Being deep in the NBA is a blessing and a curse. If you've read a season preview for the Blazers, you've probably seen the words "stocked," "two deep at every position," and "loaded." Music to the ears. But when you start to crunch the minutes per game math, like I've read many of you do in various corners of this site, you start to realize pretty quickly that finding enough time for all of the Blazers' talent is going to be a difficult, if not impossible, chore for Nate McMillan.
Minutes were already an issue at the beginning of the summer, thanks to the expected return from injury of Martell Webster, but the addition of workhorse Andre Miller broke a few more pendergraphing calculators. Guys like Jerryd Bayless and the rookies, who thought they might get a real shot at training camp, have seen their windows of opportunity all but slammed shut.
Let's flip this minutes crunch debate a slightly different direction for our weekend discussion: Who are you looking forward to seeing play less next season?
Go ahead and start primally if you must: is there someone's game that drives you nuts? Get that bum off the court!?!??! If there is, politely explain why the team is better off with his role reduced.
But also feel free to go deeper: If player X is seeing less minutes, who is stepping up to take those minutes? What impact will that have on the team? What will that imply about the team's overall success?
Here are a few examples, starting with perhaps the most obvious candidate: Travis Outlaw. A decrease in Outlaw's minutes would likely mean that Martell is back healthy and that the team is playing Outlaw exclusively at backup power forward. It would also imply that the second unit is scoring effectively, as Outlaw often saw longer stretches of playing time when his fellow backups couldn't find the hoop last season. It would likely mean he gets a quicker hook when he's not hitting (an option Nate didn't always have last seaosn) or when his head isn't all there on the defensive end.
Another obvious option is Steve Blake. Blake almost assuredly will see less minutes next season, regardless of whether he starts (God forbid) or comes off the bench, because Andre Miller's talent and durability will force even the most stubborn coach to call his number. But Blake's steadiness makes him a difficult answer to this question: the team's efficiency under his guidance was very pleasurable to watch. Although I was out front in campaigning for the team to upgrade its point guard position, I can't say I'm really excited to see less of Blake. But maybe you feel differently.
A similar case to Blake's, but with perhaps greater short-term and long-term implications, is Joel Przybilla. A joy to watch play; a joy to watch pester opponents; a HUGE joy to watch rebound. But aren't all of us (everyone besides Joel's family) hoping he sees less time next season because that would imply a developing, healthy Greg Oden. Nate and KP have already stated that playing time at every position will be earned: a significant dip in Przybilla's time would mean Oden is avoiding foul trouble, establishing himself as a clearly superior player to Przy (which means he's getting things accomplished on the offensive end, something every Portlander is dying to see) and at least matching Pryzbilla's effectiveness on the glass. Who would complain if those things happened, even if it meant less Joel?
How about this one from left field: Jerryd Bayless. It's not like Rex was on the court all that much last season so if he sees less time this year we know two things have happened: 1) Miller and Blake have completely avoided injuries 2) the two vets are doing a passable job against the league's smallest, quickest point guards. Can you really find joy in watching incredible potential rotting on the bench? I can't. But maybe some of you (those still grinding axes about Sergio?) can.
Lastly, here's two more longshot options: Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Both played heavy minutes last year and both obviously figure heavily into Nate's primary rotation. A decrease in playing time for either of them would probably be something of a luxury, a signal that the team isn't playing as many tight ballgames in must-win situations as it did last year. Whether that's because the team is opening wide margins of victory regularly or because Nate chooses to rest them a little more down the stretch, keeping miles off the futures of the franchise could have a longer-term benefit when the team fully enters its championship window.
Enough with my examples, let's hear your votes and explanations. And, please, no cheating by saying Sergio, Channing, Ike or any of the other guys that aren't coming back. Stick to guys that played minutes last year and are back again this season.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)