Running The Break: Battling Through Injuries
Why are the Trail Blazers so lethal when Nicolas Batum scores 13 or more? Who needs to step up the most in Aldridge's absence? And which move at the deadline was most surprising? Seven local reporters who eat, sleep, and breathe Trail Blazers basketball give their take in this week's edition of Running The Break.
1. Which team helped themselves out the most at the trade deadline and which deal was most surprising?
Casey Holdahl (@Chold), TrailBlazers.com: I'm not sure the trades that were made at the deadline, few as there were, did much for any of the parties involved. The real winners are the teams that have been able to pick up players waived by their respective teams. I guess the WIzards picking up Andre Miller and the Cavs getting Spencer Hawes were the best outcomes, but that's not really saying a while lot.
As for surprises, the only thing that surprised me was finding out some of the traded players were actually still in the league. Looking at you, Austin Daye.
Dwight Jaynes (@dwightjaynes), CSNNW.com: Indiana, which got Evan Turner for Granger. I didn't think they'd do that to Granger, so was surprised they'd trade him away from a team heading for a deep playoff run - with all his valued time as something of the face of the franchise. But they got a solid contributor back for him.
Mike Tokito (@mtokito), The Oregonian: Even though I really liked Indiana getting Evan Turner, the biggest impact from an admittedly quiet trade deadline might turn out to be Golden State acquiring Steve Blake. The Warriors badly needed a backup point guard who can get Stephen Curry off the ball at times.
Erik Gundersen (@BlazerBanter), The Columbian: I think Golden State got the best deal at the deadline for Steve Blake. They really needed someone to replace contract year Jarrett Jack and I think the combination of Blake's steady hand, competitiveness and three point shooting compliments the aggressive nature of their other acquisition before the deadline Jordan Crawford. Crawford hasn't been the same without Brad Stevens but I think Blake's steadying hand will provide a balance to the streaky Crawford.
Mike Acker (@mikeacker), Willamette Week: I don’t really think any team helped themselves that much for the season that’s currently under way. The Nets addition of a Marcus Thornton is kind of interesting because he’s a high-volume scorer with a knack for showing up when the spotlight is on him (which is a lot more likely in Brooklyn than it ever was in Sacramento) but there’s no guarantee that he cracks the Nets’ rotation. The addition of Evan Turner is pretty nice for Indiana, but that team is pretty set, so even if he is a decent pick-up, it’s unlikely that he’ll have a massive impact on how the rest of 13-14 plays out for his new team. So possibly the team that helped themselves out the most at the deadline was the 76ers. They’ll get 10 shots at a keeper in the second round of next season’s draft (give or take), they won’t have to spend a bunch of money on extending Evan Turner, and they dumped a decent salary by shipping Spencer Hawes. The Sixers probably won’t be very good next season, but they’ll have a ton of assets to work with should Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker end up on the Bucks.
As for most surprising deal, Austin Daye for Nando De Colo… But seriously, no deal was that surprising or for that matter even interesting. No offense to Luke Ridnour and Byron Mullens, but the deadline was pretty boring.
Dave Deckard (@blazersedge), BlazersEdge: Cleveland got the best talent-to-cost ratio deal in Spencer Hawes but they’re in such disarray that Hawes probably won’t help them much. The Pacers made the biggest splash with Evan Turner. Danny Granger had been playing poorly, so he’s an upgrade. But Turner needs the ball, isn’t efficient, and doesn’t defend well so he’ll have to prove he can play with them.
For my money the Wizards pulled a nice move in acquiring Andre Miller. They have plenty of shooters for him to pass to and he could bolster them in the playoffs. Also I think the Clippers could fare well picking up players off the waiver wire in the wake of the deadline deals.
SlyPokerDog (@SlyPokerDog), RipCityTwo.com: There were no blockbuster trades this year so there was nothing that really surprised me. The trades I personally enjoyed involved former Blazer point guards Steve Blake and Andre Miller. While I didn't like seeing Blake traded to a Golden State team that will be battling the Blazers for playoff position it is nice to see him not a Laker anymore. It's just as nice to see Miller get out of an unhappy situation in Denver. It will be interesting to see what he does in Washington.
The team that helped themselves out the most were the Pacers. They were able to unload a gimpy Danny Granger and get Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Both players should help in the quest to get past the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
2. Thomas Robinson told Chris Haynes he's "happy to know I'm going to finish the year out here. It's something that I've been looking for since I got into the league -- just stability." How much do you think it helped the players psyche to not have one trade rumor come to surface? Also, will we see a more relaxed Trail Blazers squad the rest of the way since they know the deadline has passed and this is the group they've got going forward?
Holdahl: I think most players would prefer not being traded, if for no other reason than the instability involved with packing up and moving at a moment's notice is something no one wants to deal with. So not hearing their names bandied about is probably a comfort, though who know how to quantify that.
On the other hand, I'm not expecting this team to be any more or less "relaxed" now that the deadline has pass. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference is plenty nerve-wrecking on its own.
Jaynes: Quite obviously it helped Robinson, if his play Sunday night was any indication. I don't think there were very many players too concerned about being dealt. It was pretty obvious the team didn't have much opportunity for a deal and certainly the starters seemed well protected because they play so well together.
I think Robinson's situation was different because of his rookie season (last year) where he was dealt from Sacramento to Houston. Once something like that happens to you, it probably puts a little bit more awareness in the back of your mind at the deadline.
Tokito: I don’t think the deadline had any impact on any Portland player, good or bad, since it was obvious to anyone paying attention that the Blazers were not in position to make a deal.
Gundersen: Now that the deadline passed, I certainly think that the players all feel more relaxed without having to wonder whether they are going to have to drop everything and go to another city. I don't know how much it helped them but all of them know that stuff is going to happen because it's a business at the end of the day.
Acker: From a psychological standpoint, I’m sure it helps some of the Blazer players who are on the bubble to know they’ll finish the season in Portland. Some of them have to know, though, that they weren’t moved mostly because there was no deal Neil Olshey could put together. Very few of Portland’s bench players have made themselves indispensable this season. Hopefully knowing they won’t get traded will relax the guys on the roster who haven’t really cemented a spot for next season. Maybe, knowing that Olshey probably isn’t going to fall asleep at the switch in the off-season will motivate guys like Thomas Robinson to reach the level of un-trade-able in the 2014 off-season.
Deckard: People often talk about post-trade-deadline relief but it seems like an urban myth to me. Portland’s 2011-12 squad made it past the deadline and promptly got Nate McMillan fired. Last year’s team finished the season losing 13 straight. Injuries, fatigue, and talent determine far more than deadline psychology.
Portland’s top six players dominate minutes and shots taken this year. None of them were up for trade consideration. Since they had nothing to worry about before the deadline, I’d presume that they have little to be relieved about after. For young guys like Thomas Robinson you can understand the sigh of relief, though.
SlyPokerDog: I'm not sure if relaxed is the right term. Since the start of the season the Blazers have been focused. The starters were never in fear or concern of being traded. The hot start to the season guaranteed that. I could see where some of the bench players might have been concerned but it was never a distraction to the team.
3. Which individual player needs to step up the most for the Trail Blazers while LaMarcus Aldridge is sidelined?
Holdahl: I'll go with Nicolas Batum. He can be the "glue guy" when the Trail Blazers have their starting squad healthy and available, but when one guy goes down, Batum is the logical player to look to for increased scoring and rebounding. He's also the Trail Blazer most able to adapt his game to what the team needs on a night-to-night basis.
Jaynes: They all do. Particularly the bench. Dorell Wright is now a starter and he needs to be more consistent. Robinson, Barton and Claver need to continue their bench play. One guy cannot make up for the loss of an all-star player. Several players must chip in -- and we saw that on Sunday night vs. Minneosta.
Tokito: Not to go all coach-speak, but it’s not about individuals, but a collective thing, with every player giving a little more. Aldridge is way too good for one guy to make up for by “stepping up.”
Gundersen: I think it's not just one person but it's the collective energy of the team that has to be up. They need to bring energy to help the other starters who are already doing more work than normal. It's on guys that have already been stepping up like Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver and also Will Barton that have brought the Blazers second units energy.
Acker: My guess is the popular answer will be Nicolas Batum. I agree with that on some levels, although both he and Terry Stotts made it pretty clear that asking Nic to force the issue is probably not the smartest course of action. I’d love to see a guy like Dorell Wright push his scoring average into the double figures now that he’ll be getting some more time, same thing for CJ McCollum. All that being said, the guy who needs to step up the most, both on the court and off the court, is Damian Lillard. This is LaMarcus Aldridge’s team, but it won’t be forever, or at least Lillard should have an equal share of the metaphorical ownership by next season or the one after. The sooner Dame ups his leadership game, the better.
Deckard: This team hasn’t been about individual play, nor can any individual replace Aldridge. I’d look for Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard to be more aggressive scoring and finding teammates. After that, everybody has to chip in a little.
SlyPokerDog: The obvious choice would be Thomas Robinson. Our all-star power forward gets injured it would be nice to have another power forward that can step up and fill in for him. That said I would like to see Batum become more aggressive and look to score more.
4. Through 54 games, Nicolas Batum is averaging 12.8 point per game. 29 times this season Batum has scored 13 or more and when he does, the Trail Blazers are 22-7 in those instances. What is it about an offensive-minded Batum that makes Portland so deadly? Is there a reason why Batum doesn't look to shoot more (Averages 9.8 FGA per game)?
Holdahl: I don't think, in general, that an "offensive-minded Batum" really results in a "deadly" Portland roster. Batum's value is in his ability to fill a wide range of roles. Now, when Aldridge is out, scoring becomes one of those things Batum needs to do. But on a healthy roster, Batum needs to do what he's been doing: average almost double his career averages in rebounds and assists.
Jaynes: Batum is often working very hard at the defensive end, which limits his energy on offense. At the same time, when he scores it takes a lot of pressure off Lillard and Aldridge. I think Batum SHOULD look to score more but by now, we may have to accept the possibility that it's just not in his nature to do that.
He is a solid player who does a bit of everything and is pretty good at a lot of things. We may have to accept his reluctance to shoot once in a while as just part of his personality as player.
Tokito: Geez, I don’t know if you can take a guy scoring 0.2 over his average and do a breakdown of it. Here’s the thing about Batum’s big scoring games: They come either when he shoots a great percentage, or makes a bunch of threes.
I’m going to use 18 points as a measuring stick. Batum has scored 18 points 14 times this season. In 10 of those games, he made at least three three-pointers. In 11 of those games, he shot at least 50 percent from the field. It’s not him being “offensive-minded,” but taking what’s there.
Gundersen: I just think Batum doesn't shoot a lot because he doesn't really have to that much. Sure, he could shoot more but he does a ton for the offense as a secondary ball handler and playmaker. Not to mention that Batum has had his great moments being aggressive on defense. His three-point shooting percentage is down a little this year but he's making up for it by shooting nearly 80 percent at the rim according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Acker: Nicolas Batum’s offense makes Portland so deadly because he can do so many different things. He can slash, shoot mid-range jumpers, shoot threes, basically anything you ask him to do on offense, he can do it. He’s also a bit of a match-up issue. Nic can blow-by bigger, more athletic guards, and he can go strong against smaller players. Overall, he’s a lethal shooter and a tough cover. That’s a good combo. As for the second part of the question, who knows why Nic doesn’t shoot more. Nic likes to be a facilitator, he likes to do whatever he can to help his team win, and he’s capable of doing a lot of things besides just shooting. There’s almost no doubt that Nic should look for his own shot more often, but good luck trying to get him to become a selfish player. That’s not happening any time soon.
Deckard: Portland’s offense thrives on ball movement and secondary scorers taking (and hitting) open shots. That’s Batum’s wheelhouse. It’s not so much that he drives the offense or the wins…it’s a chicken and egg thing. When the offense is successful Batum gets plenty of open looks and opportunities to pass. When Batum is hitting jumpers and dishing assists the offense is successful. Symbiosis!
But Batum can’t make this happen on his own. It’s not like you can look at him and say, “Shoot more because the offense will get better!” He’s not good on contested drives. He can hit the pull up against good defenders but neither he nor the team can live off that shot. It doesn’t move the defense or create opportunities for others like an Aldridge post or a Lillard drive. Other people need to bend defenders their way, allowing Batum to receive the ball with an open floor in front of him. Then he can break the opponent’s back with a three, a clear drive, or a nifty pass. If you just toss him the ball against a set defense his options, and results, will be more limited. Stagnation kills Batum’s opportunity and limits his impact.
Batum contributes to that stagnation himself sometimes, though. He’ll check out of the offense or look only to pass instead of shooting. Failing to take an open shot can be as bad as a turnover. If you elect to pass when nobody’s guarding you by definition you’re throwing the ball into a 4-on-5 situation. That seldom works. You don’t get the open look back either. Instead one of your teammates gets stuck in an isolation bail-out. Batum doesn’t need to be aggressive in a Damian-Lillard-like manner but he needs to be aggressive every time he’s got his shot.
SlyPokerDog: Batum can be a bit of an enigma. He has embraced the role of being the secondary playmaker and facilitator on offense even to the point of passing up open shots at times. With Aldridge being out he does need to look for his shot more but not if it comes at the expense of keeping the offense flowing and his teammates involved.
5. Less than a month ago (January 29th), the Heat were embarrassed in a 17-point loss to the Thunder at home. And even with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, Miami went into OKC on Thursday and ran off with a 22-point victory. Was this a statement game for the defending champs; a message to the basketball world that they're still the favorites to repeat?
Holdahl: I wouldn't read much into it outside of teams having on and off nights throughout the course of an 82-game season. I'm sure the Heat weren't happy about being beaten by 17, but I don't think there was any message sent other than the Heat were a better teams on that night.
Jaynes: I think Miami has not taken the regular season as seriously as it has in the past. This happens with teams that win multiple or consecutive titles. Those teams know they will not be judged by their regular season and that it's all about the postseason. At the same time, they also have the confidence to know that seeding doesn't matter so much for them -- again, decreasing the importance of regular season games.
The Heat can turn it up a notch when they want -- and proved it that night in OKC. They aren't worried about much besides the postseason and want to be rested and ready when that time comes.
Tokito: Miami’s the two-time defending champion. I don’t think they do statement games during the regular season.
Gundersen: I just think a series between those two teams, provided Scott Brooks doesn't play Kendrick Perkins against the Heat, would just be haymaker after haymaker. That's not to say Perkins won't have his value against the LaMarcus Aldridge's and Dwight Howard's of the world but against the Heat he's just a bad match-up. I think it was more of a message by Miami by saying that they are still here after the Thunder were looking like the early title favorites. It's hard to bet against LeBron James but the decline of Ray Allen and Shane Battier on both ends is a concern while Oklahoma City's youthful bench unit looks full of promise.
Acker: I don’t think the Heat need to send any kind of message. They’re the favorite to win the NBA title, that won’t change until somebody beats them in the Finals. When you’ve won back-to-back titles and been the Finals three seasons on the trot, you’re the odds on favorite. But just because you’re the favorite doesn’t mean you’re not motivated to get wins. If a 22-point win was a message to anybody, it was a message to the Thunder.
Deckard: I’d bet it was a little more basic than that. All the talk during All-Star Weekend revolved around “Durant’s the MVP” and “KD vs. King James”. I’m pretty sure Thursday night was LeBron establishing who’s still reigning MVP, which guy has all the trophies, and which name should come first in all that chatter. Not first among equals, either. First…period.
SlyPokerDog: In the long grind that is the NBA season there are no statement games. Statements are made in the playoffs. Hopefully the Blazers make a few of them this year.