I owe many thanks to Blazersedge for promoting Rufus on Fire as it transitioned into an SB Nation site. I'm a regular reader, and the coverage and comments there are top notch, so I'm proud to read Dave's comments about what I do here. Since the Bobcats are playing the Blazers tomorrow, Saturday, we exchanged some questions via email. My answers to his questions will be posted on Blazersedge, and here are his answers to my questions. --DA
How would you describe the Trailblazers' basketball style? I'm still reading the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, and the language of style FreeDarko uses has made me reexamine how I watch the game. Is there a dramatic analogy that makes sense to describe what they do on the floor?
The Blazers are a precise, efficient offensive team that depends on exploiting matchups and then taking advantage of the stress that exploitation puts on the opposing defense. You’ll often see a Blazer beat his man and then dish to the guy made open by the defense collapsing to cover. Almost everybody on the team can hit a jumper, which is a staple of the Portland offense. They use post play to set up three-point shots and good outside shooting to set up lanes through which to drive.
Defensively the Blazers don’t gamble much, preferring to keep between the opponent and the basket. Their perimeter defenders are fairly weak and will often switch on screens, leading to some comical mismatches. Other than rookie Nicolas Batum at small forward Portland just doesn’t sport many lock-down defenders.
Portland is a good rebounding team, trading on offensive boards for second chances and being stingy in giving up the same.
The best way to describe the Blazers is unselfish to a fault on offense and inexperienced to a fault on defense.
From the outside, it seems kind of odd to me that the Blazers have stuck with Steve Blake as the primary point guard despite his lack of assists. If not Sergio or Bayless, which would be the "find out what we have" move, the video game move is to play Roy significant minutes at the nominal point to allow more PT for the glut of twos and threes. What am I missing?
Brandon Roy does initiate the offense most of the time when he’s in the game. He works best with the ball in his hands. The role of the point guard on offense is twofold: bring the ball up the court and hit the open shot when presented. Blake excels in these roles. He’s smart, doesn’t turn the ball over, and is shooting over 43% from three-point range. In fact Blake has become one of Portland’s most important players. When he doesn’t hit that long ball defenses collapse and scoring becomes much harder. When he’s stroking it he becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sergio Rodriguez still makes too many mistakes to eat into Blake’s minutes. Plus he’s only effective when he has the ball in his hands. That doesn’t make him an idea teammate for Roy. He can’t hit a shot either. Because the Blazers move the ball so much it’s critical for everybody out there to be a threat. Jerryd Bayless doesn’t see the floor well enough yet and also needs the ball. He’s already the best point guard the Blazers have defensively but that doesn’t make up for the disruption he causes his own offense. Oh, and he’s not hitting shots either.
Brandon Roy could play point guard but he’s better with more freedom to score instead of setting people up first. Also he’d have to defend opposing point guards.
The Blazers are not in the business of talent development anymore. They want to win and make the playoffs. After this year their goal will be much higher than that. Steve Blake gives Portland the best chance to win games right now. His absence in the next few games because of a separated shoulder suffered versus the Sixers is going to show how difficult it is to win without that shooting.
I maintain that DJ Augustin's ceiling is Damon Stoudamire, who played the middle of his career in Portland. What do you remember, in particular, about the Stoudamire experience? Is there anything good or bad to look for in Augustin's development that you saw in Stoudamire's game?
Damon Stoudamire was a good offensive player who eventually became a pretty smart point guard. His Achilles’ Heel was always his size. At 5’10” he just couldn’t bother opposing players enough. They could launch jumpers right over his head all night long. Eventually the league figured out how to exploit him defensively which made him close to a wash each night despite his offensive talent. The biggest thing to learn there is that you’ve got to play both sides of the ball if you expect to generate wins.
Only one NBA team since 1980 has won the title without a surefire Hall of Famer leading them, the 2004 Pistons, and only three other teams have even made it to the Finals without a surefire Hall of Famer. I don't think it's really controversial to say Brandon Roy is the Blazers' best player, but is he among the fifteen best players in the league? If so, describe what makes him particularly special. If he's not, what about him and the rest of the team indicates they'll buck the trend?
Here’s the list of the 10 players at the top of the Blazer rotation and their years of experience:
Brandon Roy-- 3rd year
Lamarcus Aldridge-- 3rd year
Greg Oden --1st year
Nicolas Batum-- 1st year
Steve Blake-- 6th year
Rudy Fernandez-- 1st year
Joel Przybilla-- 9th year
Travis Outlaw-- 6th year
Sergio Rodriguez-- 3rd year
Channing Frye-- 4th year
Notice that the most experienced players, Blake and Przybilla, are also role players. Factor them out and Travis Outlaw--who came straight out of high school to the NBA--becomes the grandpa of the group at 6 years of experience. Nobody else significant has more than 3 and three guys are rookies. In short, it’s way too early to say who’s going to be good and who has reached their potential yet, let alone who will be Hall of Famers.
Brandon Roy is an amazing player. He’s going to be a perennial All-Star in this league. Lamarcus Aldridge has a fantastic offensive repertoire and signs are good that he’ll be a 20-point scorer. Greg Oden needs another year or so to cook before his cake is done and would have after having spent only one year in college even without the extra year off for surgery. His production isn’t consistent but when he’s energetic and on he’s near unstoppable already. It’s not likely that Portland will be hurting for star talent in a couple years when these players mature.
Back to Roy… He’s special because he can score from anywhere on anyone. He’s got great court vision and is completely unselfish. He can drive and score with either hand and is one of the best players I’ve ever seen at being able to go any of four directions off the dribble with no warning. He’s a clutch player who isn’t afraid of the big shot. He’s a leader on and off the floor. In his third year he’s averaging almost 23 points per game on 47% shooting plus 5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. On nights when he’s off he does a ton of other things to help the team win. There will probably always be other guys who get more stats, especially scoring. Roy could probably up his point total by 2-3 if he wanted to be more selfish. But there won’t be many guys more appreciated by those who know the game and there won’t be many guys who generate more wins.
Not counting Everclear (only 'cause they're probably the most famous recent band from Portland), which band or other musical outfit has a catalog that most represents what the city of Portland is all about?
Portland has always been a hotbed of music. Portland bands tend to be eclectic, ranging from bluegrass to metal to African drum to jazz fusion. It’s that diversity and unexpectedness that typifies the scene. That doesn’t always lend itself to easy radio play. If you recognized the bands when I named them they probably wouldn’t be cool anymore. However I am reliably informed that both Elliot Smith and the Shins hung around Portland quite a bit. They might be familiar to you.