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Whither Martell?

Since we talked about Sergio last week it seems apropos to shine the spotlight on one of the other under-mentioned members of the Blazers’ rotation:  Martell Webster.  Despite being in the starting five, Martell evokes less comment than even Steve Blake right now.  Most of those comments are about how fragile his position may be.  Travis Outlaw has supposedly (because we never truly know until it happens) been switched over to small forward full time.  The excitement over Rudy Fernandez has people speculating that either he or Brandon Roy will begin usurping some small forward minutes as well.  The victim of the time crunch in these scenarios is inevitably Martell…at least the way most folks tell it.  How realistic is that?  And what does Webster’s future hold?


Martell’s most obvious gift, and the oft-repeated reason for him retaining his starting position, is his outside shooting.  He shot a career-high 38.8% last season, good for 44th in the league.  He was 21st in three-point percentage among players who attempted 300 or more.  He appears more comfortable with his shot and his distance percentage has improved each year of his career, so there’s reason to think he’s still growing into himself.


Martell also has a couple of overlooked gifts.  Without sounding like a bath gel commercial, his body is incredible.  There’s no other way to put it.  You look at the height, decent weight and width, and his physique and you think he should be able to develop into a Ron Artest-like greyhound with some bulk besides.  Last season he developed a straight-ahead charge to the hoop which netted him a few highlight dunks, showing off that athleticism.  He also managed to acquit himself decently on defense compared to his first two seasons.  While not a strong point yet, he’s not an embarrassment anymore on that end of the floor.


So what’s the down side to Martell? 


First of all, everything he does well somebody else on the team does as well or better.  James Jones and Steve Blake both shot a higher percentage from the three-point arc last season, and even Travis Outlaw edged him out, albeit with far fewer attempts.  The team has a handful of better scorers.  Almost everybody in the backcourt handles the ball better.  There are few clear individual defensive standouts on the team but Martell isn’t that either.  Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw and now possibly Greg Oden and Jerryd Bayless all take more advantage of their athleticism than Martell does.  He’s good at a few things, but he’s not the first guy you’d point to for anything.  


Second, he’s not consistent in his production.  Admittedly the small forward is often the odd man out in Portland’s schemes, but you still see Martell with games of 29 or 30 minutes producing 25 or 11 or 3 points and then back again.  Part of it is being young and part of it is not having had a steady role throughout his career, but as you start to move into your fourth season people start to expect more consistency.  You like Martell, you just don’t necessarily trust Martell.


The issue that’s been dogging Webster his whole career continued last season as well.  Long-time readers know what’s coming here but you can’t talk about Martell’s game seriously without mentioning it.  If you run plays for Martell and give him the ball, he’s going to score well for you.  If you expect him to play a supporting role he’s probably going to fade away.  Granted he did more non-scoring things last season to justify his minutes.  It was clearly his best year so far in those terms.  Even so his best games clearly came when he had double-digit shot attempts…the higher the better.  Minutes are almost immaterial to his production.  It’s how many times he gets to put it up that matters.


This is what brings up the Martell Quandary.  He’s a decent player already and may develop into a legitimately good one.  But how many shots can he earn on this team?  The de facto reason for him remaining in the starting lineup is that his shooting better complements the interior players.  The unspoken assumption there is that Martell will flourish as a complementary player.  I’m not convinced that’s so.  That’s not a knock on Martell either.  Some guys just play better and feel better when they’re central to the offense.  Martell’s proclamations as far back as his rookie year have been of the “I want to lead this team, be an All-Star, be one of the great players in this league” variety.  If that’s his self-assessment, he may not be able to fulfill it here.


It was fairly easy to come up with a list of things Sergio Rodriguez could to in order to solidify his position.  The Martell Quandary makes Webster’s list harder.  You want to say he needs to fit in with the starting lineup and fill that complementary role well.  But if that’s not his gift then you’re trying to cement him in a role he’s not meant (or not willing) to play.  It’s like saying, “If you really want to be a chocolate maker concentrate on the broccoli.”  You can slice, dice, sauté, and fricassee broccoli as much as you want.  It ain’t gonna get you to the Hershey’s factory.  That may be where Martell sits right now.


For these reasons, plus his contract situation, plus the aforementioned possible time crunch, my gut tells me that Martell may be one of the guys the Blazers consider moving in the near future. 


What do you see coming up for Martell and what do you wish for him to show?


--Dave (