The Portland Trail Blazers wanted to bring Joel Przybilla back into the fold, in part, because they knew what they were going to get. Tough guy, big body, post defense, hard fouls, veteran leadership and the like.
But Joel Przybilla 2.0 has a few new feature sets. Granted, it's the paint-clogging and screen-setting that makes Przybilla an important piece of a team fighting to get back into the playoff race, but he's consciously trying to expand his repertoire, something you may have noticed since he was inserted into the starting lineup before the victory against the Bulls in Chicago. For the first time, at least with any kind of consistency, Przybilla is trying to put the ball on the floor.
"I figure everybody else is," said Przybilla when asked about his dribble drive. "I might was well do it myself. Buck (Williams) keeps on telling me (to do it). We work on it every day, so I'm going to try it. Been working at it, me and Buck, so I figure why not?"
It's probably necessary to point out that Przybilla's forays into ball handling consist of little more than one or two dribbles taken toward the basket at a time, but it's a big step for a player who does most of his work without the ball in his hands.
Defenses tend to sag off of Joel when he's anywhere outside of the restricted area, which results in an easy double team when LaMarcus Aldridge is on the block or elbow. But if Przybilla is able to make his man defend him anywhere above the restricted area, even momentarily, it makes doubling Aldridge much more difficult. And in order to make the defense think twice before helping, you have to be a threat. In Przybilla's case, that means being willing to take a few dribbles in before putting up a shot. In that past, that wasn't really an option, but in his second go-round in Portland, he's giving it a try.
"I've got to work on it to help this team win," said Przybilla. "If (opposing) team's are giving it to me I've got to try and take advantage of it. Even if it's not scoring, getting to the hoop, guys collapse, kick it out for a shot. Making the right play with the ball."
Joel Przybilla driving and kicking. Those Mayans were really on to something.
But the real change in Przybilla is that he seems to be having a good time out on the court. Not that he wasn't necessarily enjoying himself in his first stint as a Trail Blazer, but I've seen Joel smile more in the last month than I did during his first seven season in Portland. And as always, Przybilla credits his teammates for his improved mood.
"I think a lot of it is that I see other guys having fun," said Przybilla. "We're out there playing hard, enjoying it and you can tell and we're feeding off each other. Everyone can speak their mind to each other, no one is sensitive. This is a group where you want to win. The communication with the guys have been great the past couple games."
It's hard to tell how long the kinder, gentler Przybilla will last if the team can't start stringing together wins, but he says it's not so much about the final result as it is the effort.
"Guys just want to go out there and win and we're enjoying each other, and it shows," said Przybilla. "In the Chicago game we won, but even though we lost against Oklahoma City you could see that guys played hard and we were having fun out there. That's all this organization asks for and that's all the fans ask for. Granted, we want to win, but if we play the right way and a team happens to have our number that night, we'll go home, come to work the next day and try to get better."
But to those of you who prefer the red-faced, finger-pointing Joel Przybilla over the smiling, back-slapping version we've seen on occasion this season, fear not. The old Joel you've come to know and love is only a motion away.
"I'm trying to take things not as serious," said Przybilla. "Trying to go out there, continue to play hard, do the right things and just have fun with it… I feel in a good mood, but maybe someone elbows me in the back and puts me in a bad mood. You never know."