Friday, April 28, 2006

Position by Position--Shooting Guards

At the beginning of the season shooting guard was our biggest hole on paper. But all things considered, it didn't turn out that bad.

After a brief flirtation with Sergei Monia, Outlaw, and even Miles manning the 2, Juan Dixon got the semi-permanent call. He responded by posting career bests in nearly every significant statistical category, even those (like field goal percentage--43.5%) that don't necessarily depend on time. While he doesn't have a "go to" move, he showed the ability to get a shot in nearly any situation, especially against the clock. Dixon was hands down the best clutch shooter on the team. Also when Darius and Zach went down, Juan picked up the slack, easily moving into the second scorer role. From December through early February he kept us in a lot of games and even won us a couple. Opposing commentators were starting to say what a nice pick-up Portland had made. Had Blake not played such a key role and Webster not become a media darling in the last month of the season, Juan would probably have gotten more kudos.

Dixon's biggest drawback is that he's both short and small for the position. He can get his shot up against all comers, but most nights he can't defend them. Smaller players get by him too much and bigger guards like Jason Richardson...you might as well forget it. Also, despite bagging a couple assists per game, he doesn't make that many plays with the ball in his hands unless he's shooting it. When you're playing two point-guard sized guys in the backcourt, you start thinking motion, passing, and superior ball handling. We didn't see that from Juan much this year. (To be fair, though, his role this year was mostly to shoot. Besides, the choices to pass to were Khryapa or a center, both of whom they look off all the time, or Zach, from whom they never get it back, and there goes the passing game.) Part of the impetus for acquiring Dixon was the possibility of having a long-term combo guard. Jack has clearly usurped that role, leaving Juan out in the cold. Also, Dixon played far better as a starter than off the bench.

Between the improvement of the younger guys and the shaky play off the bench, it's not surprising that we didn't see as much of Juan after February as we had earlier. It was a tough deal, I'm sure, for a guy who played a lot and gave a lot at a time of the season when we were still trying to win games. I heard a fair amount of speculation that Dixon was pouting and had quit on the team. A national columnist even brought it up. Help me out...did I miss something here? The thing that impressed me most about Juan is that even with his reduced role, and likely feeling that he got jobbed, I never, ever heard any Rubenesque complaining in the papers, nor did I see any Darius-like nonchalance on the court. From what I saw and heard, this guy was a complete professional in the middle of a very trying situation. Can anyone else fill me on on where that quitting stuff came from? I believe the crux of the matter for the national columnist was that he was forcing difficult shots. Did this guy see Juan play at all this year? First off, when you're a 6'3" shooting guard, every shot is a difficult shot. Second, those are exactly the shots Dixon was taking and canning through most of the season. I think Juan would argue that playing sporadic minutes makes it more difficult for a rhythm guy like him (with no go-to move to fall back on) to get in the groove, thus more shots missed. But I didn't see him taking different shots late in the year than he did earlier.

Because of the defensive shortcomings and the glut of 6-footers we have, I don't think Dixon is a long-term player on this team. But I still admire and am grateful for the way he handled himself as the season wound down. Far from a quitter, he seemed a breath of fresh air. (Maybe people at practice, in the locker room, or reading some source I didn't see have reason to say different. If there's something I missed here, fill me in below or at blazersub@yahoo.com.)

Martell Webster's star rose even as Juan's was falling. There's a fair amount of speculation whether Martell will turn out to be a shooting guard or small forward (it's a matter of what he can defend) but I really hope he can stay in the backcourt because of the size advantage. He looked quick enough at the 2, but it's hard to tell because his individual defensive form and footwork are still works in progress. He can certainly run the floor, but his lateral quickness will be the question. He wasn't awful for a rookie but he'll need to work on keeping his man in front of him if he wants to see minutes next fall like he did this spring. Martell's calling card is, of course, his wonderful shooting form and his fairly quick release. Nobody shoots as instantly and well as Ray Allen, but Martell has drawn comparisons. He's got legitimate NBA skill in that area, and that will keep him in the league for 10 years plus no matter what. Seeing Wesbter come off a curl screen, get the ball, and release is a thing of beauty. Even his once shaky stand-still three got better as the season progressed. He's not that good at getting his own shot, especially facing up from distance. At the tail end of the season he started using his height to get turn-around shots from the wing at 15 feet or so, and that looked good. He'll probably always be best when somebody sets screens for him, though, and this may affect who we keep if we intend to make him a major cog. The other impressive thing is that he really started hustling as he received more playing time. He worked for rebounds, poked at balls, and even got on the floor once or twice. He also moved without the ball much better on offense. His shortcomings will be mitigated somewhat if he keeps that attitude. Finally, and less tangibly, he showed a little "star power" this year, which frankly the community is starved for. It also might help him draw some fouls if he makes driving a part of his arsenal.

Just as Dixon's contributions to the season were a little underrated, Martell's were probably a little overrated, but there's little doubt that heading into the offseason he's the buzz of the franchise. And hey, there's reason to be excited about a 6'8" guard who can shoot and displays a little athleticism. Those are the kind of players legit teams are made of.

--Dave

2 Comments:

Blogger ignacio said...

I agree with you about Juan Dixon and Martell. The thing about Martell that's so appealing is that he actually does look like a potential star.

He might not be a Lebron James, but he looks like it's possible he could be better than Rip Hamilton. That's not bad.

And it took Hamilton a couple of years to really "find" himself in the NBA after a great college career at UConn.

So I'm prepared to invest in Martell.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched Martell closely as he was getting more time at the end of the year. I sit pretty close and watch a lot of stuff with binoculars during time outs and when the whistle blows. Martell talks to the others and seemed to be already exhibiting direction and leadership in getting the team to focus and try. Martell will make a lot of progress fast. I hope Dixon can stay but he did seem to be upset at the lack of time in the game. He will be a backup in the future and it is hard to tell if he will adjust to that role.

11:10 PM  

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