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. 25 | Calvin Natt
Games Played with Blazers: 333 Regular Season, 18 Postseason
*PTS: 17.2 | REB: 6.9 | OREB: 2.4 | FG%: 54.3%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: February 1980, Acquired from the New Jersey Nets for Maurice Lucas and two first-round draft picks
Departed Club: June 1984, traded to the Denver Nuggets with Wayne Cooper, Fat Lever, and three draft picks for Kiki Vandeweghe
Place in History: They say that Halley’s Comet was in the sky when iconic author Mark Twain was born, and that it passed again when he died. In between, he did some really fantastic stuff.
Calvin Natt may be the Trail Blazers’ equivalent of Mark Twain.
Natt came to the franchise in February of 1980 at a spectacular price. Letting go of championship forward Maurice Lucas was hard enough for Portland, let alone the two first-round picks they sent with him to obtain Natt from the New Jersey Nets.
At that point, the incoming forward had played only 53 games. He stood 6’6, small forward height, but with a big forward body. He was chiseled, with muscles to burn. He wasn’t shy on the court either. He’d use that body to clear space, then take whatever shot he could find. He was most comfortable inside, but he wasn’t ashamed of his jumper. He had averaged 19.7 in Jersey. The Blazers hoped he could keep that up in Portland.
Not only did he keep it up, the 23-year-old exceeded himself.
After you get over the nice scoring numbers (17.2 per game over five years with the Blazers, twice averaging 20 in a season), the thing that strikes you about Natt is how efficiently he produced them. He shot over 54% in Portland. In 1981-82 he hit 57.6% from the floor; in ‘83-84 it was 58.3%.
So you’re thinking he’s posting low all the time like a center. Natt was a good rebounder and got his share of dunks and layups off the offensive glass. But remember, he was 6’6 (some reports call that exaggerated, suggesting that 6’4 was closer to the truth). Mychal Thompson towered over him, let alone opposing defenders. Natt wasn’t going to post opposing bigs. Instead he’d cut, dive, and dash before he got the ball, displaying any number of spins and hooks after. Natt would do anything necessary to elude or mow over defenders. When he finally sprung, it was like a missile. His powerful body would propel upwards and nobody was stopping him.
Natt’s play would foreshadow Jerome Kersey more than a decade later, except Natt had far more finesse and touch to his offense than Kersey would initially. Natt might have been a beta version of Charles Barkley, even, just without the upgrades attached.
Take a look.
There’s an argument to be made that some of Natt’s numbers are system-based. He landed in the right place in early-80’s Portland, then in an even better one with Doug Moe’s Denver Nuggets. It’s telling, though, that “scoring” isn’t the first word used to describe Natt’s legacy. He was known for toughness as much as 20-point performances. He refused to back down from other players or big moments, but that wasn’t it. He played like he was going to thrash the heck out of each trip down the floor. His motion was forward, his legs were moving, his hands were ready at all times. When Natt had his eyes on something—be it a shot or rebound—it was his. When you see him cut into the lane, his entire body screams, “Give me the ball!” He was a coiled spring, potential energy ready to be released into kinetic destruction, activated by the rock.
It’s telling that, despite trading on physique in his early 20’s, Natt’s game actually got better as he put on weight and aged. He may not have jumped quite as high, but could seemingly move the earth with those hips. Injuries would keep him from dominating, but he did register an All-Star appearance in 1984-85 with Denver.
And speaking of stars...the trade that heralded Natt’s exit from Portland was as spectacular as the one that brought him in. After several years of playoffs mediocrity despite a talented lineup full of scorers, Head Coach Jack Ramsay wanted the one thing Natt could not provide: range. Natt famously became one of the centerpieces of the five-for-one deal that brought Kiki Vandeweghe to the Blazers in 1985. Ultimately it turned out as a win-win for both teams, but at the time moving five Blazers for anybody seemed steep, and the player it hurt most to lose was Calvin Natt.
He came in with a bang, went out with a bang, and did some pretty fantastic things in between. For big play, big production, big trades, and showing that a slightly undersized players can make a huge impact through power and persistence, Calvin Natt earns the 25th spot on our Trail Blazers Top 100 players and influencers list.
Discuss thoughts and memories of Calvin below, and stick with us as we head onward to #1!