Mailbag: Matthews as 6th Man, Eric Gordon, Expensive Rosters

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How much room for growth is left in the Blazers' wings? Would Eric Gordon be an improvement? What happens when the Blazers get too much talent? These questions and more answered in this edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag.

Mailbag time!

Dave,

You said earlier that getting a center would improve the play of guys like Nicolas Batum and Wes Mathews. How much upside do you think they have? What potential lies untapped in the starting lineup? You must think there's some room, right?

Bruce

I do think a defensive-minded center would make Portland's starters look better. But that's less an assessment of individual ceiling and more an assessment of effect. I don't anticipate that Batum and Matthews will blossom into star-level players. I'm not sure they'll get that much better than they are now, though I'd certainly hope for it. I do know that their work, particularly on the defensive end, was pretty much wasted last year.

Defense is like assembly line work. No matter how skilled the individual worker is, he or she can't do it alone. Each worker does his part. If all workers on the line are adept and working hard, the finished product will probably look good. If the workers at Stations 1 and 2 are skilled craftsmen but the guy at Station 5 stands there picking his nose and smashing the units with a plumber's wrench, the finished product won't turn out right. How long will the guys at Stations 1 and 2 continue pouring their heart and soul into it if their work's just getting ruined farther down the line? That was pretty much Portland's defense last year.

Getting a halfway decent defender at that 5th Station will allow us to see the benefit of the guys at the earlier stages. They're going to look and play better with someone competent behind them. They won't instantly morph into All-NBA defensive guys, but their "D" will start making a difference.

Dave,

It seems like most of the talk this summer focuses on trading Wesley Matthews or Nic Batum. Maybe that's the best option. I'm not convinced. Can you give a brief summary of why Portland would or wouldn't trade Wes and Nic beside just getting more talent?

Devan

You wouldn't trade Matthews and Batum because they're nearly ideal non-star wings in today's NBA. They stretch the floor with their distance shooting and they defend. They bring extra bonuses as well. Batum developed his passing this year and hit some nifty last-second shots. Matthews busts out with the occasional 30-point game. They're both solid character guys, good teammates.

You would consider trading either because the Blazers are the ultimate floor-stretching team without anything to stretch the floor for. They have no true inside presence, nobody outside of their point guard who can get his own shot or create off the dribble. They're a supporting cast in search of a star. If they can't get that star--or the competent center they need, or just a little more variety in their attack--without moving one of these two guys, they'll have to think about doing so. The Blazers could probably live with a slightly lesser substitute for one of these players easier than they could live without a jolt of talent and style.

Finding a player worth trading away one of those players for--a player whom you could actually get with one of those players--is the fly in the ointment. That depends on who is available and/or what free agents the Blazers can sign.

The best thing to say at this point is that theoretically this should be a possibility. In reality it probably won't happen. For now, that'll probably be fine.

Dave,

We won 33 games last year with an admitted end of the year tank. Part of it was with a rookie starting Point Guard, Players on the bench developing and injuries to Batum and Matthews. We may or may not get "the Center" and wing we want. If we get a serviceable 10 PPG/ 8 RPG Center that plays good defense, how many more games would you project us winning organically? By Organically, i mean as a result of Lillard no longer being a rookie, these guys having a year together and players like Claver having had some minutes and improvement?

Hermistonmelons

First a caveat about this kind of comparison. No two seasons compare exactly. The Blazers won 33 last year in part because of some last-second rallies and improbable fourth quarters. What if those shots rim out or the runs don't happen? How do we know they weren't a 25-win team who just got lucky? On the other hand, we DO know that they were robbed of at least one win in Los Angeles which foreshadowed the shameful Lakers Aid policy in the closing weeks of the season, so you could reasonably argue the Blazers were a 34 win time at minimum.

When we can't even be sure of our baseline for comparison, we can't look at a single change to that baseline and attribute it to a given cause. A thousand things could go differently around a new center to affect that win total.

If I had to guess (which is the purpose of the question) I'd say a reasonably competent center makes the Blazers into a .500-level team, maybe just below. The ripple effect on the defense described above is going to keep Portland in more games. If Portland's woes last year really were attributable to injuries as you said, perhaps extra help from healthy players pushes the team into the mid-40's. But no single player short of Dwight Howard or a rejuvenated Andrew Bynum (both mythical creatures in these parts) will make enough of a difference on their own to carry the Blazers past the first round of the playoffs. To even sniff that you need a center, a hot scorer off the bench, and more depth.

Dave,

What are your thoughts on trying to trade for Eric Gordon? It seems in a situation like Portland's you either need to build patiently through the draft or take a risk. Is he the type of "high risk, high reward" player we need to go after?

Kyle

I am not really fond of the Gordon pick-up for a couple reasons. First, he makes LaMarcus Aldridge money. Second, he's not at a LaMarcus Aldridge level of impact. His defense is poor. He scores points by eating the ball. That'd be fine in a 6th man except he probably wouldn't be content to come off the bench (leaving Portland a horrific starting backcourt on the defensive end) and you'd be paying $14-$15.5 million for that 6th man for the next three years. Add in his recent injuries and we're not talking risk-reward as much as a bad bet from Portland's perspective. If the Blazers were one hot scorer away, if cap space didn't matter, if you had visions of Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson spinning in your head then this move might make sense. None of those hold true for the Blazers.

Dave,

A common discussion amongst my fellow Blazer fans and I directly involves Wesley Matthew's value. It seems that he is not considered an elite SG option and would better serve as a 6th man, not a starter. I disagree strongly with that idea. Compared to Eric Gordon (who is paid elite-SG money whether he is elite or not) it shows that Wesley shoots higher percentages, turns the ball over less and scores basically the same amount of points. Gordon takes 2 more shots a game and scores about 2 more points a game in a few less minutes playing time. I think a lot of Blazer fans would be willing to trade Wes straight up for EG but after looking at the stats I feel that Wes is a better overall player. I didn't do comparisons of every SG in the league vs. Wes but I have a feeling if I did that he would rank pretty high overall, yet he never gets the respect I feel he deserves. What gives?

Andy

Matthews is a far better value than Gordon would be. It's hard to compare Matthews to the overall set of shooting guards because the position contains so many different types. You range from ultra-stars like Kobe and James Harden to defensive specialists like Tony Allen to hybrids like Jarrett Jack. Your advantage depends on what you were looking for. Matthews is nowhere near Harden's league, obviously. But as a defender/shooter he's plenty adequate. Any lack of respect would probably come from your friends looking for an elephant instead of a duck.

Then again, you can paint that duck gold but that still doesn't make it more valuable. Wesley is what Wesley is. If you need that star-level player, a shot-creator, the sizzle factor, he's not your guy.

I'm not sure what the 6th man argument is based on except "We don't really think he's exciting enough to be a starter". In my mind a 6th man does one of two things: scores big or plays multiple positions. That's not Wes. He's actually poured from the Allen-Sefolosha shooting guard starter mold. He'll give you 32 good minutes while covering for his higher-profile teammates on the defensive end and hitting his open shots. Echoing an earlier point, who's he spreading the floor for in the second unit?

Wesley would be no more exciting coming off the bench than he is starting. He'd just be slightly less visible. I'd actually prefer my main bench guy to ignite the court, taking over the game while some of the other starting scorers are out. If you need to upgrade the position that badly--as in considering Gordon badly--you probably need to trade Matthews. If you're going to keep him, he might as well start in support of Lillard and Aldridge while you bring more concentrated firepower (and probably less defense and/or shooting) off the bench.

Dave

I've been hearing a lot about how many teams will be a tough place trying to keep their team together while at the same time avoiding the luxury tax. Golden State is one of the teams mentioned. The experts say this will lead to a redistribution of talent (i.e. Harden's trade and the idea that Golden State likely won't be able to keep both (or either) Jack and Landry this year). Do you think in the next few years the Blazers will be more of a victim or beneficiary of this concept, and can you summarize who will likely be the victims in the next few years?

Steve

It'll be interesting to see. Oklahoma City has already felt the pressure, as you say. If Golden State follows and never has a chance to find their ceiling it'll be sad.

You know who won't feel that pressure? Los Angeles and New York with their back-fat laden TV deals. The new CBA will restrict their ability to trade once they're over the tax threshold but nothing's going to stop them from retaining players they want to keep. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?

Portland will be a beneficiary of this phenomenon in the short-term. The sad part about it is that, much as with the Seattle-Sacramento struggle, it'll be a case of small-market teams cannibalizing each other.

If Portland ever gets good they'll be under the same constraints as any other non-TV-fed team. At that point you have to hope that Paul Allen is in a charitable mood...or that he sees that title trophy as his personal White Whale.

Be sure and send your questions to the address below. Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line. For all of you who have sent in draft-related questions, they're up next!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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