Blazer's Edge Comments: Lillard's Efficiency, Batum's Shot, Announcers, and Defense

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

Dave takes a look at recent comments from Blazer's Edge threads and responds with thoughts of his own!

We've seen plenty of interesting discussion in the comment section lately.  Today I want to lift some of the most intriguing comments, bring them to front-page light, and respond with thoughts of my own.  Here we go!

From Ben's Media Row Report on the Blazers-Spurs game.

It says something about how well everyone is playing that Dame's early season efficiency seems to be backpage news. Mort mentions his PER in a later comment. That number is unlikely to hold, but the fact is that Dame is showing a clear leap in his decision making and overall game. He gets other players involved early. His rebounding is up (credit to Robin, here; Wes' rebounding is also up). He drives and gets contact when the team needs some stability. His defense is progressing. That floater was beautiful.

Dame really does seem to sense what the team needs and, for the most part, be able to provide it at will (at least offensively). There is a stretch in every game where Dame takes over and establishes order. With a better supporting cast around him, he no longer needs to drain himself for an entire game. The spots he picks are pretty routinely amazing.

nerfthunder

We've talked quite a bit about LaMarcus Aldridge's amazing start to the season.  We've thrown bones to Lillard but nerfthunder is correct here in reminding us about Lillard's efficiency combined with production.  47% shooting, 50% from the arc, and 25 ppg with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and players prospering around you is the stuff of dreams.  Folks wondering about a point guard with "only" 5 assists should note that the ball starts out of Lillard's hands in more sets this year, freeing him to be a finisher as much as an initiator.  Also plenty of Portland's buckets are coming from LaMarcus in non-assist-friendly fashion.  You could not ask for more from Damian as he starts this season.

The caveats here are obvious.  Three games does not even 5% of a season make.  Also the Blazers had two very good games against San Antonio and Denver.  When the chips were down against Phoenix Damian was taking a lot more of the offense on himself.  He did well--50% shooting in fact--but it's easy to look good when things are rolling and the opposition is slumping.  It'll be interesting to see what Lillard's default state ends up looking like when he's under pressure.

Batum: "Why did I shoot and why did it go in? That may have been the worst thing I've done in my career."
It's ok that this quote keeps making me giggle, right?

Timmay

This one is cheating because Timmay's a mod, but his take is the same I had.  Batum looked like a Looney Tunes character when that went it.  The casual, silly heave, the wide-eyes when it went in, the scrunching down into his shoulders as if he needed to hide afterwards...all it was missing was some zany sound effects.  Some folks have asked about this "incident" in Mailbag questions so I'll cover briefly here.

1.  It was a silly moment and should be taken as such.

2.  Yes, I believe Batum is aware of his stats during games (he's referenced tracking assists before) but I don't know if that shot was reflective of him knowing he was just short of a triple-double.

3.  Of course it'll be bulletin board material for the Spurs in the next meeting, but not that much more than just losing the game provided.  Plus they're not going to tell you or me about it.  They've been World Champions.  They made the Finals last year.  They don't live in the same zip code as teams like Portland.  They're not going to acknowledge if anything bugs them.  I don't think Coach Popovich will even have to mention it.  But you know what?  They're probably going to try and kill the Blazers the next time the two teams meet anyway, just on general principle.

4.  The best thing about the whole incident was that something like this can spur such interesting and entertaining discussion on-site.

Moving on to a comment about Blazers Broadcasting...

I've always believed that announcers provide part of the entertainment when your watching a game on TV and when I look at whatever or not an announcer is good or not, I look to see if he can yes call a game and have the color guy provide decent analysis of the game but also how they can bring a play to life and make a call sound very exciting and to me Mike/Mike and Brian Wheeler can do that so as a result i'm perfectly satisfied with them . If they can do that then I don't care whatever or not there homers.

Personally being a homer isn't a bad thing at all as I expect a local broadcasting crew to want the team there calling for to win (I expect a more objective tone for announcers calling a game for national TV). Not to mention being a homer is okay as long your not falling all over yourselves and pouncing on every little thing the opponents do like the Suns, Pacers and Timberwolves TV crews do. You call the game in a way where you clearly want the team your calling the game for to win as long as it's done in a respective manner (yes that is certainly possible) and I believe the Blazers TV and radio crews have done that in my opinion

Bradley James McEachern

As deeply as you delve into the NBA, you always have to keep a lifeline to the surface understanding "it's there for entertainment".  Otherwise you get lost in the labyrinth, imparting meaning to, and trying to logically order, things that are simply entertainment-based.  Local announcing crews are part of the show.  The play-by-play man is the barker, attracting your attention and holding your interest.  The color analyst is supposed to show you around the place, make you feel like you belong.  It's not just about basketball, it's about human relations.  If wanting your team to win is the impulse drawing you to the carnival to begin with, its the job of the announce team to confirm that, enhance it, and make you feel like your visit was worthwhile and fun.

That said, extravagant homerism (cheerleading more than observing, riling instead of explaining, every call against your team is wrong, etc.) does rob us of a couple things already in short supply in our society.

First, I wonder if we're raising generations of viewers without a strong understanding of the game outside of wanting their team to prosper.  Wanting the team to win is the overriding impulse of a fan anyway...it's going to trump everything else no matter how much you know about the game.  But if that's the only thing you know--if expert analysts and the guys who call the action just drift the current of that river instead of using it to propel them to a better, broader destination--we lose the ability to differentiate.  When the only definition of "bad call" is one that goes against your team, how long before we lose the ability to judge what good officiating is?

Second, we've lost the integrity of public discourse over the last couple decades.  Nowadays a "good message" is defined by how loud it is, how fancy it sounds like, or most often of all whether or not you happen to agree with it (or vice versa).  Part of the value of sports comes in losing...in having things not go your way but you have to deal with it.  We lose something if, when a bad play or call happens, all we hear is some variation of, "Blame this, blame that, wasn't our fault, poor us, should have been different."  Announcers seldom critique their own players or plays as much as they critique the opponents and the referees.  When they do critique their own side, it's not done with the same emotion or vigor as happens with opponents or referees.  This leaves the default impression that the most important mistakes are everybody else's, that the proper response to one's own shortcomings is to pass over them in silence, and the proper response to everybody else's shortcomings is to castigate, accuse, and let the emotions fly.  In short, if you don't agree with something that happened, start yelling and blaming and calling it unfair.  Sports commentary certainly hasn't caused this societal shift in public discourse, but in not struggling against the stream it loses some of its potential value.  Whatever Steve Jones was or wasn't as a commentator, I'm pretty sure I learned something valuable from the times when he said, "No...that's on the Blazers.  Here's what they need to do differently."

I like the entertainment aspect of announcing.  I depend on announcers to keep me engaged and to translate the action for me.  But sometimes it's not the ref's fault and sometimes that shot didn't "just rim out" for no reason.  Seeing behind that veneer to the deeper causes and effects helps me understand the game better and frankly helps me deal with life better too.

From my recap of the same Spurs game:

I noticed much more Blazer effort in forcing guards to the sidelines. Successful more often than not. Occasionally Tony Parker, after being forced to the sideline, would wind his way back to the middle - but the time it took disrupted the natural flow of the Spurs offense just enough. Lillard in particular was much better at this last night than I've ever seen him. Combined with RoLo's clogging up the middle, it prevented the open, full-head-of-steam drives down the middle that we saw last season and in game 1 vs Suns. I am extremely pleased to see this defensive development. It is necessary for the Blazers to have any significant success this season.

And that photo of RoLo boxing out for Wesley's dunk perfectly illustrates the trench warfare that he brings to the team. These otherwise invisible plays bind a team together. It is another reason why LA is so grateful for RoLo over J.J.

HiPo Steve

This is a great observation about one of the reasons Portland's defense has been semi-successful.  They're giving up shots and opponents are shooting a high percentage, but the Blazers have managed to avoid the absolute killer, "we own you now" plays that typified their defense last season.  Lopez is part of that but he's going to get hung out to dry if the guards don't do their jobs.  Robin played 40 minutes against San Antonio.  That can't happen if the perimeter players aren't forcing their people into contact and away from the rim as you mentioned.

Then again, there's the caveat.  Denver played like a swarm of drunk hamsters.  The Spurs looked glacial.  The relatively coordinated and semi-swift Suns handled the Blazers easily.  Lopez is not a human eraser.  Those guards are not proven defenders.  HiPo Steve's observation is one of the things to keep a strong eye on in the weeks to come.

Another huge one is transition defense, again on the shoulders of the guards and wings.  As we said in our first Videocast of the season, these guards need to protect Lopez and allow him to play to his strengths as much as Lopez protects the guards and allows them to live with their limitations.  When it works right it's good.  But if one part breaks down the system won't withstand it and the defense will look ugly.

I disagree with, or don't share, the perception that Batum is still "inconsistent." His shooting has been and still could be, but the real gripe I had last season, as did many, is the notion of a disappearing act - here one game, gone the next. I don't care if Batum hit's 50% or 30%, because when he's not hitting, he gets others involved, and he is doing other things. I don't think Portland's season rests on Batum's shooting at all in comparison to what else he does (defense, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists). He's staying aggressive. That's the consistency that concerned me, and that's the consistency I would caution fans to differentiate from shooting percentage.

Blazer Fanatic

Ahhh...the joy and pain of Nicolas Batum.  Fortunately it's been mostly joy so far.  He had an odd game in Phoenix but his last two efforts have been nice.  Like BF, I don't think Batum should receive any demerits for shooting percentage.  Frankly his 3-13 or 6-15 games don't hurt the Blazers as much as his 2-4 or 2-6 nights.  Batum's sin, if he has one, isn't missing the shot, rather not taking it.  I'd rather see the guy aggressive in every aspect, including offense, than see him deferring.  He's a team player, but even team players need to know when to help their teams themselves.  If we see off shooting nights from Batum, so be it.  Be glad he's shooting because that probably means he's engaged in the game in other ways.

That said, lack of aggression in all aspects of the game has been a recurring issue for Batum, as we've chronicled throughout the seasons.  Like the rest of the team, Batum's start has been fairly encouraging.  Before the season started, though, we said Nicolas would need to be measured by a full season of production.  A few games, or even a few weeks, of impressive play is not unusual for him.  So far, so good.  Let's check in again in mid-December, then in the dog days of February.  If he can make it that far I'm going to start crossing my fingers.

Well dang!  I wanted to get through 4-5 posts of comments.  I didn't even get beyond the last two game summaries before exceeding 2000 words.  Shows you how much there is to read and talk about in the comment section.  Thanks to everyone participating in the discussion!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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