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The Season in Review: Steve Blake

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This weekend we cover the season of point guard Steve Blake.  He's one of the more fascinating discussions as his path with the team could legitimately take three or four different turns this summer alone, let alone in the long term.

If you haven't read the conversation guidelines for these threads, please take a look before commenting.  Please note especially that this is a Steve Blake thread, not an "I <3 Jerryd or Sergio so I'm downplaying Blake" thread.  Whether you have positive or negative things to say about him, please try to make sure they're on his merits, not someone else's.

Steve Blake 2008-09 stats: 

Statistic 2008-2009 2007-2008 Net Change
Games Played 69 81 -12
Games Started 69 78 -9
Minutes per Game 31.7 29.9 +1.8
Points per Game 11.0 8.5 +2.5
FG ATT per Game 9.4 7.9 +1.5
Field Goal% 42.8% 40.8% +2.0%
3PT ATT per Game 4.8 3.7 +1.1
Three-Point% 42.7% 40.6% +2.1%
FT ATT per Game 1.1 0.8 +0.3
Free Throw% 84.0% 76.6% +7.4%
Off Rebs per Game 0.4 0.4 --
Def Rebs per Game 2.1 2.0 +0.1
TOT Rebs per Game 2.5 2.4 +0.1
Assists 5.0 5.1 -0.1
Steals 1.0 0.7 +0.3
Blocks 0.1 0.0 +0.1
Turnovers 1.6 1.4 +0.2
Personal Fouls 1.8 1.6 +0.2
Effective FG% 53.6% 50.2% +3.4%
True Shooting% 55.7% 51.8% +3.9%
PER 14.5 12.0 +2.5
Plus-Minus +5.68 +0.85 +4.83
Assist/Turnover Ratio 3.13 3.64 -0.51

 

 

 

The overwhelming take-away from this point guard season is that Steve Blake found his niche this year.  Part of the credit has to go to Blake himself.  This team needed a point guard.  Blake came through.  Most people pre-season were speculating how many minutes reserves Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless would siphon off from him as they matured.  The answer:  zero.  He beat them off.  He fit in.  He came through in when the opportunities presented themselves.  There were even a handful of games he flat-out won for us, his scoring being the extra factor that pushed us over the top against some pretty decent teams (Orlando, Denver, Chicago, and the L*kers to name a few).  I can't remember many instances in prior seasons where you looked at Blake's contributions and said, "Wow!"  There were at least a few such incidences this season.  Even when he didn't score in bunches his marksmanship made life exponentially easier on Roy and the interior players.  You shouldn't underestimate what he did for the offense with that 43% three-point clip.

Part of the credit for Blake's increased production also goes to the coaching staff who designed an offense that would take advantage of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge while still presenting the kind of opportunities Blake needed.  The number of open, outlet threes he got this year was amazing.  It's no accident that his shooting percentages were up.  In fact this is only the second year of his career that his field goal percentage reached what you'd call acceptable levels.  This team made Blake look like a viable scoring option.

Besides that Blake did his usual job running the offense without endangering it.  His assist-to-turnover ratio was good.  The team scored over 7 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court than when he was off it.  That's a big margin.  Towards the end of the season you even saw a few passes to cutters and a couple alley-oops more reminiscent of Sergio Rodriguez's game than the normally staid tosses he usually throws.  He also legitimized (or at least comparatively legitimized) a stop-and-pop jumper, the first real dribble-scoring move I can recall seeing him repeat.  Most importantly of all, he was comfortable and basically productive whether he touched the ball a lot or a little.  That's valuable on a team where nearly everybody else in the lineup, starter or reserve, merits shots and needs to caress leather to be effective.

The Blazer defense was more or less a wash whether Blake was on or off the court.  He didn't exactly set the world on fire but nobody else did remarkably better in his spot.  Faint praise, perhaps, but it does put some perspective on the season.

Overall Blake's PER was slightly higher than the average of his accumulated opponents.  He ran much higher in effective field goal percentage and much lower in turnovers per 48 minutes than the average point guard he matched up against.  He ran lower in field goal attempts, points scored, and rebounds.  Assists were a wash.  He hardly dominated but he seemed to hold his own.

This is not to say everything was rosy in point guard land. 88% of Blake's shots were jumpers.  That's his game, his niche, but the lack of penetration and finishing ability cost the team upon occasion.  The most obvious example was the playoff series versus Houston.  When his teammates were well-guarded and the ball was in his hands he looked all but lost on many offensive possessions.  Increased production or no, making him put the ball on the floor and create is still a near-guaranteed option for opposing defenders no matter where he dribbles it.  There's a line in the Ben Stiller flick Mystery Men where Stiller's superhero, "Mr. Furious", is trying to impress the leading-lady waitress with his dark, potentially dangerous image.  The response?

Waitress:  I don't find you threatening.

Mr. Furious:  Oh!  Well, you're uh...very kind.

Waitress:  At all.

That would be Steve Blake on the drive.  Mostly on defense as well, at least individually.

The question for the Blazers is how valuable his leadership, game-management, and shooting are compared to his shortcomings.  Right now all three of those good qualities are indispensible to the team, which made him clearly the right choice for point guard this year.  As the team grows, other shooters develop, and players get more confidence individually and in the system offensively Blake's margin may diminish.  He'd never be the type of player you regret having on the team.  As long as he plays next to Brandon Roy he may be one of the best fits you'll find for the team.  But whenever it comes down to individual prowess you're always going to like somebody else a little better.  Steve Blake is a nicely manicured two-bedroom house in the suburbs in an age when everybody wants a mansion.  The grass always looks greener, but there are often hidden costs to moving on up.

The burning question becomes what Blake's role will be with this team in the future.  Personally I have a hard time thinking they'll part ways with him.  He's far too valuable to renounce, obviously.  The last year of his contract at $4 million will certainly be picked up.  That's a bargain for what you're getting.  But the days of Steve Blake being the only reliable point guard for the Blazers are coming to an end.  What form that will take is anybody's guess.  There's a possibility one of the current reserves will become more reliable.  There's a possibility of getting a veteran to back up the position while Blake continues his duties.  There's a possibility of getting a starter and using Blake in the reserve role. 

The likelihood of trading Steve straight up for somebody or even having him as the main bargaining chip in a trade is small.  As Gavin Dawson is wont to say, he's one of those players who is far more valuable to the Blazers than he is on the open market.  But he could be packaged in a trade, I suppose.  If that happens the team has to be darn sure the guy they're getting to take his place not only brings a significant upgrade in terms of talent but meshes with the established players on this team.

There's also a possibility that if no obvious move presents itself the Blazers will ride out one more year with Steve, confident that they can re-sign him or not after that as they wish, knowing also that they're at least passably taken care of in the meantime.

The field is wide open.  What's your call?  I don't think there's any debate about Blake's role on the current team.  What will his future role be?  Will he be as significant down the road as he is now?  And if he is, will that be good or bad for the Blazers?

See more stats at 82Games.com  and BasketballReference.com.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)