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Dave answers questions from Blazer's Edge readers regarding the state and future of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Time for another edition of the Mailbag!
NBA writers tend to have a love hate relationship with the jump shot. I am constantly hearing about how Lebron/Lamarcus/Bosh/Pretty much any NBA big need to post up more and jump shoot less. Or how wade/westbrook/any guard outside of durant (and maybe carmelo) need to attack the rim more. Obviously the statistics are clear that mid-range jump shots yield the fewest points per attempt than any other shot, but it also seems like it's a necessary part of a complete team. Also, you could argue that 4-5 top NBA scorers this year are primarily jump shooters (Durant-Carmelo-Kobe-Harden, and maybe even Lebron). So what's the deal? What separates a good jump shooter from a bad one? More importantly, which one is Lillard shaping up to be? When he comes off a pick and launches his quickly becoming trademark step back jumper, how do I know when to be angry, and when to be glad? Is it purely based on how often it goes in?
First off, thanks for asking a great question. I really like this one.
Any shot that goes in is a good shot by definition, right? In the end that percentage will be your best barometer of how well a guy's offense is going. But while you're waiting for career percentages to be revealed, you can look at a few short-term clues to help you understand whether Damian's jumper is working or not.
1. How's the form? Lillard doesn't have classic form on every shot and he does make some in which his body has gone astray, but when he's missing shot after shot the form usually tells the tale. His ability to escape to get off his jumper is not in question. He can do that anytime, anywhere, against nearly any single defender. The question is what his body looks like after he's completed the escape dribble or step-back and is releasing his shot. You want to see feet, hips, and shoulders squared up to the basket, a nice roll off the fingertips, and a good follow-through. If Lillard starts firing multiple jumpers where you see one leg kicking out or when he's turned cockeyed to the hoop it's going to be a long night and those are probably bad jumpers. Likely he's rushing because he's been intimidated by the defense.
2. Does he have balance between the jumper and the drive? Lillard is, and is going to be, a jump shooter first. That's not bad because he's really good at it. But he's most devastating when a couple made jumpers set up a couple more nice drives rather than even more jumpers. That's where he's going to get the easy hoops and fouls necessary to take his average from a hard-earned 19 to an All-NBA 24. Keeping the defense off-balance by mixing it up will be a huge step for his game.
3. Clock and situation awareness is another factor determining a good shot from a bad. A layup is good almost any time. The farther you get from the hoop the more burden of proof lies on you to justify the shot you're taking. The mid-range jumper is the hardest shot to justify, carrying the most risk compared to reward. Look at what the defense and clock are doing if you want to know whether that shot was appropriate. Sometimes when Lillard is going bad he'll throw up deep shots early, but again this is part of the learning curve.
4. Finally you have to look at the overall game plan, or at least the flow. This is the hardest to judge for players and observers alike. Sometimes any LaMarcus Aldridge look in the post is going to turn the game more than a jumper from anyone else. A made jumper will likely be followed by two misses unless the defense is drawn away from the shooter. Establishing LMA as a threat frees up space on the perimeter for those sweet J's upon which Lillard thrives. A point guard has to understand this. The Blazers fall apart here often.
The superstars you mentioned have all learned these lessons over the years. In doing so they changed from great players based on talent to the greatest of the great, captaining winning teams. Lillard has the added burden of point guard duties on top of scoring, so it may take him longer to develop. But he shows every sign of getting there.
I see it mentioned all the time that our pick this year is Top 12 protected, but what I have never seen or could not even find on Basketball Reference-(Although maybe I did not look in the right place), is what happens if it is in the Top 12 this year?
It's Top-12 protected through 2015. If the Bobcats haven't received a pick from Portland before 2016 they'll get Portland's 2016 first-rounder, completely unprotected.
I just can't help feeling like this team isn't headed in the right direction. We have cap space this offseason, but no real chance at bringing in the caliber of players who will actually make a difference. Does anyone think overpaying for Pekovic is going to catapult us into the upper echelon of the Western Conference? At what point does the team recognize their ceiling is just too low as currently compiled, and decide that the best way to increase the ceiling (albeit at the expense of current success) is to trade Aldridge?
That option is still on the table, I'm sure. It was always going to be delayed until the coming summer at minimum. Portland's great showing so far (compared to expectations) plus the offensive chemistry they've shown, plus the rapid star-level development of Damian Lillard will probably delay such considerations until the summer of 2014. The Blazers will want to see what they can do with the upcoming cap space. If they can get a serviceable starting center, some pop off the bench, and a little veteran depth they'll feel like they're in business.
To me, Nicolas Batum is the pivot point. If he can develop near-star-level production on a consistent basis the burden on those extra acquisitions lessens. If the Blazers need to pick up a near-star-level player in free agency plus a competent starting center the task gets harder. But realistically they'd probably think about trading Batum or Matthews under those circumstances before they'd look at trading Aldridge.
The real concerns come when you consider championship contention. Can this become a good team, a playoff team, maybe even a conference finals contender by building on the current lineup? I think so, with the right moves. When you start looking at the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, consider overcoming them for a title, the Blazers are a long way from paydirt. I still don't know if they can get there from here. At the point at which you determine that kind of leap is unrealistic then I agree, you do your best to start over. That would include trading LaMarcus.
In the interest of strengthening the Blazers bench and winning, do you think the starters should do the Miami thing and take $1 mill less on their contracts to add a $4-5 mill player?
I wish! It would be nice if that could happen.
The major contract players for the Blazers are all signed long term. They couldn't provide any space this summer even if they wanted to. Those deals are set.
The key difference between Portland and Miami is that the Heat are stocked with veterans who have already made their money and are looking for a proven shot at a ring or two. Portland's players are young and haven't made their dough yet. That makes the bite much worse for them. A million bucks is 2% of Shane Battier's career earnings coming into this season. It's 20% of Nicolas Batum's. What if they get injured and never get another contract? There's also a ripple effect. Taking less on a contract now would establish a lower baseline for their next contract and so on.
This kind of financial sacrifice won't happen anytime soon on this team, nor would I expect it to.
I recently read a rumor that the Kings might consider trading Jimmer Fredette before the deadline. They mentioned Portland as a possible landing spot for him. How likely is this trade? Jimmer is a decent 3 pt. shooter but can't get many minutes with the Guard heavy Kings. I'll admit that he isn't the greatest defender but it seems like he would be a great addition to the team. What do you think?
I don't really like it. He brings shooting, sure. But as you mention, his defense is awful. He doesn't give you anything besides that three-point marksmanship. Nor is he likely to provide a huge scoring boost off the bench. Plus he's young, only in his second season. If shooting is all they're looking for ideally the Blazers would find a veteran player who already knows how to play, can at least fake some other contributions, and comes just as cheap to fill that shooter role. You could find minimum contract guys if all you want is a shooter.
After watching Stephen A. Smith discuss his feelings about Allen Iverson's D-League rejection, I can't help but wonder how he'd fit in a Blazers uniform, however briefly. I've long thought that Portland extending an invitation to Iverson is a bad idea on multiple levels. But now I look at two current issues the Blazers face: worst scoring bench in the league, guards getting hit with injuries. Let's assume Iverson accepts a 6th man role and a minimum salary, even a 10-day. If the Blazers are serious about making a playoff push, why not waive the 15th man, give Iverson a chance to provide instant offense, give Lillard/Matthews a slightly longer breather, and sell some tickets?
There's a reason Iverson is considered closer to D-League talent than NBA talent at this point. But even if he could make some kind of contribution, would it be worth it? The distance between the Blazers and significant achievement this year remains vast. In the wildest of dreams Iverson might bridge, what? 5% of that difference? 10%? Meanwhile you take on a chemistry risk, a guy who's going to break the trust offense all to heck, a possible poor influence on the younger players, all of which the Blazers are trying to avoid.
Acquiring a "name" guy in this kind of situation inevitably leads to disappointment. No matter how much people protest that they understand the difference between the today version and the prime version, they're still interested in getting that guy because of the hope those prime-level memories engender. After all, would this seem like a significant move if the name on the jersey said Shecky Gruberman? It'd just be another 15th man then. When that name-level player comes in and plays like the 15th man he actually is, everybody groans and goes home. There's little or no percentage in it.
In last night's game thread you described J.J. Hickson by saying, "The rest of the Blazers are show dogs...they look nice and are great in their element. Hickson is the stray who's just going to jump around, run somewhere, and maybe bite somebody no matter what the environment." Care to elaborate? I think Hickson gets a bad rap sometimes, including at Blazersedge. You seem to be saying something positive about him here if I read you right. Does this mean you'd find a way to keep him around? I sure would.
Yes, that was an affirmation of the distinct qualities Hickson brings to this team. Answering the second part first, no...those positive qualities aren't going to affect his future with the Blazers. He's not perfectly suited to the position in which he's excelling. If the Blazers could sign him for the same level contract, be confident he'd play well off the bench, and have him be happy I'd love to re-sign him. None of those things will be true and his cap impact this summer will preclude them from keeping him around no matter how nicely he's played. Watch in future years, though. As I've mentioned before the Blazers have a way of re-acquiring guys who perform well but have to be traded or let go. Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla...watch for Hickson to maybe make a return someday down the road.
The comment was meant to differentiate Hickson's approach from that of his teammates and to highlight how much Portland needs somebody with Hickson's attitude. Portland is packed with skilled, smooth players. They're kind of like a really proficient smooth jazz band. But as talented as that starting lineup is, on some nights you can't tell the difference between smooth jazz and elevator music. That won't cut it in the competitive world of the NBA. Hickson just comes in there and brings it. He doesn't care about his shortcomings. He doesn't care about the opponent. He doesn't even care about the scoreboard much. He's going to get outclassed and shut down some nights but he's also going to get nasty and light the world on fire or die trying. Is it the right shot? Who cares. It's MY shot. Is that rebound available? Who cares! It's mine! RRRRAWWWRRR,
If you could take that attitude and transplant it into, say, Nicolas Batum you'd have yourself quite a player. As it is, the Blazers need to get a nasty dog or two to go along with the prancing poodle show. It'll give them the intimidation factor they lack and remind everybody in the red and black that the league is about more than being nice guys who are good at their jobs. It's about dominating, doing everything you need to win the game or at least make the opponent remember and dread you.
Dave,JJ Hickson's tweets have exploded! Feelings? Was it that bad or just a stupid mistake or OK?
The problem is that it's all of the above depending on your perspective...though personally I'd rate the "OK" as conditional...a bad situation one can empathize with ("I can see how a person could say that without realizing its gravity, which is something we've all done at one time or another") rather than condoning.
For the record, those who identify the tweets as problematic, offensive, indicative of something wrong with the world are correct. It's all three. Those who question the propriety of a public figure tweeting this kind of material are also correct. This was just a bad idea all the way around. One can argue that Hickson had a right to make that stuff public, maybe even using the "joke" thing as a defense. Fine. But then one can also argue that folks who have undergone unimaginable suffering (or any kind of suffering, really) because of gender inequity in our communities also have every bit as much right to object and make those objections known just as publicly as Hickson did.
One also has to acknowledge that Hickson is one guy, a young guy at that, making a public and inappropriate joke which he perceived as funny and/or innocuous. He was wrong on both counts but in the grand scheme of things that offense is like a guy holding a sharp needle carelessly stabbing people. He's causing pain. It's a stupid thing to do. He needs to stop. However one can't construct the entire sky-spanning pyramid of gender-relations wrongs on the tip of that needle without that pyramid toppling. That doesn't invalidate the pyramid or what it represents. It's just too huge to fit completely within the confines of this offense. One needle in one place and time won't support it. The best route would be to become more aware of the dimensions of that pyramid without making it fall squarely on Hickson's head.
To my mind the un-examined argument here is what we expect of social media. Let's face it...you're putting a virtual microphone in front of folks 24 hours a day, many of whom haven't grown the greatest filters anyway. You're asking them to express themselves in 140 characters or less and implying that a large audience finds this stuff fascinating as long as it's funny/entertaining/titillating/unusual. In that environment you have to expect a certain amount--maybe a large amount--of stupidity to come flowing forth. I generally assume that's what I'm going to get from social media accounts and I'm pleasantly surprised and impressed when I find something different.
Consider also: We've merged the concepts of "real" and "good" in modern-day parlance. "Keeping it real" doesn't necessarily mean keeping it good or healthy or productive. Real people don't always live up to those qualities.
Once upon a time public communication was influenced by external considerations. You'd give a speech publicly because the material therein was important and beneficial enough for an audience to hear. Therefore you'd take care how you communicated that material lest the message get lost. Now we "keep it real" and define goodness by the speaker's need to communicate authentically. In other words, a matter is "good" and worthy of public display less because of its effect on another person's life and more because of the speaker's internal need to talk about it. Inevitably in this context what's good (or right or funny or appropriate) for one person internally will end up bad (or wrong, hurtful, inappropriate) for many once it becomes public.
In the days when we were face-to-face with an audience we had checks on this. Offenses were limited by the size of the group around us and self-censorship based on personal knowledge of the tastes and leanings of our audience. Now that we reach thousands of people we don't know with the click of a button those limits are gone.
Combine all of these factors and again stupidity and hurt are near inevitable.
I'm 100% honest (real?) with the words I speak here in this public forum. I don't lie or mislead to get ratings, seem nice, look smart, or whatever. But I don't share 100% of the things on my mind either. The things I do share generally pertain to a topic that interests us all and I'm careful to explain them as well as I can. Maybe it's old-fashioned, but I wish more public discourse followed that pattern, taking into consideration the needs of the listener instead of just barfing up whatever one is feeling (or entertained by) at the moment as if it were important for its own sake without reflection on any broader meaning or effect.
If J.J. Hickson had this view of public speaking, he may have thought twice about tweeting those jokes. But to me the proper response is careful discussion of the issues they bring up rather than just getting so mad that nobody is ever foolish enough to make a statement like that publicly again (without really knowing why it was hurtful and wrong). The only correction for bad communication is good communication, taking into consideration the person-hood and needs of others, even those who offend us. That's also the only bridge that allows us to understand and care about each other more, which is really the whole point.
Lack of understanding of about, and caring about, an important segment of the population allowed Hickson to make those inappropriate statements. Along with the rightful and righteous anger engendered by his tweets, they should provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we do care about everyone involved. That list starts with people who have been hurt by gender inequity. At the tail end it now includes Hickson and most everybody else who has ignorantly but unintentionally said harmful things on their social media accounts. If we all learn, communicate, and care this becomes an occasion for things to get a little better. If we just dismiss, label, and get angry then it gets worse for everybody involved. In the latter case we commit the same offense we accuse Hickson of--not caring and not being aware of the power of one's words--just with a different target. I assume that's not the desired outcome.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below. Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line, as that's how I find questions in a busy mailbox.
Also stay tuned all day for Trade Deadline coverage from around the NBA!