Thursday, August 03, 2006

Marco's Question

I got a nice e-mail from a fellow named Marco regarding yesterday's post about how much we might improve. He had some great thoughts about our young talent but ended with a sincere question that can be summarized as, "Why don't you think we'll win more this year? Couldn't we make a playoff run?"

My honest answer is that this is sports and anything can happen, but I see the odds as immeasurably long. Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if we did, but I'm prepared for substantially less.

If you're talking about an actual run at a playoff seed, we're simply caught in a numbers game. Dallas, Denver, San Antonio, Phoenix, Sacramento, the Clippers, the Lakers, and Memphis all made the playoffs last year. The first six aren't going anywhere. Memphis may slip a little losing Battier and being unsure of Stoudamire, but they'd still have to fall a long ways and we'd have to climb just as much for us to pass them. And whatever you think of the Lakers, Kobe Bryant will carry that team to some wins. That's eight teams that are all but locks to be better than we are and there are only eight playoff seeds. Even if we were the best of the rest we don't make the postseason this year. And I have doubts about us even earning that label.

It takes two things to win consistently in this league: talent and stability. Most of the arguments you hear for us being better this year center around talent, and rightfully so. I think we are improving in that area. But in doing so we are sacrificing short-term stability.

How important is stability? Look what happens with injuries. The team doesn’t just lose talent, but continuity. How many times have you heard said of a player coming off an injury, "It's going to take a while to work this guy back in?" How many times does a team missing its superstar win a few in his absence but then look really ragged and lose his first game back? Players are not automatically interchangeable, no matter how talented. It's no accident that the worst teams in the league often use the most different starting lineups during the season. Part of that is lack of talent, but the converse is also true. Teams that don't develop a rhythm don't win.

There are also plenty of positive examples of the importance of consistency. What makes a superstar a superstar? It's not just talent. A lot of players have that. It's talent combined with the ability to produce consistently. Clyde Drexler gave you 20, 6, and 5 like clockwork. He wasn't spiking 30 and then giving you 5 the next night. That's what made him great. You could depend on him, build your team and its style of play around him. That's why those early 90's teams didn't just win, they ALWAYS won. They knew they were going to win the moment they entered the gym. This was part of the failing of the late-90's Whitsitt teams. They were massively talented, maybe more so than any of their contemporaries. But you remember players complaining that every year we got 3-4 new players and it took months to assimilate them, if it happened at all. There was no steadiness, no continuity, nothing to build around other than we dominated on paper.

Stability is a key to winning. And right now, despite all of the positive moves and good, young talent, we just don't have it.

Probably the toughest thing for a young player to learn is how to fit into the flow of the game--to make others better and to be made better by others in such a way that leads to team success. It's not that they're slow. The last thing a new person in any venture learns is how to merge into the environment. Your first day on the job you were worried about what you were doing. You barely noticed anybody else. New poker players play their own cards, not the cards of others. It's no different for these kids. I expect Jack and Roy, having four years of college experience (and one year of NBA duty in Jack's case) will have a marginally easier time than most, but neither one of them has had the responsibility they're going to get this year. Webster and Outlaw are obviously still in the early phases of their adjustment and Rodriguez and Aldridge haven't even begun it yet. If you go down that list, that's nearly every player people are excited about making a difference. And they will, just not yet, because they don’t even know who they are as individual players, let alone how to make a difference on a winning team in this league.

The fact that they'll eventually get it down doesn't change the steepness of the immediate learning curve. Even the simple things will take time. For instance, between being brand new to the league and our style of play last year, do you realize that for the most part none of our guards besides Dickau and Dixon have ever thrown an entry pass into the post to an NBA center? Theo didn't post and Joel and Ha got waved off every time they tried. Even Zach didn't post much last year and the entry passes they did make to him looked like differential calculus to these guys. This is a basic, rote move that veteran guards could do in their sleep. They'll be learning it on the job. They'll have to adjust to Magloire and maybe a stronger Zach whose games demand such. (If those young guys look off Magloire like they looked off last year's centers he's going to shove a fist down their throat in practice.) And that's just the simple stuff!

This is exactly why Nate is always saying you need veterans to win. Not because the veterans are all that much more talented than young guys, but because they know how to play, both as individuals and in the team framework, consistently enough to win.

Take a long, honest look at where we are right now. We got less stable at the point by trading Blake and promoting Jack. (Again, maybe more talented but less stable.) Plus Dickau is injured and Spanish Chocolate is young and was considered a loose cannon even in a lower league. We're going to get less stable at shooting guard if we fade away from or trade Dixon and rely on Martell and B-Roy. (And Dixon was hardly a paragon of consistency himself.) We're less stable at backup small forward with Outlaw in place of Khryapa. Our starting forwards remain the same but they are also coming off mercurial seasons and are not known for providing stability. Our backup power fowards are both new to the team and one is new to the league. The only position with greater stability is center with the re-signing of Joel and the acquisition of the veteran Magloire who, while new, can't help but be more steady and capable than Theo turned out to be last year. That's two positions in turmoil, two positions shaky, and one slightly improved, albeit by a brand new guy. It's going to take a while to sort that all out.

The point is, we did get more talented, and we are going in the right direction, but the very players we cite as examples are also the players who will, in the short term, lack the stability needed to provide sustained winning either because they're young or because they're new. I doubt we'll even begin to see thing settle down until at least February and I wouldn't be surprised if it took a whole season. That's why I think any chance of a playoff run, or even anything close, would be a miracle.

--Dave (


Blogger Ken said...

Very well stated, Dave. I still think there is another shoe to drop. I think Nate, being the competitor he is, wants to start winning now, and will be pushing hard for one or two more vets.

Is it possible to get him/them? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me. Would that be enough to give the Blazers a shot? Probably not, but it might go a long way toward providing the children a winning attitude and "stability".

12:36 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hope so, but even those vets will be new, so it'll take some time to settle those shoes after the drop. I still don't think we'll know what this team is made of until after the all-star break. I just hope their confidence hasn't taken too big of a blow by then. Have you seen the November schedule? Brutal.


12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see this season in terms of simply learning and acquiring another very good draft pick in '07 and aside from dealing for one, will be our last chance for years to come. Now, what position that would be depends on who's available of course but looking at our weakest link, I'm thinking the 3...

1:34 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

hey dave great way to burst
the guy's bubble a said it
in yesterday's post people
same losers(zach*darius)same
problems,also if cat does'nt
start(magloire)you'll lose
him also,all part of pricthard
plan to get the franchise
player next june....
you blazer fans can be in
denial all you wan't but
bottom line is 89-157 under
nash-48-116 since wallace*wells
left town,bottom line is
no francise player on the
roster until the pingpong
balls on may 22,07 you'll
know where this franchise
is standing about 5:00 pdt
that day and with word on
the street the buyers are
beginning to line-up if
smualei buys this team it's
as good as gone to anahiem
which is no problem for me
personally since i'm a
diehard angels fan...
dave please explain to
these good people about
the lack of a superstar on
a ballclub,and how much that
affects certain markets
there's not a player on these
rosters that the nba or the
bandwagon fans who make up
98% of the nba fanbase cares
about period and that's not
a good sign because about
10-15 years ago every team
had at least 1 or 2 superstars
in the lineup those teams i've
mentioned does'not unfortunately
for fans in those markets....
seriously and only ny.knicks
have the capability of joining
the nba have's for the obvious
reason new york enough said..
dave please make a case for
my statement you great man
you....later dave .....

1:36 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

anonymous you're serious right
if we get #ers 3,2,1, if you're
one of those who said we've have
joel and you'll pass on oden,noah
or hansborough then you should
really get some therapy dude
read my post and dave will
clerify the point i'm saying
to all of you 17-24 wins =
1 of the big 3..later bloggers..

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote, depending on who's available at our pick and of course the bigs have to be our top choices but predicting 7 more wins his yr. and I'm saying the 3 spot will need the most help if Miles is gone and MW won't fit.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Right now I see next year's pick as either a center or a small forward also. We should find out some more about Martell and Jarrett this year, which will help us make that decision.

No bubble bursting going on here Fatty. His points were solid. But like anonymous said, this year is a learning season.


2:06 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

dave comment on the superstar
bandwagon fan angle,10-15 years
ago every team had at least
1 or 2 superstars today even
oklahoma city has c.paul and
realisticly blazers fans if
pricthard was the g.m. c.paul
would be our p.g. not j.jack
the starting p.g. for team usa
tonight the teams i've told
you have no marquee players
dave please respond....

2:37 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

You're right Fatty, we have no superstars right now. I would guess that Roy had the best chance to develop into one but I think that's doubtful, with Jack, Aldridge, and Webster having less chance but still possible. Basically I think they will all be really good players, maybe very good (like Terry Porter level) if things turn out right, but we still need one big guy to center around. Oden maybe? Who knows. Right now all I want is to see them play hard, play as a team, and grow. That way if and when we do add a main guy he will be coming into the right environment.


3:06 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

amen dave amen anywhere in
portland you wan't to eat
in march/april when i'm in
town....let me know...

3:31 PM  
Anonymous jorga said...

I'm wondering how much depends on Nate. I could be way wrong, but I sort of think that last year he came in and said, "this is the way we're going to play" and tried to hammer "the way" into his players (or rather hammer the players into "the way.") Could it be that this year he's going to look more at what skills his players have and try to work with those rather than trying to make them fit into his preferred style of play? At the beginning of last season, Travis had big problems learning the plays. Did he ever learn them? Will he remember them? But more to the point : were the plays appropriate for such a young team?

I'm not questioning Nate's coaching, I'm an admirer of his and I applaud the Blazers for using him as the focus of so much of their marketing.

Well, OK, maybe I am questioning, but it's really that I don't know and I'm hoping you guys who are more knowledgeable will offer your opinions.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I have seen the November schedule. I'm predicting three wins plus one possible miracle.

I also think I'm being pretty optimistic...

7:22 PM  

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