Thursday, April 27, 2006

Position by Position--Point Guard

A basic sports truism: If you're having a quarterback controversy, it means than none of your quarterbacks are that good. Nevertheless, there's reason to hope that between the three young guys at this position, one or two will prove worthy of turning the keys over to in a year or so. It's as much security as the Blazers have right now, so we'll spin it positively by saying that it's not a matter of whether the players are good, rather which style of point guard you prefer.

Steve Blake started most of the year because he's steady...a characteristic which is in low supply on the current team. Going from a half-forgotten trade throw-in to the big bus driver is clearly the biggest developmental leap any of our players made this year. Blake does everything you want for an old-school point guard. He'll run plays. He sees the court and can deliver the ball to people where they need it. He doesn't take a lot of shots, but when he's open he'll hit. His gaudiest stat is his 3.7 assist/turnover ratio, but running a close second is his 40+ shooting percentage from the 3-point arc. I think people made more of his defense this year than was actually warranted. He's better than anyone in our backcourt at keeping his man in front of him, but he's not what you'd call a lock-down defender. Good opposing guards can still get any shot they want against him. He is 6'3" but his frame is slight by NBA standards. He obviously keeps himself in shape but he's never going to be an imposing physical presence. Nevertheless, point guards that play with his style but are still talented enough to play major minutes are in comparatively rare supply in this Wade/Marbury/Davis era.

Jarret Jack looked fantastic for a rookie, although one wonders if some of that is because it's been a while since we've seen a four-year college guy around here. His biggest asset so far is his confidence. He's not afraid to take the shot or make the play, and most of the time he knows how to do it too. After an abysmal shooting start, he raised his percentage to 44% for the season, which is darn good for any guard, let alone a rook. He does not yet have the shooting range of the other two guards. His offense reminds me a little bit of Rip Hamilton's when he first got into the league...a lot of finding the mid-range open spot off the dribble. Late in the season he really began taking it to the hoop more too, which is a bonus. Of the three guards, he is the farthest behind in passing skills, though that's not surprising considering the experience gap. When he sees the floor better he'll pass better, but I don't think this will ever be the strongest part of his game. The thing that sets him most apart from the other two is his size. He's a legit 6'3", with some reports inching him towards 6'4". Plus he's over 200 pounds. As he continues to develop strength he should become a load to handle just from the bumping alone. And at that size, he's not slow. He's at least average on defense (again the learning curve comes into play) and has the most defensive potential of the three. Already Nate loves him and plays him, which speaks volumes.

By the time February rolled around, Sebastian Telfair was on his way to a very disappointing campaign. Largely ineffective during the fall and early winter, he sustained a hand injury and had been replaced by Blake and buried on the bench. Then somehow the stars aligned for him. First his movie came out, resurrecting him somewhat in the public consciousness. Second, Nate started giving him more minutes (because he saw him working harder, because he saw the movie, because he was showcased for trade value, or just because we were out of it by that time, we'll never know). With these minutes came the instruction, "Don't think about what I'm saying so much, just go out and play your game." Blessed with this newfound freedom, Sebastian started stringing some games together. As the season wound down, Zach and Darius started amping up their "Super-Fun Craptastic Show", drawing the public ire, and Bassy was gold.

On the one hand, there's a lot to be tantalized with in late-season Telfair. His shot has improved, especially from distance. Developing left hand moves while his right was injured has made him a legitimately dangerous driver again. He's even starting to move his feet on defense and poke away a steal now and then. And when he has one of his nights, it's immense. He's the one guy in the bunch that you can see singlehandedly altering games. Visions of him someday driving at will and then dishing or scoring make you drool. If the offense is set up to take advantage of his skills, he could be truly great. On the other hand, it's still mostly potential right now. Early-season Telfair was reality too. Despite the improvement, he still shoots sub-40%. He has to have the rock in his hands a lot in order to be effective. If you don't center the offense on him, his contributions are minimal. He's not a great catch-and-shoot guy, nor does he move that well without the ball. Turnovers continued to plague him throughout the early months...the cardinal sin for a point man. Other than the steals, his overall defense is the worst of the three. And after years of Damon, who got burned on defense night after night no matter how fast he moved his feet, we should probably be a little nervous about planning major minutes for a guy listed at 6'0", but who's probably two inches shorter than that. There's no doubt that he improved this year and even showed flashes of greatness, but is it enough to overcome his liabilities?

Three quarterbacks, each with talent, none a sure thing yet. It's a good bet that Jack will be prominent in our future plans (I think we'd be fools to give up on his big body and all-around potential) so it really comes down to whether you like the sure thing in Blake or the wild card in Telfair. You don't want to give up on the Next Big Thing, but on the other hand, neither Jack nor Telfair will want to be a 15-minute-off-the-bench/injury insurance guy, and Blake would fit that role perfectly. If you're playing "31" (the card game, not Bassy) and you have to match suits, it's smarter to keep an ace and a seven that match than it is to keep two different aces. On the other hand, we're not good enough yet to have the luxury of matching bench players...we need raw ability. And would Blake's steadiness be as valuable on a team that wasn't so volatile? This is the stuff that makes the off-season go 'round.

My solution is the one Nate eventually ended up with: unless someone makes you a deal you can't refuse, keep all three for another year. Yes, it will be frustrating to the players, but it will be better for the team to get more solid evaluation. And it's not like a little frustration will submarine an otherwise championship season next year. The beautiful thing about the situation is they're all drawing very modest salaries compared to their talent and potential. It doesn't cost us to keep them and they're tradeable any time. With all the ambiguity, why rush to judgment?

Comments below or to



Anonymous Laurel said...

Keeping all three works, but I do not think it the best option.

As a free agent it would be in Blake's best interest to leave at the end of the season to a winning team, and/or one with no logjam at his position.

For that reason trading Bass or Jack would likely leave the team with only one of those 3 PGs, so I would rule that out.

My idea of the best solution would be to trade Blake in a package this summer. He makes a trade more attractive if combined with one of the players with big contracts. Miles or Zach if one or both must go. Or packaged with Theo.

If you keep all three PGs it will only slow Telfair's development next season without any reasonable expectation of a long term benefit from keeping Blake for one season.
Same for waiting to trade him into next season. Showcase him and it hold Telfair back since Nate is not prone to letting them play though their mistakes.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Good argument. If we kept all three, even if Jack plays a little combo guard, one would pretty much have to sit. That's our insurance policy, but it's not sure good for the player, especially if that player is Bassy.

What's your opinion on whether Telfair stays in Portland long-term if he does develop into a player?

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Mortimer said...

I think there's no way we can trade Telfair or Jack in this time of their career... so young, so much potential, NO reason to trade someone away.

Blake is steady and average, and since our youngsters are so up and down (as youngsters with lots of talent tend to be), it made him look much better than he really is. I mean, everyone says he did great defense against Kobe... Kobe DID still score 41 damn points! That's not exactly a Kobe-stopper...

Everyone also always says that young guys are gonna bail on their small market teams, but it really doesn't happen that often. Bosh will stay in Toronto, Howard in Orlando, Lebron in Cleveland... we aren't in a world anymore where to get exposure a player needs to be on NY or LA.

Plus, the salary cap rules and Bird rights make it so a player can make a whole lot more money if they stick with their team.

Unless the player is in a bad situation with their original team, I don't see many jumping ship to a bigger market. I think Bassy isn't as big of a threat to leave as others think...

If he says this is a great situation for him in Portland, I believe him. If he says he loves playing with Webster and wants more time with him so they can become a duo, I believe him. If a player is smart, he'll see that going to the big market/hometown is more of a headache financially and professionally...

Telfair sees how the NY media treats his cousin, and Knick fans treat their players like shit. Look at how they treated Ewing, one of their best players of all time... I have to believe he's smart enough to consider the team situation over the market.

I think in this day and age, good teams and good players will become popular and sell well regardless of where they're at.

Either way, even though I like Blake, he has to be the odd man out. He is a serviceable, decent PG. So are Jack and Telfair, but they have shown they can be much much more.

3:53 PM  
Blogger ignacio said...

Steve Blake's trade value is probably at its highest now; he could be a real solid backup for the right team. Think of how good he might be in Utah, for instance. Or Memphis.

Laurel was right -- including him in a package will really make the package much more attractive.

An awful lot of teams would like a point guard with his team-oriented skills.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave asked:
>What's your opinion on whether Telfair stays in Portland long-term if he does develop into a player?<

Absolutely Bass will stay in that situation....

Telfair (and any very good player they drafted that a team wants to keep) will stay with the team that drafted them.
Even if they do not like the team's situation they have to decide between accepting an extension after 3 years that starts the 5th year, playing to 4th year (at the risk of injury or lower market value) just to become a restricted free agent.
After the 4th season as a RFA their team can match any offer anyway and it will be for a minimum of another 3 years.

The only way they have a absolute choice is to play the 4th season and then instead of shopping themselves as a RFA play the 5th season on a one year contract at the set price of the qualifying offer.

That makes two years risk of an injury lowering their value or even a career ending injury with no guaranteed contract ahead... Then they still can not just pick a team, they have to hope for a sign and trade or that the team they want to play for can get a max player under the cap and they are looking at less money and a year shorter contract.

Even if the player wants to take the risk with a guaranteed say 80 million real dollars waved in front of them...his agent would have him seeing the light...meanwhile the team will be assuring them they are rebuilding around them so the team that drafted them looks better...

So the reality is the player is going to say..."give me a pen"

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Laurel T said...

comment about bass staying was from Laurel

8:27 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Again, good stuff Laurel. What you're describing sounds like what we went through with Zach a couple years ago. He threatened to play on a one-year basis, then test the free agent market. We caved. We didn't pay him $80 million, but it wasn't that far off.

Even if you discount the "Louisville Part 2" angle and are sure he will stay, will we have to mortgage the rest of the franchise to keep him?

I think it's an open question with Bassy simply because of his history and supposed "star power". I hope you're right though. If he pans out, great. If he doesn't pan out, fine. I just worry about him being a "tweener" talent-wise and us either losing our investment when he leaves or having to overpay to keep him.

I like the new NBA contract structure that gives teams a longer look at the folks they drafted, by the way. It became pretty necessary when teams started drafting high schoolers left and right.

Thanks for the comments!

10:42 AM  
Anonymous superbatman said...

Personally I think the Blazers need to get rid of Telfair and keep Blake and Jack. Although Telfair is the flashy and shows glimpses of star potential, I don't think he'll ever materialize into one.
When I look at Telfair I am reminded of a young Damon Stoudemire and/or Jason Williams. Remember when those guys were in their first couple of years and everyone was "ooh"ing and "ah"ing over them? Stoudemire was ROY in Toronto, but unfortunately he never really was able to take it to the next level. Partly because he's too short and needs the ball all the time (like Bassy).
Sebastian's not a good perimeter defender which is one of the team's biggest weaknesses. This is espeically troubling when you consider that he will likely be paired with Webster in the back court for considerable stretches of games.
No matter how good Telfair becomes at the offensive end, he's still going to be posted up time and time again on defense. We saw with Stoudemire how much of a strain that can put on the overall defense as other players have to double and then rotate to cover the open man.
Plus, if we learned anything from the Whittsit era, it's that players need to have defined roles on a team. This is why keeping Blake is so important. The guy will accept a role as the back up, whereas with Telfair and Jack, the guy who doesn't win the starting job next year is going to unhappy and feel like they deserve more (which would probably be correct). This is also why I think you can't keep all three.
In Blake you have a guard who has the size and the handle for the position and doesn't make stupid mistakes. He's the perfect guy to come off the bench and run the second unit. Also, he's proven he's more than capable of filling in as a starter if an injury were to occur. Finally, gong into his 4th year, Blake can be considered a veteran player with a good attitude. Something this team has in very short supply.
Jack gives you the size and the defensive ability your looking for at this position. He knows how to run a team and he has the full confidence of the coach (he's a Nate guy). I see him developing into a VERY solid point guard in a year or two.
I just think for all Telfair's apparent potential, his known weaknesses make him the one we want to part with. I would rather have a guy who is reasonable good at both ends (Blake and Jack) rather than a guy who MIGHT be great on offense but a liability on defense.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Laurel T said...

About Zach's contract negotiations...

The now easy slam is to say they overpaid Zach. But it is not that simple and I think your description of them caving to his demand is does not explain the situation.

That summer before the Oct-Nov window to give him an extension it became obvious it did not take all-stars to get max contracts on the free agent market. GMs are expected to do what it takes to acquire the top free agents available so it becomes a sellers market with the demand driving up the bidding.

So Zach's market value as a restricted FA the next summer when he was coming off a 20/10 season was expected to be easily max.

At the time Blazers had to choose between giving him the slightly below max extension or chance having to match a even larger and worse contract negotiated by another GM after his 4th season.

By negotiating the extension instead of letting him become a RFA they settled on a little less than max and his contract has an incentive. Zach is not collecting a million of it each season unless he makes the all-star team.

If they did not give him the extension on their terms they would had to anticipate matching a max
contract with clauses added to try to make it harder to match. A signing bonus (frontloaded contract) and/or a trade kicker. They would have to match that worse contract or lose him with nothing in return if they could not negotiate a sign and trade.

A big signing bonus that the new owner of the Nets would have to pay before the season started was how Denver got the Nets not to match Kenyon Martin's offer sheet... which at the time made not giving him the max extension he wanted the year before seem a huge mistake. It was right after that when Zach could be offered the extension so that example was hanging over their head.

Zach's extension was a typical and necessary NBA gamble that it turned out the blazers lost as his market value fell... but they would have had to have a crystal ball for Zach's injury to know that.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Zach's contract was driven up by the negotiations with Pau Gasol and Andre Kirilenko, that's for sure. And they both got max-level deals, so I suppose you can argue that it wasn't out of the ordinary to make the deal. Maybe "caving" is a bit of an exaggeration, but I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say "typical and necessary". As we've seen in recent years, the number of restricted FA offers is fairly small, let alone the number of those that are maxed. A team would have to be considerably under the cap, need a power forward, and really want Zach to even make the move. And then we'd still be able to match it. Even then I said the smarter gamble would have been to wait. (I believe the way I put it was, "I hope they know what they're doing...") The million or so a year we saved with the early extension wouldn't have made that much difference. If the difference were bigger I think the early signing argument would be stronger. The fact that they signed Darius above market value the same summer when he had no offers from anyone else doesn't inspire confidence in their thought process either. In fact, of all three signings, at the time I thought Theo's was the best, for the message it sent, if nothing else. I recanted a bit last year, but it still may turn out to be the good one of the three in the end.

Good take on the guards, Superbatman. If we had to choose to move one of them this year, Telfair would probably have more trade value than Blake. About half of me agrees with you completely about needing a steady future with Blake, but then the other half wants to see more of Jack and Telfair before we decide which one is the long-term starting guard.

4:25 PM  

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