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Taking Stock: Part IV

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It's time for a late conclusion to our two-thirds of the way through the season informal survey of our players and what we've observed/learned so far.  Today we look at the low-rotation players.

One, overwhelming observation applies to all of these players:  they're not ready yet.  Each has talent and potential or they wouldn't be getting the minutes they are.  Each of them has had opportunities for bigger minutes at various times in the season.  But none of them have grown far enough nor performed consistently enough to think about occupying a higher spot in the rotation yet.  So far fatal flaws have kept tantalizing promise in check.  But every one of these players is young.  The final chapters haven't been written yet.  In some cases we're barely beyond the prologue.

Other than that, it's still hard to make solid predictions on these guys.  Their present depends on what goes on with the roster/rotation around them.  That makes their future harder to read.  There's no "what we need to see for the rest of the year" section with these guys because they're not likely to jump their fences at this point and make a sustained difference in a playoff run.  Basically for each it's, "Work on your weaknesses and go all-out whenever you get to play."

Nicolas Batum

Major Stats:  17.8 minutes per game, 50.4% eFG%, 35.1% 3-pt%

The surprise starter at small forward continues to offer glimpses of the skills that earned him that position.  He is so light on his feet he might as well be ice skating out there.  His lateral quickness and defensive willingness separate him from most of his teammates.  It's not so much that he's defensively smart, even, just quick and committed.  His long arms also help him deny passes and poke away balls.  When he gets a lane to penetrate on offense he's one of the prettiest drivers and finishers in the league.  It's not so much thunderous power as controlled lightning.  He's dunking before defenders have left the ground to stop him.  His early play has already drawn favorable comparisons to Tayshaun Prince and Scottie Pippen.  While those are lofty names, visions of Batum as an effective starter down the line seem prudent.  He's already contributing using only raw material.  The refined product could be scary.

Batum has shown two major shortcomings so far:

1.  His body isn't developed or strong enough to take full advantage of his other physical skills.  He can get bullied or shrugged aside, especially on the boards, and especially against mature small forwards.  Granted the aforementioned Prince is pretty much a stick figure, but he's a strong stick figure with a multitude of talents that Batum hasn't evidenced yet.

2.  His offense has been sporadic.  Part of this is his position, as Blazer small forwards tend to camp on the weak side and shoot threes.  This doesn't take full advantage of his skills.  But part of it is also inherent.  He doesn't look comfortable shooting.  There's no real rhythm to his stroke.  He doesn't push the boundaries of his offense enough either.  When he's on Batum can be devastating, but that doesn't happen often.  We see 1-6 or 2-5 nights far more often.

The physical pounding and lack of offense make it difficult for Nate to leave Batum on the floor.  This works to his detriment on the nights he's really contributing.  We're going to see more of Nic in the future but apparently not much more than 20 minutes and 6 shots max this year.

The team's defensive efficiency remains steady whether Batum is on or off the court but oddly enough the effective field goal percentage allowed goes up when he's in the game.  The Blazers' own effective field goal percentage and offensive efficiency go up when Batum is in the game as well, but this may have as much to do with who plays behind him as his own production.  He's not taking shots away from more efficient, productive offensive players the way his back-ups do.

Sergio Rodriguez

Major Stats:  16.6 minutes, 3.7 assists, 2.42 assist-to-turnover ratio, 33% 3pt%, 38.5% fg%

The best way to describe Sergio's role this season is that he's finally been given the keys to the car but he's still on his learner's permit.  His minutes and responsibility are bigger and steadier than they have been in years past but both are more sporadic than those of any other rotation player.  He has learned how to set the offense but he's still not at Steve Blake's level in the halfcourt game.  His shot and scoring have been as dicey as ever but the last couple of months he has shown a newfound aggression and confidence which have served him well.  He's now more dependable from three-point range and less predictable when he drives.  Both allow him more latitude to make moves and passes and allow the coach to keep him in the game even when offense is needed.  Sergio has done a fantastic job of eliminating the wince-inducing offensive mistakes that plagued his first two seasons.  You seldom if ever see a bad pass from him anymore.  When he does commit an error it's usually forgetting the shortcomings of the player he's giving the ball to (e.g. Przybilla on the move 12 feet from the hoop or Aldridge at the three-point line with the clock winding down) than displaying his own.  Though he's putting in more effort and doing a better job of staying in front of his man individually Sergio is still an eyesore in the team defensive scheme, particularly when dealing with screens.  Much like Nic Batum he just doesn't have the body for full-contact NBA defense.

Put this all together and what do you get?  A lot of this--but that.  Sergio is hard to pin down at this point.  He plays a pretty good game that can occasionally range into brilliant but then you always worry about the other shoe dropping.  He's better than he's ever been but he's still short of what we need.  But for a guy who hasn't gotten steady playing time before this season "better" might be good enough.  You just wish for a little bit more when you're staring down the barrel of a Denver or San Antonio knowing you need a win.

Portland's defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage allowed are both better when Sergio is on the court than off it.  However our offensive efficiency takes a nose dive when he plays.  Even with the bench players contributing to the downfall that's not good for a guy whose calling card is setting other players up for great shots.

Jerryd Bayless

Major Stats:  14.1 minutes, 1.66 assists-to-turnover ratio, 38.2% fg%, 26.9% 3pt%, 83.5% FT%, 40.5% eFG%

Jerryd Bayless has shown that he can do about one and a half things very well so far in this league.  When he gets a head of steam he can finish like an NBA superstar.  When he's around the basket on the move he's scoring or getting fouled or getting his shot blocked.  There's no passivity there.  He's aggressive and he's brilliant.  He also uses his physique to bounce around screens and absorb blows that leave our other guards standing flat.  His build allows him to take fouls and still get a credible shot up, making him unique among our point guards.  His 85% free throw shooting comes in handy there.   He's not accomplished at setting the halfcourt offense and Brandon Roy often handles the ball when Bayless is in though Jerryd defends the opposing point guard.  He has gotten better in the last month at finding open men off of the drive.  His assist-to-turnover ratio isn't sterling and is by far the lowest among the three point guards.

Bayless still gets lost on defense even though his vision is far better than it was when he first started playing.  His jump shot, or any shot not at the rim really, is a complete crap shoot, a phrase which could accurately be taken in both the gaming and the literal sense.  When his jumper is on he becomes dangerous but most nights that's not an issue.

We haven't seen enough of Jerryd to grade much more than the raw material.  It's hard to predict what his true position and style will be other than saying if it doesn't involve plenty of hard-nosed trips to the basket he's going to be wasted.

The offensive-defensive stats remain in the same vicinity when Bayless plays or sits, although Portland's effective field goal percentage goes down when he's in.  He's not yet drawing enough fouls to justify the lack of a jumper.

Channing Frye

Major Stats:  11.9 minutes, 2.3 rebounds, 40.5% FG%. 42.6% eFG%

It's safe to say that Channing getting fewer minutes than either Sergio or Jerryd isn't making this one of his top ten seasons ever.  (And he's only played four including this one.)  His abhorrent shooting percentage comes from him taking jumpers almost exclusively.   He's been hitting them since he's gotten more playing time with Greg Oden out.  He's also been rebounding with more intensity.  Channing has always needed minutes in order to perform, though.  The lack of them this year has turned him into a shadow of himself.  His inside game on either end has gone from "questionable" to "non-existent".  At times he's simply been painful to watch.  Then he'll get a run going in a quarter and you'll remember he's Channing Frye and should probably have a bigger role than this.

To Channing's credit his attitude has stayed overwhelmingly positive and supportive, at least in public.  He's a near-perfect teammate, a positive influence, and a fine team representative.  He's just not firing on all cylinders as a power forward.

I'm not a huge fan of cocktail stats like the PER but Channing's is at 9.2 as a power forward and 12.0 as a center.  The league average is 15.

I'm not sure on-off court stats are indicative here because unlike the players mentioned so far, Channing's minutes have depended on injuries and foul trouble for other players more than a set spot in the rotation.  Without consistency it's hard to account for variables.  Most things are nondescript except for offensive efficiency, which goes way down when Channing is in.

What we know about Channing basically boils down to "not a good short-spurt player".  Anything else will have to wait until his role gets bigger.

Check out many stats at 82Games.com.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)