Monday, August 14, 2006

Turning it Around

Let's assume for the moment that Zach will remain a functional part of this team for the foreseeable future. I've read speculation a few places that this will be a bounce-back season for him. I'm willing to concede the possibility, but I also think such an eventuality would have to include criteria beyond the current, nebulous "being in shape" or "the knee feels better". If Zach does make a comeback, it will almost certainly necessitate most of the following:

1. He has to start showing as much energy/intensity/desire on defense and defensive rebounding as he does on offense and offensive rebounding.

To me, this is precisely where the surgery excuse falls apart. Even last season, even with the gimpy knees the season before, when there are points to be scored Zach all of a sudden brightens up and becomes the man of a thousand moves again. When it's time to get back in transition or grab that defensive board he looks lame. This has been an issue since his rookie year. It has nothing to do with his knees and everything to do with his heart.

2. He needs to have zero tolerance with himself for things like not practicing hard, slighting coach, skipping or being late to team events, and leaving early.

That's part of what being the best player on this team, with these players, with this coach, at this time means. People don't really understand that "best player" is not just about talent or skill (at least if you want to talk about functional effectiveness). It's a relational, contextual concept like "good spouse". You may have inherent qualities that recommend you as a person to marry, but unless those qualities translate into your specific marriage they don't do a lot of good. In other words, it doesn't matter if 90% of the world would love (in theory) to marry you if those qualities they admire don't translate into making the marriage you're actually in good. The relationship you're in informs you what being a good spouse means. Ignoring it is both perilous and a complete waste of time. That's also true of being a team's best player.

In this context, at this time, these things are important to this team. Whether they would be as important in Detroit is immaterial. Zach doesn't wear that uniform, he wears ours. He's not responsible to those teammates and coach, he's responsible to ours.

I think it's also time to put to rest the whole "Zach's a follower, not a leader" excuse. Consider:

A. He pouts and complains when he doesn't get the ball, when he gets pulled out of the game before he thinks he should, when he's not center of attention out there. In other words he shows all the hallmarks of wanting to be the man. But if you want to be the man, you've got to play like the man and conduct yourself like the man.

B. If he's such a follower, susceptible to the influence of those around him, why didn't he follow Joel Przybilla, Theo Ratliff, Steve Blake, Martell Webster, Viktor Khryapa, Jarrett Jack, and Sebastian Telfair last year? Why did he pick the one guy who's an underachieving, disruptive dorkwad to emulate? Reality check: that's not being a follower, that's being an ass. You're making $16 million a year and are the focal point of your team. Time to stop it. Now.

There will always be easy ways out no matter who's around you. Most of us grow up at some point and learn not to take them. Six years in the league is enough time to figure that out.

3. Zach needs to go to Nate and say, "I know much of the offense will still run through me, but I'm also willing to be a decoy. Design some plays specifically to take advantage of that and I will do my best to follow them."

Zach's proven he's a good scorer in this league. He's also proven he's not Michael Jordan. He can't score consistently out of double and triple teams. The threat of his presence can free up other people though. And we now have some very nice shooters on this squad.

4. Of the shots he does take, Zach needs to hit 47%.

If he's not, he's not taking the right shots.

If Zach does get better and have another breakout year, it'll probably be because he did these things. All but the last item are mental/philosophical shifts. They're as simple as him deciding to do it and then backing that up. It's not a matter of can he do it. The potential has always been there. But will he?

If he doesn't do some of this stuff, one more bucket a game and one more offensive rebound a half won't matter. As good as they sound, there's nothing magic about 20 and 9 or 20 and 10. It's perfectly possible for a team to lose a ton and go nowhere with a player amassing those stats. Ask the Golden State Warriors under Antawn Jamison or just about any team Derrick Coleman played for.

If he's here, I hope he not only does it, but does it the right way.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

11 Comments:

Anonymous Earl said...

Well said. I tend to pick on the guy a lot, especially in this forum, but I'm usually willing to give someone another chance. And in this situation that is true. The guy's talented, has the tools to do the job, and if he's willing to listen to his coach he could really turn the corner this year.

Putting out that extra effort on defense and learning how to play with his teammates on offense could send him to another level. He has shown that he doesn't have the ability to score consistently out of a double team, but if he can learn to effectively pass to an open teammate (preferably a shooter or cutter) out of that double team he'll be worth that big contract we gave him. If he shows the same enthusiasm for getting loose balls and rebounds as he does when he gets a chance to score a bucket that won't only endear him to his coach, but endear him to us again. He might not remember what it feels like to have fans cheer him (since he hasn't given us a reason to in a while) but it's a great feeling and also a little more motivation to play well.

Here's to hoping we see those changes.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

in my dreams i see zbo turning it around this season and growing up/foucusing on rebound ing and defense much like elton brand of the clippers did last year. how probable is that? well, hes lost some wieght but i dont know. it would be nice though...

12:16 PM  
Blogger Eli said...

If Randolph puts up good numbers at the beginning of the season the Blazers will trade him if they can. Randolph, while a talented player, is not the right power forward for this team. While Aldridge is likely not ready to be the starter, he needs to get a lot of minutes to avoid Darko syndrome. Zach is currently in Lamarcus' way and will need to be removed at some point this season.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to reiterate the fact that Portland fans are total hippocrits when it comes to Randolph. No other player on the team has done more asinine, arrogent $@!+ than him yet everyone seems to want to give him a pass. Meanwhile, the person who gets piled on is Darius Miles, who has done nothing but state honestly that he wanted to be traded. I'm sick of giving Randolph a pass because he scores a lot. He's an absolute chemistry killer because of his big ego and lack of leadership skills.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous TP43 said...

Jeez Chip - good spouse?! How in the world did you just explain the nuances of relative value starting with married life? Just pure genius...

I'm choosing to have an open mind and giving him the proverbial last chance. It just may be that his burning desire to be an allstar may finally force him to admit he needs to do more than just score. As you so eloquently put it, he needs to conduct himself like the man.

As much as we bash this guy for what he isn't, a player that can drop 37, grab 20 boards, rack up 8 assists, get 5 steals, 5 blocks, and hit three 3s in a game is a phenomenally unique talent. We always talked about how talented Rasheed was, these numbers are all nearly as good or better in some cases as the foul tempered one's career highs.

It's never been about ability, does he want it bad enough to go out and do it every night? We shall see; coming to a small screen near you on November 1.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way too much great stuff to blog-about today Dave!! But I think it all comes down to your 4th point, 3rd sentence and a mental/philosophical shift being possible. I really don't think Zack has the mentality to even understand what you wrote today, much less understand the his own
psyco thought processes!!
He has so many thinking errors going on and very little IQ to see it...

1:43 PM  
Blogger Jamey W. said...

ZBO? We all love to see him do his move and score....but that was bef. everyone in the nba figured out that if you just rush at him (dont even need to get to him...just act like you are) he will put his head down and bounce one off the rim. Let alone have a smaller player help on "d" against him and he loses control of the ball. I think everyone in the NBA wants to be "the MAN" again...afterall they were all that player not too many years ago.
I for one am tire of yelling at the TV with 2 minutes to go and they throw it in to Zach. I cant even imagine how pissed I am going to be this year since I just bought my first pair of season tickets! (OH YEAH!!
I think they are all going to figure out...Nates way...or no play!

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Dave said...

I would argue that even on your fourth point (47% FG shooting) a mental/philosophical shift is needed. Zach needs to go back to his roots and play within 15 feet. The last couple years he has been trying to stretch his range but his point production and rebounding has fallen off. He is much more aggressive in the low post and needs to stay down there more. This would also solve his recent tendency to hold the ball. He simply won't get away with that in the block. He'll have to pass,dribble or take it up strong - a whole different mindset than what we've seen of late.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

eli you're right on the money
buddy i've been saying exactly
the same point...these people
are now the complete joke of
this league,miles minds his
own business knows threr were
too many h.s.players on the
squad while "als" fatbo is not
going to be to happy when roy
not martell roy will be the
next wade and is getting all
the love while you "als" fatbo
fans will be still saying 20-10
well folks that was 04 it's now
06-07 live with it "als" sucks
...............

7:01 PM  
Blogger Scott R said...

Fatty, explain to me "als"?? have i missed something?

I'm not one to give second chances. so i say to hell with Zach. i hope he comes out and plays at a hall of fame level and we trade him at the all star break to a team looking for the extra scoring. Given the choice between zach and darius i'd keep darius. he may start playing consistently, as long of a stretch as it is, with the increased responsibility. Face it, to this point in his career no one has really counted on him for anything. Let's give him that shot.

9:22 PM  
Anonymous fatty said...

"als" means lou gerhieg's disease
scott r and everyone else who
don't know that's fatbo....

8:13 AM  
Blogger BLAZER PROPHET said...

It's not about scoring. It's about being a part of the TEAM offense and caring about defense. Zach never has believed in either.

3:55 PM  

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