Welcome to another edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag, covering your burning Portland Trail Blazers-related questions. The questions here all came via Twitter, where you can hit me up @DaveDeckard. Or find our site-wide account @Blazersedge
Three-year Blazersedge reader here.
I was watching highlights of Hassan Whiteside the other day and I started to wonder about physical gifts vs mental toughness. Whiteside is a physical specimen, 7+ footer with incredible length, but he's a head case.
If you were a GM would you value consistency over natural physical ability? In other words, are you the type to take a gamble on a Markieff Morris type player or go with the more predictable and stable player, not unlike Lillard or CJ McCollum?
There's no right answer to this. It depends on the situation and the player.
Let's get one type of player out of the way right now. If you think a guy is supremely talented, one of those rare franchise-changers, you go after him even if he's also problematic. If you have a crack at a young Carmelo Anthony or Allen Iverson, you take that chance. Get to the Conference Finals and worry about psychology later. Taking on the aging veteran versions after it's proven they're not leading a franchise all the way may be a different matter, but if you think a young star will help define his generation, make sure he defines it for you.
Assuming a player has good, but not revolutionary, potential (I would consider Whiteside in this category) you have to ask where your team is in the development cycle and what type of player you're surrounding the potentially problematic player with.
Both last year's Blazers and the current squad could use a little bolstering at center. Consider players like DeAndre Jordan or even JaVale McGee...not exactly the most disciplined pivots in the league. Pretend they were available both last year and this without disrupting the core of the rotation.
Last season the Blazers fielded a veteran squad full of basically stable players. Had either prospective center gotten out of line, they could have been be reined in by peer pressure. If they zoned out on the court too much, the Blazers had ready replacements handy. The team structure wouldn't have depended on the new guy. He'd have been a finishing touch, not a foundation.
Though they're in more desperate need of talent this season, the Blazers also have to be more careful about who they choose to bolster the roster. This team is under construction. The steel beams are exposed and any player brought in would be expected to bear load in the final framework. With a young, impressionable squad--without much veteran leadership--a distracting personality could lead half the team astray...either influencing others into bad habits or disrupting the gelling process. Nor does the team have the necessary experience to deal with a loose lugnut on the court, especially since any talented player would assume a prime position in the offense by default.
If you're talking headcases, last year was the time to take a swing at adding a crazy-but-talented player to the lineup. This year they dare not take that chance. Crazy has more negative potential than the talent has positive on a team this early in the rebuild cycle.
If you take "head case" out of the equation, considering a trade-off between talent and consistency without personality problems interfering, the story changes. All other things being equal, the Blazers need talent more than consistency end right now. This summer they've taken swings on talented, likely mercurial players who might end up being the next generation of stars even though they'll also end up in the lower half of the standings this year. Bringing in steadier, less talented players doesn't make sense when you're expecting fewer than 35 wins anyway.
Is Terry Stotts the right fit and will he deploy the right system to help Lillard take his game to the next level?
I don't think maximizing Lillard's individual game is the main goal going forward. It'll be more of a (hopefully) pleasant side effect of how the roster has been constructed than a central focus. The Blazers will lean heavily on him and he'll respond, but I don't think even Damian himself would say, "This is all about me."
Granted, some coaches in this league would look at Lillard's talent, realize he's the prize draft choice of the current GM, then just roll the ball to Damian and say, "Do what you want." It's not that those coaches are lazy. The superstar culture has reigned supreme in the NBA since the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. What's good for a team's best player is often good for the team. Hitching your wagon to a superstar is a smart move as a coach and plenty would do it with Damian.
Terry Stotts is more nuanced than that. He won't inhibit Lillard but he'll want his point guard's game to serve the team, not the other way around. Fortunately this is what Lillard also appears to want, at least so far. We'll need to see if 50 losses in a season rearrange priorities a little.
In this way Stotts is exactly the right coach to keep Lillard developing into a winner, if not the most likely coach to let Damian's individual game dominate. Stotts and his staff are good at communicating priorities to their charges. With everyone around Lillard understanding how their contribution fits, the reality that they also need Damian playing well in order to win should be an easy pill to swallow. Even with a team-centered ethos in place, I don't think anybody's going to be getting in Lillard's way on the court.
So yeah, I think Stotts is a fine coach for this team right now. He'll open the door for Lillard to step through and keep all the other players involved in the process. If Damian doesn't make the leap this year, it'll probably be down to him or the spotty talent surrounding him more than the coaching blunting his opportunities.
First mailbag question I've ever sent in:
Which player was/is a better leader? Damian Lillard or Brandon Roy? Roy came in and almost single-handedly (sorry, LaMarcus) saved the Blazers from its darkest era. Roy was always on point, a total class act, and was beloved by local fans but also respected on a national level. Lillard has the love of the local fans and perhaps even more national respect than Roy did. He certainly appears to be more marketable than Roy was. Lillard has the same class and demeanor as Roy. When he speaks, it makes a believer out of even the most cyclical fan. So, leadership. Does Roy or Lillard have the edge?
It's a hard question to answer for a simple reason: lack of data. Roy registered only four productive years for the Blazers. Lillard hasn't played his fourth season yet. We haven't seen either at their peak, nor as polished veterans. That's usually the time in which leadership becomes most evident.
You've hit the nail on the head as far as respect and marketability, though. I think Roy had slightly more respect for his on-court game and Lillard has far more marketing mojo, but you can't complain about the image of either guy. Both could qualify as leaders by those criteria.
Judging their on-court tendencies, though, I'm going to go with Lillard as the better overall general. Roy was a shooting guard in an isolation system designed to feature him. He was meant to handle the ball and shoot often. Lillard is a point guard in a more team-centered offense, charged with distributing and fitting in. But the fact remains: Roy's game tended to stall the offense far more than Damian's has so far. Players next to Dame will get the chance to shine more than players next to Brandon did. We may see Damian hog the ball more over the next couple years as the offense centers around him, but I suspect that in the end Lillard will prove to be more of an enabler than Brandon was. This will give him more clout with his teammates than Brandon had. Brandon was a star; Damian is THE star. Therefore I'd give Dame the leadership crown by a narrow margin, with the caveat that the story hasn't been written yet.
Thanks to everybody who wrote in! You can send your Mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org We always love to read them and respond.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge