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. 29 | Damon Stoudamire
Games Played with Blazers: 529 Regular Season, 46 Postseason
*PTS: 12.8 | AST: 5.7 | FG%: 40.5% | 3PT%: 35.9%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: February 1998, acquired from the Toronto Raptors with Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers for Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, Alvin Williams, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick
Departed Club: August 2005, departed in free agency
Place in History: Damon Stoudamire was no secret coming out of Portland’s Wilson High School and the University of Arizona. After scoring 23 per game his senior year in college, he was more than ready for the limelight when the Toronto Raptors selected him 7th overall in the 1995 NBA Draft.
Stoudamire had confidence and speed to burn. If his Rookie of the Year award in 1995-96 hadn’t confirmed his legitimacy, his 20 points per game scoring average during his first three seasons in Toronto would have. At 5’10, this young, fearless point guard was taking the league by storm.
The bulk of his precipitation would not come in the form of Canadian snow, but pure Pacific Northwest rain. Having made his mark, proving that he belonged among the best NBA point guards, Stoudamire was ready to move back to Portland, taking his hometown Trail Blazers to new heights.
As 1997 turned to 1998, the Blazers had the exact same idea. Perhaps the most unusual thing about the deal was that everybody saw it coming. The Blazers had made moves for stars before, via the draft and in trade. They were rare, though, and invariably a surprise. In this case, mutual attraction between Stoudamire and Portland had been rumored since the start of the season. Given General Manager Bob Whitsitt’s ability to draw big names and a willingness to make deals, it seemed all too perfect. Within a period of weeks, local sports talk turned from, “Could we get Damon?” to, “When will we get him?”
As it turned out, the date was February 13th, 1998. Friday the 13th might as well have been Christmas for the Blazers as they traded Kenny Anderson, Gary Trent, and Alvin Williams (plus three draft picks) to the Raptors for Stoudamire, shooting small forward Walt Williams, and little-used Carlos Rogers.
The deal was, somewhat understandably, compared to the three-player, two-pick trade that had brought Kiki Vandeweghe to the Blazers more than a decade earlier. Except this time it was speculated the Blazers had paid less for a potentially amazing return.
That assessment wasn’t all wrong. Combined, Anderson, Trent, and the outgoing Williams had played 9559 minutes in Portland. Over the next 7.5 years, Stoudamire would play 17,497, good for 10th on the Blazers’ all-time list, behind only Terry Porter and Damian Lillard among point guards. The Blazers had found their man.
Despite the overwhelming hype that accompanied his entrance, it would take Stoudamire a while to find his footing. He scored 20 points only three times in Portland during the remainder of that season, having done it 25 times with the Raptors. Walt Williams actually fit better in the system at first. But Stoudamire notched seven double-digit assist games in 22 tries with his new team. Even though their playoffs run ended abruptly at the hands of the arch-nemesis Los Angeles Lakers, Stoudamire came through with strong performances of 17, 18, and 24 points in the final three games.
Though Stoudamire’s future looked—and was— bright, he would never return to the heady scoring days of his Toronto debut. Multiple factors conspired against it. His brilliance came as a drive-and-dish guard who could also pull up for mid-range shots. That style of offense is predicated on him controlling the ball, drawing in the defense, then scoring craftily or tossing to jump-shooting teammates. Playing alongside Isaiah Rider, Rasheed Wallace, and Arvydas Sabonis required a different approach. They weren’t going to wait on the wings for catch-and-shoots. They needed touches, lane space, and plenty of time with the rock. Adding Jim Jackson, Steve Smith, and Scottie Pippen in subsequent years wouldn’t change that story.
Stoudamire also played during a transitional period when the NBA began to value the three-pointer more. This was prior to the modern rule changes that would make point guards all but untouchable, though. Instead of finding an unhindered buffet of shots in the halfcourt, Stoudamire found his bread-and-butter drives decreasing as the demands on his somewhat-streaky long-range jumper increased.
This would hold true on the other end as well. Few point guards were quicker on their feet than Damon. When opponents put the ball on the floor, he could stay with them. As enemies began to pull up and shoot over him, though, his 5’10 height began to show. Few players improved their position defense as dramatically as Stoudamire did during his years in Portland. When he was young, defense seemed an afterthought. As a veteran, he was always in the right place at the right time, a true leader in that respect. He just didn’t have the wingspan to stop the new breed of NBA guards when they rose and fired.
With those limitations understood, Stoudamire was clearly one of the better point guards in a franchise known for them. When he found daylight, he could score from anywhere. Lacking daylight, he simply created it.
Notice the play-by-play call in this video, a chronicle of Stoudamire’s 20-32, 54-point performance against the New Orleans Hornets in 2005. This was late in his career, after he had already lost a bit of that famous speed (but none of the swagger). Listen to the announcer exclaim, “You’ve got to be kidding! What are we looking at here???” That’s the reaction Damon inspired.
Now imagine all those jumpers combined with the ability to get in the lane against anyone, anywhere. Stoudamire had all of that and more.
Because he was a famed scorer, Stoudamire’s playmaking ability sometimes goes underrated. He was a floor general. You’d have to be in order to even touch the ball in the company he kept. At different times, Greg Anthony, Jeff McInnis, and Nick Van Exel might have moved into his spot, while Pippen, Smith, Wallace, Zach Randolph, or Bonzi Wells could have dominated the action, making him irrelevant after the ball crossed the timeline. How many famous, long-term point guards played on LeBron James teams, or with Kobe and Shaq? Given the makeup of the team, Stoudamire could have become an asterisk in a second.
That seldom happened. Damon kept everyone fed. On his teams, the ball moved. To this day, he trails only Porter, Lillard, and Clyde Drexler in franchise assists. And he dished every one of them during the most chaotic, turbulent decade the Trail Blazers have ever experienced.
In the Summer of 2005, it became obvious that Stoudamire’s career would last longer than Portland’s ability to do anything with it. With his team desperately in need of restructuring, Stoudamire joined the Memphis Grizzlies. He’d play there for two and a half seasons, then sign with the San Antonio Spurs to complete his NBA run at the end of 2008. Thirteen years after that R.O.Y. season, Stoudamire was still the same player: capable, in control, crafty, and dangerous.
Damon Stoudamire’s run in Portland may not have been everything people dreamed of. He didn’t average 20. His teams didn’t win titles. He ran afoul of authorities and headlines for indulging in marijuana...then illegal, not so much now. [Here’s your official notice: from now on, we’re officially ignoring any supposed player “infractions” involving cannabis. It was commonplace in the league for legitimate and defensible reasons. You can buy it at your corner strip mall today. If that’s the only thing tarnishing a player’s reputation, we need to apologize to them, not for them.]
Despite all that, Stoudamire’s time in Portland was authentic, productive, and welcome. Both the Blazers and their fans were better off because he suited up for them.
For the long run, the dazzling high spots, the assists, and continued presence in Portland discussions while coaching on the left coast, Damon Stoudamire earns the 29th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 players and influencers list.
Share your memories of Damon Stoudamire below and stay with us as we come ever closer to #1!