mikebarrett

Apr 17

The Trail Blazers are right in the middle of this Western Conference playoff race, but not in the way they had hoped.  They've now got four games left this season, and all will be against team's battling to get into the postseason, or fighting for playoff positioning.  
In some ways it's lousy timing, given the Trail Blazers are using these final games to discover what they have, and what they want going into the future.

Portland is throwing units on the floor that have had very little experience together, and are trying to get a look at individual ability at the same time.  I suppose the best way to do that is toss them into difficult circumstances and see who floats and who does not.  Playing teams desperate for victories, in this heated playoff race, will likely lead to some lopsided final scores, but may give the Blazers some answer they need moving forward.

For instance, Monday night in Phoenix the Trail Blazers sat Raymond Felton last night so they could get a good look at Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith.  Measuring them against a former MVP like Steve Nash was probably asking a little too much, but seeing how they responded to the situation was also a good test.

Flynn and Smith both got an up-close look at one of the best point guards to ever play in this league, in a game he badly wanted to win.  No one leads, and effects a game, from that position, like Nash.  He's simply the best at making those around him better, and probably still has two or three good years left in him.  Of course, he's a free agent this summer and Portland could give him a chase.

Flynn ended up with just four points, but did a decent job running the offense.  He had six assists and just two turnovers in his 24 minutes.  Smith, who is looking like more of a combo guard, ended with 14 points, five assists, and three rebounds.

Then, there's Luke Babbitt.  He got the start in place of Nicolas Batum, and ended up playing most of the game at the small-forward spot.  Most of his minutes this season have come as a stretch four.  Luke played a career-high 39 minutes, and posted a career-high 18 points and five rebounds.  Clearly, he's going to be a good NBA three-point shooter, but is trying to show that he can be more than just a one-dimensional player.  Babbitt hit four of his nine three-point attempts, but also grabbed five rebounds.  That's a decent amount, but at 6-9, should concentrate on being better in that category.  It was another step in the right direction for Luke, at the very least.

Wesley Matthews backed up his 31-point game at Sacramento, with 19 points against the Suns. We know what Wesley is by now, so there was really no mystery here.  He always plays hard, plays through injury and tired legs, and is likely a part of this team's future moving forward.

J.J. Hickson poses an interesting opportunity for the Trail Blazers.  They'll qualify him on June 30th, and then will be in a position to match any offer he gets.  It's a good free-agent market, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of offers he gets.  Obviously, because of his role with this team right now, his stock is on the rise.  For the right price, he could be a very nice backup power forward in the future for the Blazers, and he's been very vocal about wanting to stay a Trail Blazer.

Hasheem Thabeet is another interesting case.  He's a former number-two pick in the draft, but has yet to get consistent minutes in the NBA.  He is the biggest man in the league, at 7-3, 265, but doesn't move particularly well.  This was evident in the game against the Suns.  He's shown flashes of active play, but still needs a lot of work.  His size alone will keep him in this league, but finding the right situation, will likely still be a challenge for him.

With their win over the Blazers, the Suns got themselves back into the eighth spot in the west. Going into the game we knew it'd be a difficult spot for this particular group of Trail Blazers. They fought most of the night, but were overwhelmed by the inspired Suns in the second half.  

As far as the opponent goes, in terms of facing a team that's desperate for a win, nothing will change in these next few games.  Utah put together an amazing three-overtime win over Dallas on Monday, and the Jazz need to win again on Wednesday at the Rose Garden.  Then, it's a brutal three-game trip to end the season, at Memphis, San Antonio, and Utah.

The Blazers are in a position to effect the race, but that's probably a secondary goal at this point. It's a teaching opportunity, and a chance for them to evaluate and decide what pieces they want going forward.

11 Comments

  1. Hey Mike great to read you blog as usual. I thought we played an exceptional game last night with our new starting five.
    Of course I had to watch the Phoenix announcers and the Phoenix game plan was to get way ahead of the Blazers then take Steve out to rest him. but every time they tried that the Blazers would get right back in the game, but on a 2nd night of a B2B we kind of ran out of gas and and our defense got worst. Nevertheless, we stayed in the fight. And if you think about it, as Sarah H said on RipCity Update, Our Bench didn't get beat as bad as our starters did down there in the first game.

    I have to miss Courtside tonight for it is the last night of my bowling league. But will get to watch the re-run tomorrow.

    Jamal Crawford auditioning for a job while we were playing the Suns is really bad. But, there are many fans that think badly of his play already. To bad he is that kind of a professional
    I feel Nolan, considering that he never had summer camp, training camp or a chance to learn did OK. I like Jonny, but don't know if we will have room for him. JJ is a keeper for sure, unless he gets an out of this world offer. Chad has said that Thabeet goes on is a project player, and I believe that Buck Williams could do something with his timing and moves. he shoots the free throws great so that puts him a step ahead of many centers. I would sure keep him around with Joel to give us a deep bench for our Centers.

    Who do you think will be back of the players we have?
    I am looking at Nolan, Jonny, E Williams, Wesley, Nic, Babbitt, JJ, LMA, Joel, and Thabeet Maybe Thomas if his contract runs past next year or he is not drawing Social sucurity

    by Hg on 4/17/2012 2:44 PM
  2. The Blazer pups need to work on their defensive spacing and rotations. They seemed to be confused at times and that led to a lot of layins and wide open shots. I will be interesting to see how they can improve in the next 4 games now that they have been given a chance.

    by Ancientone on 4/17/2012 3:03 PM
  3. We used to call this being thrown in at the deep end of the pool.

    by Ancientone on 4/17/2012 3:04 PM
  4. Ancientone: I was thrown there.

    by Hg on 4/17/2012 3:08 PM
  5. Babbitt is an interesting piece. Amazing range. Especially for his size. Scouting always catches up with new talent. The word is out he can shoot. He has already made adjustments to that. He has shown he can put the ball on the floor and get inside the run out. The next thing the scouts will note is he goes strong to his left. How he reacts to it will be interesting to watch. I get the feeling he has more game than a deep threat. I isolate on him while watching the game. He is getting himself in the trenches a little more every game. Babbitt has benefited the most of any Blazer in this upside down season. Seizing the moment. I like it.
    GO BLAZERS!!

    by Divotking on 4/17/2012 5:14 PM
  6. I haven't been able to watch much of the games these past few weeks, but that's not because I've lost interest.

    I have been following box scores and contract info and rumors, and...maybe more importantly draft prospects and free agent options. Allow me this opportunity to play a little fantasy basketball, while still trying to look at realistc options as opposed to true "fantasy" options:

    1. Hire a GM (Hearing rumors about Mitch Kupchak from the Lakers)
    2. Re-sign Coach Canales as true head coach. Also re-sign Nic Batum, Johny Flynn, JJ Hickson & Joel Pryzbilla.
    3. Draft Options:
    a. Kendall Marshall--PG--North Carolina--similar playstyle to Andre Miller
    b. Andre Drummond--PF/C--UConn--Very athletic shot blocker/rebounder, He'll likely be taken very early, so it's a long shot, but if he is available, we definitely want to grab him, I think. Unfortunately the draft looks pretty thin on PF/C players unless we really want some big question marks or are willing to wait a few years for them bulk up.

    Free Agents worth trying to get--
    Point Guards:
    Goran Dragic--Houston--perfect fit both on paper and culturally
    Jarryd Bayless--Toronto--Former Blazer I was sad to see go in a trade. Showed excellent potential, just needed better coaching.
    Andre Miller--Yep, he's available again, but...he's another year older and his play this season showed it, I think.
    Center--
    Chris Kaman--he's going to be highly sought after, but another great fit both on-paper and culture-wise here.
    Spencer Hawes--Everything we need in a center, already developed. Posting great numbers already, yet due for a break-out season. Great fit culturally as well.

    Those are my picks. Curious to see what others think.

    by soulseeker on 4/19/2012 1:01 PM
  7. @Divotking

    I agree with your assessment on Babbit. You failed to mention his rather large down-side though. He's a defensive liability. I lost count of how many times he was out of position and/or just looked entirely lost on the defensive end. He may over come that with more playing time, or he may not.

    by soulseeker on 4/19/2012 1:18 PM
  8. @soulseeker: i have to disagree regarding Luke's defense. granted, he's not at the same caliber as Nicolas, but labeling him a defensive liability is far from true. for every time his man scores, there are at least two times he stops them. it's kind of a matter of watching him for several series in a row. he will get better on defense and rebounding (he's showing some promise at that too). i'm pleased with the way he's responded since he's been getting consistent minutes. i'd say he's been impressive in the minutes he's gotten.

    @Divotking: It's been amazing that in just 20 games, Luke has been adding new areas to his game. his driving, pull-up jumpers and some other moves have very much impressed me. if he really continues to develop his own shot-finding-ability, then the scouting won't help our opponents. they'll have to stay honest to both of his outside and inside games.

    @ancientone: Kaleb is playing guys who have never been on the court with each other in their lives. i agree they need to work on their defensive spacing and rotaitons, but i do believe that would come over time.

    @Hg: guys like Nolan, Luke and even Jonny are getting a chance to show what they can do. i''ve been impressed with Nolan in his last two games. being thrown into these extra minutes versus veterans who are playing for a post-season spot can't be easy, but it looks like he's intent on taking the bull by the horns. Ray is at a family funeral so he won't play saturday, and there's a possibility we'll rest him for the last two games. That should give both Nolan and Jonny some run. we should get a good look at them both over the next three games. as far as Luke is concerned, read my comments to soulseeker and Divotking!

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 4/19/2012 3:11 PM
  9. @Kassandra: Luke has rapidly improved his spacing, blocking out and rebounding since he's had time on the floor. He's always hustled. It will be interesting to see if Nolan and Jonny can improve their defense as much with time on the floor.

    by Ancientone on 4/19/2012 6:44 PM
  10. I'm with those who think Luke Babbitt still has an upside. Certainly enough of one to keep him around another year and give him regular minutes in the rotation. He can be clumsy at times but I think that will go away with more real-game experience. More a matter of confidence in his moves than anything else, and also that the game still comes at him too fast. More experience will cure that too.

    I still maintain that SG is Nic Batum's best position and if Luke could turn into an everyday SF, that would simplify things greatly. Batum's a better ball handler and passer and having Babbitt in the corner makes more sense to me than sticking Nic there.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 4/20/2012 4:45 AM
  11. Don, I agree with your assessment of Babbitt, in fact I think it is too early to close the book on Nolan as he is still pretty raw. With Nate not playing the young players, we don't really know what we have yet. These next three games will tell us a lot, but even then the biggest problem I see with our make shift rotation players as of now, is time and grade. OK, experience and leadership LOL. That with team synergy through timing.
    I also think Jonny can help this team a bunch with his court vision and looking for the open man.
    We also don't know for sure about E Williams, he showed a lot of promise in the little minutes he got with Nate, could you imagine what he could bring now with some extra burn? therefore I am holding out on Batum at the 2 for right now. I think you will see more improvement with Wesley next year also, if we have a quality PG. Wesley is always working to improve what he does and like LMA, always adding to his game. His new posting up game will add wonders to his game all by itself, He is still not great at going with his left hand, but I can see the improvement already.
    I am not ready to give up on all our current players as most of them just need more court time to see what we have. Most of them for now is bench players that could easily fit into the rotation to give us depth.

    by Hg on 4/20/2012 5:13 AM
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