Of all the young players on this team I think Luke Babbitt has the most potential to stick and make an impact. I hope Luke Babbitt has the most potential anyway. I keep going back and forth between thinking he's for real and fearing he's not. What do you think? Is he the guy to pin our hopes on?
I'm going to ask everybody to weigh in on this, as Babbitt was both popular and polarizing during the season past.
For me, the critical question is whether you're talking contextually or in absolutes. The end of this season--the time when Threebird shone brightest--was a case of the Blazers ending up at the bar at closing time. Hopes had been higher at the beginning of the evening. But final call came and the team still didn't have anyone on their arm. Scanning the bar with a thick pair of three-point-goggles on, the guy didn't look that bad. We saw Babbitt's ability to score from range. He raised his three-point percentage to an amazing 43% on almost 7 threes attempted per game. He got off a couple of brilliant moves along the way, the kind that made you go, "Whoa! An 18-footer off of one foot shooting crossways back at the bucket? Insane!" His spurt took several key stats from world-record-level abysmal to pretty good. You cannot fault him for anything. He did everything he could, made every statement he could make.
The problem with closing time success, of course, is that you have to wake up the next morning. It's not like you'd wake up and say, "Oh no! What did I do?!?" when looking at Babbitt. But that doesn't mean you're making marriage plans and introducing him to mama either.
We need to get one of the bigger myths haunting this team out of the way here. Success for individual players does not always indicate or correlate to better team performance. Every NBA player has talent. Allow almost anybody copious playing time, touches, and shots and you're going to see that talent on display at some point. Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, and Travis Outlaw provide recent historical examples. All showed flashes of great play. None were right for this team. Had the Blazers given any of them 40+ minutes and a buffet of shots per night you would have seen even more. That doesn't mean the team would have been better off. In fact it probably would have suffered.
Luke Babbitt's ascension came in a consequence-free environment. The team wasn't going to win and he wasn't going to change their fortunes. Nobody behind him was going to steal his minutes. The roster around him bore no resemblance to an actual NBA lineup...more like an awesome Summer League team. Had he failed in this kind of situation the story would be over. His situation would be hopeless. But his success here was a prerequisite for credibility, not in itself a sign of it. We still know almost nothing about how Babbitt will fare when the team is actually trying to win games as opposed to figuring out how he can play.
We do know that despite the positive arc questions still abound. Is Babbitt a small forward or a power forward? He appears to be able to defend quicker players better than powerful ones but his offense is inverted. He can't get moving against speedy guys, scoring better against larger opponents. He didn't outperform his counterparts at either position. His only small advantage was being able to outrebound opposing small forwards. Otherwise the guys he opposed had a field day. By point production and percentage the team scored and defended MUCH better when he was off the court than on. His per-minute production is nothing to write home about. The only thing he's hanging his hat on right now is that three-point percentage.
None of this gives any indication that the morning after is going to bring a happy marriage between Babbitt and the team. There's no reason to dump him but there aren't many reasons to predict he'll be a game-changer at this point either. If we find the Blazers spending major minutes trying to develop Babbitt next year it might just be a sign of a thin roster or sunken expectations rather than promise. In other words, you probably don't want your team to consider Babbitt's development a high priority. If he makes it, fantastic! But if not, hopefully it's no big deal.
At this point I'll throw it over to you. What do you see when you look at Babbitt: future rotation stalwart, crumbs off of the table, or somewhere in between? Share below.