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Keying the Break

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We've talked a few times about the Blazers increasing their ability to run next year with Greg Oden in the middle anchoring the defense and rebounding.  Fast break points have been few and far between the last few years because we have not been able to simultaneously shut teams down, rebound the ball, and get in front of them.  It's always been a choice between one or two of those things when all three are necessary to run an effective break.  Hopefully (knock on wood) this will not be an issue much longer and the heart of a good fast-breaking offense will be established.

Another key element of the fast break is having people who can finish.  We're not hurting for those folks anymore either.  Brandon Roy can finish well...just as he does everything else well.  Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless will finish as well.  Travis Outlaw can put it through providing he catches the pass.  Lamarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye should be able to fill a wing.  Greg Oden will be a menacing trailer.  Even Martell Webster is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and not just because of his newfound desire to dunk with authority.  He's more than capable of drifting to the three-point line and putting one home.  That's a whole lot of people to worry about.

In between the rebound and the finish, however, come the facilitators.  This is the gray area for the Blazers right now.  Immediately people will say, "Brandon Roy could key the break!"  Indeed he could but he's not likely to.  Guards usually defend farther from the hoop which means they're correspondingly closer to their offensive basket when the enemy's shot goes up.  That makes your shooting guard the most likely candidate to be first down the court on the break.  If Brandon holds up to receive the ball from the rebounder you lose that advantage and the opponent automatically gets an extra defender downcourt.  You probably want Brandon streaking down as fast as he can when the rebound becomes clear.  That pretty much leaves our point guards to push the ball.

Steve Blake can run the break adequately, but that's not where he shines.  He's more of a halfcourt, run the play, hit the stand-still jump shot point guard.  Opposing defenses will likely make him commit to driving the ball himself and take their chances trying to force a miss from him.  It'll work often enough, but this doesn't exactly make for that "Uh oh!" feeling that the Clyde-era Blazers invoked when they ran it.

The much more likely candidates to key a devastating fast break attack are Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez.  Nobody in their right mind will sag off Bayless and then try to stop him at the hoop.  In fact they'll eventually go out of their way to get the ball out of his hands.  Sergio creates even more problems with his fantastic passing ability on the run.  He has a little trouble finishing but it almost doesn't matter because he can thread a pass to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  The problem is Bayless is a rookie and his role is yet to be determined.  Sergio, though longer-tenured, can't get on the floor for other reasons.  One or both of these guys will probably be the future, but how far away that future is remains to be seen.

One way or another it would help to have alternatives bringing the ball up the court.  This brings up a possibility we haven't discussed yet.  We've heard several templates for a small forward, but one that might do the Blazers good would be a small forward who can rebound a little and then run it up without having to pass to a guard.   This was one of the assets for which Darius Miles was so prized before his career fell apart.   If you think about Miles in his prime bearing down on you while Lamarcus fills one wing and Rudy Fernandez the other, you immediately start soiling your britches.  There's a possibility that having three guys back on defense wouldn't be enough in that situation, as Miles could likely take a defender one-on-one.  Woe be unto you if you only brought two.

These guys are rare, but they exist.  (Probably half of them in the league either play or have played for the Atlanta Hawks.)  If Portland is looking to shuffle or consolidate their lineup without messing with the point guard spot this might be one of the directions in which they look.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)