you.  If you can't manage at least two of those three things you're not going to play.  We'll find somebody who can.  Nicolas Batum is the obvious heir apparent to Wallace in the hierarchy but he has to earn it by putting out performances like Wallace has the last few years.  It won't be given to him.  We're not here to be nice.  Chemistry doesn't mean everybody is happy.  Chemistry means you know your role, you at least fill it if not overflow it around the edges a little, and you understand that the team winning is the main thing.

Does Nate relaxing the headband rule for Gerald Wallace show his evolution as a coach?

It shows the evolution of the team.  When this team was stocked with 1st-3rd year players and the "older" guys were 23 and five seasons in, having grown up under Zach Randolph, that kind of discipline was needed.  Now look at the roster:  Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace, Roy and Aldridge in their fifth years and nearly-fully-established.  Headbands don't make the difference they used to.  That doesn't mean the rule was a mistake in the Randolph/Miles/Outlaw and kids days.

Do you think Wes Matthews can ever be a consistent 20 point 35-38% three point shooter? What do you see as his main problem with him being consistent?  He is either red hot or ice cold on offense.

He has three issues right now.  One is his relative lack of handle.  He can score easily on a straight-line drive to the bucket but if he has to change direction he loses track of the ball.  Second he seems to get in his own head with his jumper, which because of Issue #1 he's forced to rely upon.  He doesn't always set his feet or go up straight.  That's a physical issue but in practice it's more of a confidence thing.  However both of these problems can be alleviated if his teammates look for him consistently.  Matthews is one of the best scorers I've seen around these parts if he's set up properly.  He knows how to move without the ball and he knows what to do when he gets it.  He probably needs to be a bench player inserted among the main scorers who plays off of them instead of being a starter that gets tossed the ball and asked to create.  I think once the team settles down around him he will reach the level of shooting you're talking about.  He works hard and he's going to find his space.

Blazers' management has been criticized for "failing" to trade expiring contracts.  I can think of many hypothetical trades involving "ECs" that would be bad for the Blazers, and only a couple that would be good.  The good ones seem to need the stars to align to actually happen.  Your thoughts?  Has the media overstated the value of expiring contracts?     

They did pretty well with Wallace.  No matter how much jawing goes on about expiring contracts the stars aligning is actually a rare thing.  The GM and/or owner trading away talent takes a major PR hit and has plenty of 'splaining to do.  Delayed gratification is not a prized commodity in the sports world, let alone fiscal prudence.  If you make those trades as a GM you have to face the reality that tomorrow's windfall may be in the hands of another guy as you take the hit for the deal and get dismissed.  

The amount of serious talk about potential contract trades in the media exceeds the amount of serious talk in the league.

That said, one of the reasons the Blazers may have parted ways with their last GM was an inability to move on some of these contracts, so the organization is not absolved fully.

Andre Miller often seems to get important rebounds, especially those opponents would likely get instead, and especially in the second half.  I rarely see it mentioned as an important part of his game yet it sticks in my mind.  Do the statistics back up my impression?  How does he rank among starting point guards on defensive and offensive rebounds?    

'Dre ranks 6th among point guards in rebounds per 48 minutes.  Jason Kidd and Russell Westbrook are the major names ahead of him.  He's second only to Westbrook in offensive rebounds per game and 16th in defensive rebounds.  Several of Miller's rebounds come at key times, a testament to his veteran savvy.  It's worth noting that rebounds alone, especially offensive, are not always a desirable trait in your point guard.  O-rebs mean he's under the basket instead of getting back to stop the break.  Fortunately Miller has Batum and Matthews to cover for him, allowing some flexibility in that regard.  Overall Miller's rebounding has been an asset to the Blazers, especially in their recent center-free state.  Eventually it should become expendable.

Last year during the whole Kevin Pritchard debacle I thought that the Blazers were kissing good-bye to a really good GM who had helped them put together a team that would make a championship run.  Does the fact that none of the other 31 teams in the NBA have secured KP's services since he became available tell us that perhaps he isn't the revered GM candidate that we/I thought him to be?    

Yes.  I believe so.  I think Pritchard has a keen mind--maybe one of the keenest--in several aspects but the whispers I've heard are head of scouting or assistant of some sort would be the position considered for him instead of full-fledged GM.  Then again, maybe the right spot has to come open for him.  It's not like all 30 teams reset their General Managers every season.

[Edit for Confession:]  I forgot KP is still under contract to the Blazers this year technically. This may affect things, though I doubt that it would interfere with a perfect marriage.  He could get released from it to take a job with the agreement of both parties.

Is the Wallace trade paving the way for Batum to be traded next year before the trade deadline for one of next years premier point guards?

Not explicitly so but it does give the Blazers a little more flexibility as long as they figure Wallace will last a few years.  It's not a bad thing to set yourself up so that no matter which way you go (trade Batum, keep Batum) you're happy.  I'd bet that Batum simply becomes the Blazers long-term small forward though.

 

Remember to send those questions to the address below if you have them.  I didn't even get to half of the ones people sent so far so if yours isn't in here, don't despair.  Or if you do despair, just send it again.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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