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Blazers Top 100: The Lightning Quick Passer

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A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Dale Tait/NBAE via Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 33 | Rod Strickland

Games Played with Blazers: 312 Regular Season, 18 Postseason

*PTS: 16.2 | AST: 8.2 | FG%: 47.2 | 3PT%: 32.7

*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland

Joined Club: July 1992, signed as free agent

Departed Club: July 1996, traded with Harvey Grant to the Washington Bullets for Rasheed Wallace and Mitchell Butler

Joined Club: March 2001, signed as free agent

Departed Club: October 2001, to free agency

Place in History: Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Rod Strickland could pass. He was a dime factory, a dish-making artist. We’re not talking about “sandwich artist”, picking skillfully from a pre-set list of ingredients. Strickland would invent passing lanes you didn’t know existed, then serve the ball to you on a platter.

We need to be careful, though. Strickland was no Jason Williams, improvising all on his own, thrilling with unusual gimmicks. Strickland’s passes made total sense, but only after you saw them. His genius was seeing the play before it happened.

Modern NBA point guards live off the double-threat: they might pull up and shoot from distance, or they might drive. Strickland was not a great shooter at range. He barely ever took threes. The assist took the place of the jumper in his repertoire. Defenders would so fear his passing that they would play him for it, sagging back. Sometimes he’d pass it through them anyway. If not, it would take him a half-second to suck them in. When they leaned towards him, he’d streak past them with his other weapon: a lightning-quick dribble drive.

Make no mistake, Strickland was a blur with the ball. He was 6’3 but he moved like he was 5’10. Once he got that first step towards the basket, nobody was stopping him. He’d get past his defender in a flash, then snake through the arms of anybody who came to help. Or he’d leave big shot-blockers clutching for air as he pulled up for a short jumper.

Like General Douglas MacArthur in World War II, Rod Strickland made a career out of hitting ‘em where they ain’t. He did it better than anyone else around him.

Strickland has an odd place in Trail Blazers history. He’s categorized more as a visiting free agent than a local product. That’s fair, but only halfway. Strickland suited up for nine teams in his 17-year career, but he spent four and a quarter seasons in Portland, playing more games here than anywhere else. He signed with the Blazers as a free agent twice...not quite Steve Blake territory, but close. His 312 regular season games are not far short of Blake’s 350 either. Yet Blake has been adopted in fuzzy-warm fashion while Strickland remains at more of a distance.

Part of the distance might be explained by Strickland playing in Portland during two transitional periods. His first season was 1992-93, when the Clyde Drexler-led teams were crumbling apart. He spent four years in the deconstruction period before getting traded to the Washington Bullets in 1996 for Rasheed Wallace. ‘Sheed ushered in the Next Big Era, which Strickland missed.

Strickland would return mid-year in 2000-01, on the same night the Blazers honored Drexler. They famously fell apart during that game, then for the remainder of the season. Chemistry issues were suspected. The roster was already over-crowded with veterans when Strickland returned. From the outside, it felt like everybody threw up their hands once Rod came back to town, checking out amid the chaos.

Though Strickland’s signing may have been a catalyst, those developments were not his fault. The Blazers didn’t fare well after 2001 either, and he was already on to other teams at that point.

Strickland’s 16.2 points and 8.2 assists clearly rank him among the best statistical point guards in franchise history, but the best testimony to Strickland was given by teammate Arvydas Sabonis in 2001, after Strickland signed for the second time. Sabas had played with Rod in ‘95-96 and offered this testimony [paraphrased], “Say what you want about Strickland, but he knows how to play and he will always get the ball in your hands. I like playing with him.”

Looking back, it’s clear Strickland was a unique guard whose tenure and talent were both underrated. Despite no threes (and little “D”) he made a significant impact on the game and the players around him. For that, for the nifty dribbles, and oh...for the franchise record 20 assists against Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and the Phoenix Suns, Rod Strickland earns the 33rd spot on our Top 100 list of Trail Blazers players and influencers.

Share your memories of Strickland below, and stick with us as we count our way to #1!