Martell Webster will be back before too long, and with him returns a number of questions. But one trumps the rest:
Who gets the minutes at small forward?
I got into this a little bit today at HOOPSWORLD touching on the changes Portland will go through once Martell is ready to play – which doesn’t seem too far away from the sound of it. Basically there are four factors involving how the Blazers will adjust to Webster’s return….
The Nicolas Batum Factor: This kid can play and we’ve all seen how his game has changed from summer league to now during the regular season. I’ll be the first to admit, Batum didn’t show me much in Las Vegas. But these last sixteen games (and counting), Batum is easily the “feel good story” of the Blazers season thus far and I am constantly in awe at what he can do on both ends of the floor. I’ll spare you the highlight reel discussion about his ability to get into the paint, play defense, run the floor, shoot the three and simply scrap for a loose ball. It doesn’t matter how Nate McMillan does it. He just has to find time for this kid to play. Will that mean continuing to start?
The Channing Frye Factor: No one is going to confuse Channing with having a power game in the paint. Even at 6-11, that’s not his style. Never has been. Hitting a fifteen foot jumper each time out is. He plays the pick-and-pop perfectly and it’s no wonder assistant coach Monty Williams told me Frye is one of the best shooting big men in the game today. Channing’s extending that range to include the deep three and it came to life against Miami on Wednesday (2-3). Yes, Frye’s rebounding and pure aggressiveness needs to improve, but it’s hard to complain when he’s hitting that outside shot. He’ll simply have to learn to produce the same (or more) with less time.
The Travis Outlaw Factor: Outlaw isn’t a starter and that’s not a bad thing. He is at home in the second unit, and while the small forward spot has his name written all over it, watching him play the four should be an adventure. That appears McMillan’s plan. Listed at 6-9 and a generous 207 lbs., Travis isn’t going to muscle anyone around and his defense is suspect. But with his length and energy, he’ll give guys fits. We saw it last year in some cases – against Denver’s Kenyon Martin comes to mind – and we will see how revisiting Travis at power forward works out. The minutes will be there.
The Nate McMillan Factor: Nate’s going to play the match-up game in juggling Webster, Batum, Outlaw and Frye. Without naming names, he’s already said as much. He’s done that so far this year with rotating Batum and Outlaw out for each other – although Travis has received more run than Nicolas. Just like anything else this season though – adjusting to life without Martell and even Greg Oden for six games for example – McMillan’s planning to work with what he has. Right now, he has a whole lot of guys he could plug in at various spots at any given time and that will only increase once Webster gets back. Not a bad problem for any coach to have.
pic via: daylife