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Duckworth Memory

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Along with all the rest of you I was saddened by the news of Kevin Duckworth's passing yesterday.  Double-zero was in many ways an underrated but heroic figure for a Portland culture.  He didn't look the part and he was visibly imperfect...maybe even easy to malign.  Yet he was as nice as the day is long, devoted to the area, and those who knew the score saw that he was an integral part of the team in those late early-nineties glory years.  When he came riding through the tunnel on his horse to save the day in that Game 7 versus the Spurs he finally got his unadulterated moment in the sun and his true character and worth were revealed.  You couldn't have scripted it any better.  But that memory has been shared many places so I want to bring up a different think I appreciated about Duck.

Few would remember it or remark upon it now, but Kevin Duckworth is the guy who introduced the pick-and-pop to Portland.  Long before every tall, skinny, hyper-athletic power forward in the league was screening and then drifting outside to take a jumper, there was this huge, 7-footer lumbering his way to the baseline and shooting that one-handed wobble shot time after time.  As I recall Duck's offense was somewhat controversial at the time.  Traditionally men his size were supposed to set massive picks and then roll to the basket, not float outside for a 10-12 footer.  They were supposed to batter and bruise the opponent and toss in a slam or baby hook from two feet.  But that wasn't Duck's nature.  He'd accept contact but he wasn't a killer or bruiser.  But he could hit a jumper.  After futilely forcing him to be that inside guy I guess the coaches just shrugged their shoulders and let him do what came naturally.  However it happened, it was perfect for the Portland offense.

First of all, when Duck set a screen it was decent by default.  His size took care of that.  Whoever wanted around that pick had a long way to go.  Forget trying to move through it.  Portland's guards demanded coverage, however.  You couldn't just trail behind Clyde and Terry nor could you really go around leaving them open for a jumper.  If they came around that screen and you weren't there they were going to hit a shot or drive and destroy you.  That meant the best option was for both defenders to pinch the dribbler or otherwise team up to impede him.  That left Duck alone when he rolled.

This was not uncommon in the NBA, of course.  Every team that defends a pick and roll makes these choices in certain situations.  They also compensate for them by having a third defender dive into the lane to stop the now free-rolling pick-setter.  Except Duck didn't go into the lane.  Duck went down to the baseline instead.  The rotation couldn't get over there quick enough.  Most centers at the time weren't agile enough to help cover the guard and then get back down to him either.  That meant a lot of passes coming off the screen down to Kevin and a lot of chances for him to take that jumper.  It translated into a lot of points on the scoreboard as well.  He shot that thing as well as he did those shots from two feet out, maybe even better.  Plus his ability to pull the opposing center out of the paint led to more drives for Clyde and Terry and more offensive rebounds for Jerome and Buck.  If you remember Kersey flying down the lane to throw down a nasty put-back rebound also remember to thank Kevin for hitting the jumpers that made that kind of thing possible.

Duckworth didn't invent the pick-and-pop or the mid-range shooting center, of course.  Walton himself had pretty decent range and a few of Duck's contemporaries also used the move.  But it still boggled your mind at the time to see this huge guy playing that way.  That baseline jumper was one of his special contributions to Portland history.

We'll miss you Duck.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)