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Nate McMillan Talks Point Guards

It's really starting to feel like crunch time as we get closer to the draft.  Some of the light-heartedness at the Practice Facility is evaporating and smiles are increasingly turning into focused stares.  We're not at the finish line yet -- there are still two sets of workouts scheduled for early next week -- but the end is in sight.  

We started this offseason with the notion that room for improvement could be found at both the point guard and power forward positions.  Nothing that's occurred since the team was eliminated by Houston has swayed my opinion on that subject, although repeated statements by Kevin Pritchard seem to see a frontcourt upgrade as more urgent than a backcourt upgrade.

With this draft being so deep with point guard talent and relatively shallow with true power forward talent, it's been a little curious to hear the excitement the team has shown over some of the power prospects and the relatively tight-lipped approach they've taken towards guards. And not just ones... the twos/tweeners as well.  

One person who hasn't weighed in extensively on the current point guard situation and potential point guards in this  draft is Nate McMillan. So I tried to pick his brain a little bit today.  Here's what he had to say.

Do you see a developing trend towards platooning at the point guard position among the successful teams?  The Lakers keep 3 point guards, the Magic had 3 true point guards on their roster, both teams enjoyed success over teams like Denver and Cleveland that maybe didn't have the same depth at 1.

Our point guards have been good, we've improved each year, Blake and Sergio did a really good job. Bayless I think is going to get his opportunity. We can slip Brandon at that guard position some, so our guards have done some good work for us. We don't win 54 games if they're not playing well. 

Blake goes out, Sergio and Bayless stepped up. They've done some good things, they're young, but they've done some good things for us. We take advantage of our guys and their skills. Sometimes you slide Brandon there and put a shooter, with Martell coming back next year, there's a number of things we can do with Rudy, seeing him play for a year. There's a number of things we can do with our players. 

There's a lot of flexibility there in the backcourt. Do you see other teams trending towards that strategy as well whereas maybe in the recent past there was more rigid, differentiated roles in the backcourt?

Teams do it. Down the stretch, if you look at the championship teams, who handled the ball? Kobe for the Lakers and Hedo for Orlando. What those coaches were doing is taking advantage of what their players can do in a situation like that.

We are capable of doing that, giving the ball to Brandon and letting Steve spot up. Letting Bayless or Rudy spot up. We can do the same thing and we did. You just take advantage of the strengths of your team.

This draft has been called a deep draft for point guards. How many impact point guards do you see coming out of this draft?

I think it depends on their situation. Where they go. How they will be used. It's hard to say. It's hard to say.

How many guys who will come into this league and have an impact?  It's hard to say because they're rookies.

That's tough.

Were you surprised by how much of an impact a guy like Derrick Rose had last year?

Not surprised. I think you expected him to do some good things and he did. I think as he got comfortable with the league and got a better feel for what he can do in this league, he started to play better.

He got confidence and towards the end he was playing really good basketball.

From what I had heard people say about him and what I saw of him before he was drafted, I can't say I was really surprised. We thought he was going to be a good player and he lived up to that.

Is there a point guard in this year's draft that you can see doing what Rose did last year? Or is Rose a cut above the guys in this class in terms of immediate impact?

In drafts in the past, you've seen guys in the second round bust out and do something really good for a club. A lot of things have to happen right. They've got to get the opportunity first to play for somebody. And then you get your confidence and good things can happen.

Did you see Brandon Jennings' comments about Ricky Rubio being "all hype"?

I heard about it. Well that's just two players... he's just trying to get some leverage for the draft.

Our guys have seen you play. They've gotten intel on who you are and what you're about. Guys making comments or not.... we have a pretty good read on guys we're drafting. For us, hearing guys talk we pretty much know who you are.

Did it at least make you smile a little bit?

No. I really don't.

You hear it, you read it, it's no big deal.

Three things jumped out at me from this brief exchange.

First, I sensed a little defensiveness in his first answer, as if he thought I was implying that the Blazers' current roster lacked depth at the 1.  The first question was meant to have a general, league-wide focus and you see immediately that Nate backed his 3 point guards and didn't really engage the question asked.  This was a bit unusual for Nate. From my (limited) experience talking to him, he generally takes league questions at face value and offers pretty straightforward -- although often couched -- answers.  So perhaps my reputation preceeded me here or maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.  In any case, it wasn't the answer I was expecting.

Second, it was very interesting to hear Nate, without prompt, mention two names -- Martell and Rudy -- in his discussion of next year's guard rotation.  Martell, like most of us have concluded, is locked into the Blazers roster.  Most have assumed Rudy is staying put too.  But this seemed like a clear indication that Nate sees Rudy taking on an enhanced role next year.  Not earth-shattering but maybe a tip that we shouldn't expect any blockbusters on draft night. Oh, by the way, Bayless got some interesting name-checks there too, didn't he?

Lastly, it's always a reality check seeing how NBA decision-makers react differently to "big stories" like Jennings' comments in comparison to fan and media reaction. I've probably watched that Jennings video 15 times and I laugh every time.  But the mention of those comments didn't even cause Nate to blink. And Nate has a good sense of humor too. I guess maybe some things just aren't funny if you are an NBA coach.  Or maybe you just chuckle behind closed doors when there's not a microphone in your face. 

-- Ben (