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The Season in Review: Travis Outlaw

Today we take a look at the ever-controversial Travis Outlaw.  We used to call him the Leaping Enigma but he's doing far less leaping and far more long-range shooting nowadays.  What do we call him now?  The Mystery Bomb?

If you haven't read the conversation guidelines for these threads, please take a look before commenting.

Travis Outlaw's 2008-09 stats:




Net Change

Games Played




Games Started




Minutes per Game




Points per Game




FG ATT per Game




Field Goal%




3PT ATT per Game








FT ATT per Game




Free Throw%




Off Rebs per Game




Def Rebs per Game




TOT Rebs per Game




















Personal Fouls




Effective FG%




True Shooting%












Everybody in the room stand up.  Come on, do it.  Up!

Good.  Now you may sit down if you've ever heard, thought, or (God forbid) said this phrase:  "This is the year when we finally find out about Travis Outlaw."

Everybody seated now?  Wait...what, sir?  No, this is not the Zig Ziglar seminar on finding financial prosperity in rough times.  That's down the hall, I believe.  What's that?  No, we're not hiring.  Ben is quite competent and I don't think we need...huh?  No, I don't carry any change with me.  Ask Zig.  Down the hall.  Shoo!

Now what were we talking about?  Ah yes.  This was finally supposed to be the year when we discovered the true value of Travis Outlaw.  Which, of course, followed last year which was supposed to be the year when we discovered the true value of Travis Outlaw.  Which followed the year before which was supposed...oh, you get the idea.

So what did we find out?

Well, people who like Travis have more reasons to like him after this season.  He looked more comfortable in the offense, more confident in his shot, and generally played a smarter offensive game.  He upped his field goal percentage by a full 2%, more than doubled his three-point shots while retaining a good percentage, and as a result sent his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage through the roof.  He was more active in, and attuned to, the defense as well.  He made fewer obvious blunders and had some genuinely good defensive outings.  His plus-minus spiked positive and the coaching staff found they could genuinely rely on him for consistent minutes, possibly for the first time in his career.  Also he's one of a small handful of players on this team who can consistently get good looks on their own.  Roy, Aldridge, Bayless, and Outlaw.  That's about it.  And Bayless doesn't play much.  That alone may make Travis Portland's most important bench player.

The people who don't like Travis also found plenty of grist for the mill.  One of the things in Travis' favor has been a steady increase in production as his minutes and responsibility have increased.  You could always imagine the sky being the limit.  Though he didn't get a ton more minutes this year than last, he still played a more significant role than he ever has.  His overall production flat-lined.  He had fewer points, fewer rebounds, fewer assists...not only in aggregate but per minute.  The drops weren't precipitous, but his numbers weren't that astonishing to begin with and the wiggle room isn't that great.  Simply put, if this is all there is it isn't enough.  If there's more to be had, where is it?  And why, after six full seasons now, aren't we seeing it in more than just fits and starts?  Travis will be 25 next year and entering his seventh season.  There shouldn't be that much speculation about him.  We should know more.

Despite having a good personal plus-minus the team scored less and allowed more points when Travis was on the floor than when he was on the bench.  Their effective field goal percentage went down and the effective field goal percentage allowed went up.  Rebounding went down significantly when Travis played.  To pin the entire second unit performance on Travis would be foolish, but when most people think "Travis Outlaw" they envision a difference maker, a game-changer.  He didn't really change the game for the Blazers this year.  He contributed for sure, but he didn't take control.

One thing we are nailing down is that Travis is getting locked into a power forward role.  His PER was 9 points better as a power forward than as a small forward.  He won the PER battle by +3.1 at power forward and lost it by that exact amount as a small forward.  We saw the fruits of this in the stats mentioned above.  Opposing big forwards have a hard time staying with him, especially from the perimeter.  But he isn't an adequate rebounder at the four.  81% of his attempts are jumpers as well.  That's Rudy Fernandez territory, not power-forward land.  Even the new NBA power forward mold you can't have one of your major big guys hanging outside all the time, never getting near the rim, not putting pressure on his defender, and not drawing fouls.

How good is Travis?  We don't know.

How good will Travis become?  How much room does he have to grow yet?  We don't know.

How clearly will his strengths tell as our full-time, back-up power forward and how effectively can we compensate for his weaknesses?  We don't know.

How much can we rely on him to perform at a top level every night?  We don't know.

How long will it take us to find out the answers to these questions?  We don't know.

Unless, of course, the answer is staring us right in the other words if the answer IS "We don't know..."  That's a possibility Portland fans and management will have to start giving credence to.  It happens.  Some guys have gifts and talent but don't ever develop consistency.  They'll give you spoonfuls of brilliance but you never get the whole plate.  In these cases the following are often true:

1.  The guy will have one or two consistently good seasons but it takes a long time to get there and he falls off the wagon afterwards.  It isn't sustained.

2.  Even those good seasons aren't as good as people envisioned.

3.  You just can't win in the meantime and still rely on the guy because this league isn't just about potential greatness, it's about production and performance.

I'm not saying this is the case with Travis, but six years is six years.  That's half a career for most good players.  It's not that far from half a career even for guys who came into the league at 18.   You have to start asking these questions at some point.

Travis may also get caught in a bind because of the team's situation.  First and foremost, they need players they can rely on to win games.  This is more true now than ever and will continue for the foreseeable future.  54 wins changes things.  This isn't anything close to a development squad anymore.  To the extent we are still developing players there are higher priorities than Travis.  Second, being primarily a power forward means playing primarily behind LaMarcus Aldridge.  Minutes will be scarce.  If Travis is "all that" he's not going to shine in that situation.  If he's not, we might not want to put up with his weaknesses.  People were debating this in the Rudy Fernandez thread but there are probably more possibilities open to Rudy and Brandon Roy than there appear to be with LaMarcus and Travis.  LaMarcus isn't moving.  Travis is showing himself less capable of moving.  At what point does that become an impasse?

Doubtless the Blazers value Travis, and rightfully so.  He's not a bad player.  Sometimes he's a great player.  His lows are getting steadily less low.  But his average is still average and still involves too much guesswork.  The Blazers won't be giving Travis away.  He's young, inexpensive, and can get his own shot.  Those make him a great value.  But if other teams come calling with tempting offers, you'd think the Blazers would be listening.  This will be doubly true if they don't see a long-term marriage with him.  The Blazers have a contract option on him for 2009-10 at $3.6 million.  That's all that remains of his current deal.  If they want him back they're going to have to negotiate with him in the coming year which means more years and more money, plus a likely year of Base Year Compensation following during which he pretty much can't be traded.  If they're going to move him, doing it this summer might be the safest and simplest option.

On the other hand, what can you get for him?  He's not enough to draw a star at this point, even if he's just a key player in a package.  But he's got too much value and too much career ahead of him to trade away for a stopgap player.  He's a tweener that way.  You could go get a guy in the Stromile Swift mold who is just going to cause you the same kind of headaches, but that's not only a lateral move it's a silly one.  Travis does fit with this team and he's filling a key role.  You might also be able to move up in the draft with a player like Travis, but then you're dealing with youth all over again.  It may be more targeted youth at a better position for you, but it's still youth with all the inconsistency the label is heir to.

(sigh)  Even in this, Travis is all over the map.  There are more polarizing players on the team, but are there any that invoke such a wide range of responses?  What are your feelings on the matter?  Retain him?  Trade him?  Ride it out and see what happens?  How did you feel about his performance this year?  Do you expect more in the future?  What do you think are the chances of those expectations being met?  Chime in on all things Outlaw-related below.

See more stats at and

--Dave (