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Too Much Talent?

One of the ideas floating around out there in the media sphere is that the Blazers (gasp, alas, alack) might have "too much talent".  Obviously this would be a disaster of proportions not seen since the summer "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" came out together.  So let's discuss it.

Or let's not.  It's silly.

OK, OK...I'll give you this.  The Blazers have a number of players stockpiled who could play the same position, giving the team legitimate depth.  A side effect of that depth is log-jamming at multiple positions, which could lead to underutilization of some players, which could be roughly described as "too much talent" if you were comparing the current team to a (fictionalized) ideal.  But that's pretty much where it ends.

Using a couple of recent examples, the Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo Celtics and the Kobe-Everybody L*kers teams were clearly more talented overall when they won their championships than the current vintage Blazers are now.  Before you get your official Blazer boxers in a knot, let me hasten to add that this has as much to do with experience as personnel.  Portland certainly has the potential to be as good as either of those teams but right now they aren't.  And yet, as we just mentioned, those teams which had more talent than the team with "too much talent" walked away with rings.  One could also point to vintage Spurs or Bulls teams and make the same argument.

Maybe if you stuck Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on this team you could start talking about too much talent.  You'd have plenty of overlap in positions and far more shots needed than were actually available.  Eventually this might cause difficulties.  But you know what?  I suspect a Roy-Bryant-James-Aldridge-Oden team would find a way to win a championship or two in the meantime.  I can't think of a GM in the league who wouldn't try if given the chance.

Long story short, there's no such thing as "too much talent".   That's not to say the Blazers are issue-free.  Talent just isn't the right name for the issue.

The Blazers' problem is that they have too many players who have skill and potential but lacking experience (in some cases) or a well-rounded game (in others) they can't be clearly distinguished and thus designated a semi-firm rotation spot.  Though they are different from each other, when you measure out the various plusses and minuses of each they end up pretty close to each other overall.  This lack of definition creates the logjam and thus the illusion of too much talent.  In actuality the issue is too many people in the grey area, which in an odd way means not enough talent has shown itself.

The script plays out verbatim at point guard and small forward and lingers still at center.  Greg Oden is one of the franchise's great hopes, but with the performance we've seen so far folks are nervous enough to consider Joel Przybilla indispensible.  Yet Przybilla starting doesn't please anybody as a long-term solution.  That's not too much talent.  Steve Blake served well enough as a point guard but the team went out and got somebody to challenge him.  Yet that somebody, by the team's own admission, is not guaranteed a starting spot the way a Steve Nash or Jason Kidd would have been.  He's in a dogfight with the guy the team wanted to upgrade.  That's not too much talent.  One potential small forward has spent six years in this league finding a position and a role and still isn't nailed down.  Another potential small forward was just starting to blossom after a semi-disappointing early career (based on his draft position anyway) when he was injured for a year.  He's just now getting back in the saddle and is riding gingerly.  Another potential small forward is a future stalwart but is young, inexperienced, and right now can't seem to get more than 16 minutes per game.  That's not too much talent.

I suppose the position where you could make the TMT argument legitimately is shooting guard...maybe.  Rudy Fernandez appears to have a career ahead of him in this league and brings valuable skills to the floor.  Brandon Roy isn't going to be giving up many minutes this year or ever.  But both Brandon's and Rudy's roles are in flux (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, ball-handler, runner, passer???) and Rudy has more yet to show before we can peg the magnitude of his game for sure.  If both are locked into the shooting guard role and cannot play together then this will eventually become an untenable situation.  But that hasn't been demonstrated yet and either way because of Rudy's growth curve it won't matter that much this year.  The TMT argument is not really strong in the short term here either.

If the Blazers have too much of anything, it's too much fuzziness.  Fuzzy players usually need court time to clear up the fuzz.  With such a plethora, getting them all worked in is nearly impossible.  Fuzzy rotations usually leave everybody unhappy, as each player thinks the fuzz should be resolved his way.  Were LeBron James or Devin Harris to sign with the team this fuzziness would immediately depart as both roster and rotation would be defined by their talent.  But as that's not likely to happen soon, we're just going to have to live with (and sort through) the murk as best we can.

The bright side to the equation is that if any of the fuzzy-position players go down to injury the team can replace them with somebody of reasonably equivalent caliber.  That's something to hold onto.  And really, the mix and match approach doesn't hurt the team much.  Players will just have to learn to live with more situational minutes and fewer guaranteed ones.  It's not like the Blazers have a crippling weakness here.  It's just a mistake to equate relative equality with overall (let alone overwhelming) superiority.  The former has been demonstrated amply.  The latter has yet to be shown.

--Dave (