They say the third time's the charm and boy is it ever. If you were feeling like, "ya know, I like the little things but sometimes I really just wanna see a thunderous slam dunk" then you're in luck! Because if there was a theme for Part 3 of the Little Things Awards it would be how little plays lead to big highlights. Check out the debate (and clips!) below and enjoy both sides of basketball in one place - the intellectually satisfying, well-timed pass and the jump out of your seat, make Timmay lose his pants throw down.
As a reminder, each contributor got one vote to pick the Blazer they thought was the best at a small but important skill, like moving without the ball or setting good screens. The votes were tallied, a winner was crowned, and then we set our writers against one another in a literary cage match to defend or challenge the choice of the winner.
If you haven't joined in, now's your chance.
Most Disruptive Defender
Which defender gets deflections, steals, forces bad passes or causes players to catch the ball farther out than they would like? Visible annoyance on the part of opposing players and coaches is always a good sign.
Winner - Wesley Matthews (tie)
Ben: If the award was for ‘most consistent defender’ or ‘most likely to guard the superstar’ you might go with Nic instead, maybe. But it’s not, the award is for ‘most disruptive defender’ and that definitely belongs to Wes. There’s a good reason why Wes also won ‘most likely to dive on the ground’, ‘Best off-ball movement’ and ‘hardest to screen’. I think it’s safe to say that if we had a hustle award it would go to #2. That’s the difference between a defender like Batum who will stay with his man, bug him on the hip, and put a hand in his face. Then a defender like Matthews who’s in your grill, giving you the body, and going for the ball – that’s a disruptive defender. He’s on you before you even have the ball in your hands, making it hard for you to receive it.
Lillard’s round 1 game 6 shot last year will definitely go down in Blazer’s history as one of the best shots ever, and it should earn that spot in NBA history as well. Why wouldn’t it? 0.9 seconds left on the clock, off the inbound, sinks it from deep to clinch the series - amazing. But because of that shot, a lot of people forget another huge, game-clinching play that series. So I’ll end with this reminder…
Winner - Nicolas Batum (tie)
Leroy: All three of these players hustle, have heart, and are quick on their feet. But there is one thing Nic has that Wes and C.J. don't have - height. There is a direct correlation between a defensive player's wingspan and his ability to disrupt an offensive player's vision, movement, and, most importantly, his shot. Nic's wingspan is 7'-1" while Wes's is 6'-8" and CJ's is 6'-6." How many times have we seen an opposing player alter his shot or pass up his shot because Nic is near? Isn't Nic the player Stotts most often assigns to put out the fire of an opposing player who is burning the Blazers?
Runner Up - CJ McCollum
Brandon: Matthews and Batum are the easy picks, but CJ McCollum has shown defensive potential. At 6'3'' with a 6'6'' wingspan, McCollum won't be the fastest player on the court, but is nonetheless a willing student of the defensive arts. He is situationally aware, and he does a good job of keeping track of where players are on the court. This means he can not only put his body in a position to disrupt passes and close off lanes, but he seems to find himself in the right place at the right time depending on the opponents' ball movement.
Having an idea of where to go and how to get there can make up for less than elite speed or athleticism, and it takes much more energy having to scramble into place than slowly moving as the ball rotates and being ready when it's nearby. He's also able to squeeze around defenders and teammates without losing his footing, and is fast enough to recover if he does find himself off balance or out of position. Most of his defensive value is in his work ethic and basketball IQ, and as he solidifies a place on the rotation and the minutes add up it will be fun to see how far his defense can carry him.
Most Situationally Aware
Do the Blazers have a two for one opportunity? Is the shot clock winding down? Is there a mismatch or is an opposing player in foul trouble? Which player is most aware of the situation on the floor and reacts accordingly?
Winner - Steve Blake
Bryan: Looking at Blake's stats alone, an outsider might question why he gets so much playing time. But watching the games, you see him do so many 'veteran' things, all the time, automatically, giving you those moments of recognition - "THAT'S why they have him." Niceties of clock management, how and when to take or draw a foul, noticing when a defender is a step out of position, when to go against his own tendencies for an advantage: His contributions are small, many, and constant.
His primary role is setting up offense for others, which requires him to be aware of who's on the floor, and where at all times:
I'd say he made excellent use of these two raw players' talents here. He makes his teammates look GOOD. He also really knows how to pick his shots, and how to step it up when the situation calls for it: the time of game he sports his highest FG%, 3 Pt %, and FT % on the season? The fourth quarter. Defensively, he is the definition of situationally aware - tirelessly taking active angles on what's in front of him. And he HAS to be - he's 35 years old at the end of the month, and it's the only way he has a chance to stay with guys a decade younger. Here, tenaciousness is a product of hyper-awareness on a moment-to-moment basis.
Runner Up - Damian Lillard
Leroy: Is there a way to measure court awareness because it's obvious Blake has years of experience on Dame? One good metric of whether an offensive player is aware of the situation on the court is to look at the shooting percentage of the players they pass to because the better the look, the better the chance the shot will be good. When Wesley Mathews, the best spot-up shooter on the Trail Blazers, receives a pass from Dame versus a pass from Blake he shoots 45.6% vs 41.8% on three-pointers and 59.5% vs 50% on two-pointers, according to NBA.com. Nuff said.
Best Transition Defender
The opponent has a two on one fast break. You get one guy to put back there. Who's it gonna be?
Winner - Nicolas Batum
Sam: There are a number of aspects that make a transition defender elite: athleticism, track-down speed and a general ability to disrupt an obvious scoring opportunity. Nicolas Batum is the entire package in this regard. Not only does he have the speed and agility to stalk someone and block their shot in transition, but he also has the length to bother passing lanes. This is all without mentioning his perfected timing on these plays. Batum can be a pest in a variety of ways.
Outside of these physical tools, though, it's just his sheer presence defensively on fast breaks that makes Batum so great. It's difficult to quantify, but just as a shot blocker makes people second guess coming into the paint, there always seems to be the "footsteps" factor for players in transition. Because of the aforementioned assets that Batum possesses -- and the track record of making things difficult for teams in transition -- Batum's presence in that situation makes him the best transition defender on the Trail Blazers.
Runner Up - Thomas Robinson
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO *breath* WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
Yes, Batum has his own highlight reel and a longer list of chase down blocks but consider how many more minutes he's played. And that's not Robinson's only chase down block. Not by a long shot. I would wager Robinson has more chase down blocks than Batum on a per-minute basis over the past two years. He's also a force on the offensive glass putting pressure on bigs and preventing them from leaking out in transition. And because of his position, this activity is almost always positive as he's not expected to drop back and prevent the initial thrust of the opponent's fast break. That's Batum's responsibility - one he forgets too often for my taste.
In closing...actually, let's just watch this again.
Most Trustworthy with the Ball
Whenever things get a little crazy, fans and coaches alike scream "Get the ball to [blank]! Get the ball to [blank]!
Winner - Damian Lillard
Sagar: Point guards are generally tasked with being the team's main ball-handlers, and that's the case with the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard is tasked with running the offense for the starters and Steve Blake for the second unit. Both Lillard and Blake's numbers are comparable, but Lillard has a significantly higher usage rate, as expected.
Lillard, being the team's starter, obviously gets more of the team's plays, hence the higher usage percentage. However, Lillard turns the ball over on fewer of his possessions. He is not pressured into turnovers by the opponent as often as Blake as, making Damian the most trustworthy with the basketball.
Runner Up - Steve Blake
Sam: To be clear: the name of this category is "Most Trustworthy with the Ball," not "Best Scorer" or "Best Guard" or any combination of the two. That being said, I think the narrative here is if the Blazers needed to choose the guy who is least likely to turn the ball over or make a bad decision, I absolutely would want the ball in Steve Blake's hands.
This isn't to say that someone like Damian Lillard consistently makes bad decisions. What it does mean, though is that Blake's game is inherently less risky; you don't see Blake firing the 28-foot heat check 3-pointer. He's also a much more experienced guard -- this is his 12th year in the league -- plus his turnover rate per 36 minutes is 2.2 this season compared to Lillard's 2.6. For his career, Blake only averages 2.0 turnovers per 36 minutes, over 20 percent better than Lillard's career average. Between the veteran savvy, less risky game and knack for not turning the ball over at the same rate, Blake is the guy I trust most with the ball.