Thursday, May 04, 2006

Position by Position--Power Forward

This one is pretty simple, given there's only two players at the position.

Zach is our best player. There's no doubt about that. The question is, is it enough? If you want an analytical description of what I see as his strengths and weaknesses, see the "About Zach..." post from a couple weeks ago. I won't repeat it here. I'll just say that this was a season where Zach was supposed to answer a lot of questions: Can he come back from surgery? Can he perform at a high level when he's the center of attention? Is he the guy to lead this team into the future. Mostly they've been answered. Yes, he came back from surgery well. Other than some mid-season aches and pains, he looked in typical form. Can he perform when he's the center of attention? Depends. For a lot of guys 18 and 8 would be good. But I think the Blazers were hoping for a little more when they signed him to that near-max deal. Those aren't franchise numbers. Equally disturbing is the fact that his stats keep going down year by year. Scoring, shooting percentage, rebounding, just about everything has slipped. About the only thing he's done is develop a 3-point shot, and you could argue whether that's a positive given his best secondary skill is offensive rebounding.

You can talk all you want about being surrounded by teammates, but:

1. He doesn't help his teammates with his game, on offense or defense, so it's hard for them to shine and take the pressure off. And...

2. True franchise players, the Duncans, the Garnetts, the Kobes, even the Dwight Howards and Chris Bosh(es?), perform at a consistently high level night in and night out, no matter who's on the floor with them, in their uniforms or the enemies'. Zach just doesn't.

Which answers the third question...is he the guy to lead this team into the future. The answer is no, both in the "lead" and "this team" departments. Nate was begging for a leader to fill the void this year. He called out Zach in the paper, once openly and several times in a veiled manner. No response. His play on the court also answered the question. He showed a disturbing tendency to hustle when it looked like it might develop into points for him, but not to get back on defense, help out on a driver, or grab defensive boards. It's like he regressed to his rookie season, just with more shots.

There's no doubt in my mind that Zach will have a long career and continue to average at least in the high teens scoring and 8-9 rebounds. I'd wager he even has a breakout year where he tops 20 and 10 again. Derek Coleman and Antawn Jamison are fine examples of talented guys who have done the same. That doesn't mean you'd want to pay them big bucks to be the centerpiece of your squad, at least not if you want your squad to make a serious run. And isn't that what it's all about? You could probably make the argument that we'd get back to mediocrity faster with Randolph than without. But even if that were true, to do it you'd have to get players who compliment his style and pass on others who don't, even if they might take you farther in the end. And in the end, I just don't see Zach being a championship-level player or leading a championship-level team. Sure, 45 wins would be nicer than 21, but in the long run, if you're not playing to have a shot at going all the way, you're playing to lose.

I'll admit that when we picked up Brian Skinner for Monia, I kind of wondered what we were doing. It made sense in the short run but I wondered if we had seen enough of Sergei. Since we're still in the short run I'll admit I've become a convert. Skinner plays good defense, moves his feet pretty well, and rebounds. He doesn't have an offensive game anywhere comparable to Zach's but he's pretty decent in the low post and seems to stay within himself. Shooting 48% isn't bad for a guy who gets spotty minutes. With Outlaw, Webster, Dixon, Telfair, Jack, Blake, and to some extent even Khryapa concentrating on outside shooting, you don't mind having a guy who sticks to the paint. Skinner's no superstar, but he'd made a decent short-term defensive partner for Przy or Theo. That would also free up shots for the smaller positions. As long as he's willing to set picks, do some grunt work, and maybe provide an example if we end up picking a young power forward in the draft, I'm satisfied with him. At least so far he hasn't given much reason to complain.

--Dave

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