Andre Miller – Unsung Hero

26 Mar

On John Canzano’s radio show the Bald-Faced Truth, he posed the question – Who is the unsung hero of the Blazers this year? Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller each had about 35 percent when I last tuned in. Canzano argued that Andre gets plenty of praise and isn’t really all that unsung. I rarely have the desire to call in, but I was seriously thinking about it Thursday.

Wesley Matthews was a great pickup for the Blazers.  With BRoy’s injuries, he has stepped into the starting lineup and more than held his own. But let’s be honest, the man gets a lot of press.  It’s well-deserved. He’s a great story:  undrafted rookie locks down Kobe Bryant in the playoffs, Portland steals him from division rival Utah, Portland overpays for a reserve guard, Portland gets a great deal when their starting guard goes down and Wes fills the void, starts in the Rookie-Soph game during All-Star weekend, tagged as one of three Blazer untouchables as the trade deadline approached. Great young player. And thoroughly recognized for it in the media and around the league.

There are several factors pointing to Andre not getting his propers. First off, which Blazer’s name was the most oft mentioned before the trade deadline? And how many people spoke out against the prospect of trading Andre? Very few. Second, how many number 24 jerseys do you see in the Rose Garden on game nights? Usually just the most authentic one available down on the court being worn by the guy making plays and involving himself in the game in every possible way. Third, what do you hear more often – how awesome Nate thinks Andre is or how Nate and Andre don’t get along? I have heard Nate go on the record during a post game interview recently that Andre is doing a good job running the team.  However, that is a very recent development reflected by more fourth quarter minutes going to Andre at the point instead of Patty or Roy. (or Rudy, an interesting lineup twist that the Blazers have been experimenting with since Wallace arrived )

All season long, when the Blazers have needed a basket and they’ve tried to get LA the ball and failed or LA’s shot hasn’t been dropping, the man that has stopped the 9-0 and 11-2 runs of the opposition has invariably been Andre. He head fakes and changes rhythm as he snakes through the lane, then uses his 6-3 body to create space and lay it in over the 7 footers. And his passing – he finds guys and makes it happen.  He ranks 11th in the league in assists this year. Not great, but when you consider that he plays about 4 minutes fewer than other starting PGs on a team that does not run pick and rolls or make strong cuts to the basket, he dishes more than his share of dimes. To clarify, the Blazers do cut to the rim – they lead the league in alley-oops and Andre is an excellent set-up man for the alley-oop. (Rudy and Camby are also excellent passers above the rim.) I like the alley-oops, but as I’ve said before, I wonder why we don’t see more Blazer pick and rolls.  Why oh why does Portland run so many pick-and-pops? LA sets the screen and then pops out on the switch when Andre has the ball in the corner. The switch becomes a double-team trap and Andre kicks the ball out to LA on the pop, who then shoots an 18 footer. I love LA’s touch, but just once I’d like to see him get it on the roll. Not sure if that’s LaMarcus or the Blazer’s O. LA is coachable, so I’m putting that on Nate. Either way it’s a missed opportunity.

There are three other things Andre does extremely well – rebounding, stopping fast breaks and playing the low post. He sneaks in from the weak side and grabs more than his fair share of boards, especially for a guy his size that’s not known for his hops. When the other team is on a fast break, Andre is better than anyone at stepping directly into the player leading the break, disrupting his path of travel without knocking the guy over and either making a steal or committing a non-shooting foul. He does this several times a game. As for posting guys up, Andre is excellent though we rarely see him put his back to the basket down low in the Blazer’s offense. I expected to see that a lot when he first arrived in Portland, especially back when LA was still shooting mostly fadeaways.

If you need anymore proof of Andre’s heroics, I refer you to last night’s defeat of the Spurs.  “But they didn’t have Duncan,” you’re probably saying. Duncan is great, but that team is built on and around their system and they’re still an excellent team without him. In some ways they’re less predictable and more difficult than usual. Anyway, last night’s game went back and forth. Both teams playing well in stretches, but neither able to put the game out of reach. Aldridge couldn’t get going for anything close to the 40 he put up on the Spurs last month. The man that kept the Blazers in it was Andre. His line: 21 points on 10-16 shooting, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 turnovers. He also played 37 minutes, about five more than his season average. His two most impressive plays of the game were in the Blazer’s 20-8 run to close the game. With less than a minute on the clock with the Blazers down 4, Andre stole the ball from Tony Parker as he was about to cross half-court and layed it in. Then with .9 seconds on the clock he lobbed an inbound pass to Batum at the rim for the win.

And the best part about it – he looked so happy.  Not the chest-thumping strutting and dancing that BRoy and so many other NBA players do these days.  Just a great big smile. I got to tell you, there would not be so many smiles in Rip City this season were in not for the cagey veteran that Patty Mills calls Cool Man Dre.


My 5 Favorite Blazers of All Time

17 Mar

Maurice Lucas

LaMarcus Aldridge

Billy Ray Bates

Rod Strickland

Jerome Kersey

Some of these guys may not have been the best basketball players that ever put on the red and black, but if you ever saw them play they were some of the most exciting by far.  And when it come to favorite players, it’s a very subjective thing.

Clyde Drexler was probably the best Blazer of all time.  I’m glad Clyde was a Blazer for a long time, but he never did it for me.  He threw down some beautiful dunks and played some great games against Michael Jordan.  It was clear they inspired each other.  But Clyde had an ugly, hard and flat jumper that made me wince every time he pulled up.  Clyde really lacked charisma when he was a Blazer, though he seems much more charming these days.  The guy on that team that never failed to surprise you with his athleticism and likability was Jerome Kersey.  He was dating a friend of mine back in the day.  I met him several times and he was always very present and personable.  On the court he was a monster.  He seemed to be everywhere at once, probably the best combination of an athlete with the highest basketball IQ the Blazers have ever had.  He was fearless, throwing his body all over the place.  I once saw him flip over someone’s back in a game against the Lakers and land on the crown of his head.  He jumped right up and kept playing.

Brandon Roy has been the face of the current Trailblazers.  But even before his injuries I always had more affinity for Aldridge.  BRoy has definitely been a player I’ve appreciated and I truly hope his best days aren’t behind him.  But I love the way Aldridge plays the game, always have even before he got stronger and developed his post game.  He runs the floor beautifully, especially for a seven-footer.  And his touch his so sweet, whether it’s a long J, his indefensible skyhook or when he expertly tips himself offensive rebounds off the glass and puts them back in.  His hook is so good, even Kareem complimented LA saying his was the first true skyhook he’s seen in the NBA for a long time.

Bill Walton was the man in 1977.  He was the hippie who loved John Wooden.  Master of the outlet pass.  The big redhead that loved The Grateful Dead and rode his bicycle to the Coliseum for home games.  Big Bill only played here a couple of years, though he will remain the Blazer who contributed the most to the franchise is the shortest span of time.  But the Blazer I loved most in the 70s was The Enforcer, Maurice Lucas.  I was pretty young when he played and don’t recall specific plays as much as his presence.  He was so impressive on the court – truly iconic.  Rip City misses him.

Clyde was still the man when Rod Strickland joined the Blazers in the early 90s.  Cliff Robinson, another all-time great Blazer, was coming up strong then and the two became friends. I was living back in Portland around then and used to see those two out with Harvey Grant all the time.  I saw them at hip-hop shows and they hung out in the bar at Harborside, where I worked at the time.  Strickland was one of those small guards like Kevin Johnson that took it to the rim no matter who was in the lane.  (Who could forget KJ dunking over Olajuwon?)  Rod was a North-South player.  There aren’t that many players of any size that play like that.  It’s the way I like to see a point guard run the show.

Last on my list of all-time favorite Blazers played with Blazer greats Jim Paxson and Mychal Thompson.  My grandmother loved Paxson.  But I loved Billy Ray Bates.  He was a troubled man and he’s not a player the organization likes to remember, but he was a fan favorite.  Only 6’4″, he could leap out of the gym.  On a game versus the 76ers, the Blazers were down by one with like 1.2 seconds on the clock.  Kermit Washington took the ball out of bounds after a timeout and lobbed a pass from half-court.  Billy Ray caught in and jammed it home.  He threw down a lot exciting dunks in his short time as number 12 for the Blazers.  He later went to prison for a long stretch.  The signs of his troubles were evident early on.  He was in and out of rehab.  He showed up late to games.  There was photo of him in the Oregonian one morning of him coming through the turnstiles at the Coliseum after the game had started the night before.  He was wearing a fur coat.  A man after my own heart.

Mar-cus Cam-by Is-n’t Start-ing

16 Mar

Camby has started every game that he’s been available for since joining the Blazers last year on March 12.  Until tonight.  He has some soreness in the knee on which he recently had surgery.  Uncle Cam, as he’s known to the young Blazers, has a reputation for not liking to play hurt.  That’s his right and honestly unless there’s a real need to be a warrior, like when the season is on the line in some way, I think it’s smart.  The thing with guaranteed contracts is they get paid either way, so you want them healthy but you also want them to want to play.  Definitely a case by case thing.

On a side note, I heard Mike and Mike interview Oden on their radio show last night.  There’s a man that sounds really frustrated with rehabilitation and watching games from the best seat in the house as he called it.  Except it’s not the best seat, he said, because he wants to be out on the floor.  It’s going to be at least the middle of next season before he plays in an NBA game.

So Gerald Wallace is getting the start tonight.  I’m anxious to see if he plays differently.  He says he likes to be one of the players that establishes the rhythm of the game rather than coming off the bench to a game that he hasn’t made his mark on.  I trust him on that.  I’ve always hated not playing.  Even though I’m waiting for nexts at the palyground rather than playing in the NBA.

Camby came off the bench for the Clippers behind Chris Kaman when he was healthy.  I don’t see why he’d have a problem coming in for LaMarcus when he’s not one hundred percent.  Camby hasn’t been hitting the boards as hard, he isn’t hitting that ugly but consistent eighteen footer from the top of the key and he isn’t lobbing it to LA for dunks.  Watching the game the other night, seeing GWallace snatch board after board, I was wondering if Camby was pissed or just not feeling right. I think he’s legitimately hurting.

It’s been almost a year since the game that Blazer fans chanted his name for putting up 30 and pulling down 13 against the Thunder.  Will we ever see another night from Uncle Cam like that?

LA Hasn’t Scored Over 30 Since BRoy’s Return

13 Mar

Or since Gerald Wallace came over from Charlotte.  I have to admit that I like to see my favorite players put up gaudy numbers.  I was thrilled when Aldridge was putting up thirty-plus in a bunch of games.  But he hasn’t done so since Brandon has been back.  Why not?  BRoy is only playing twenty minutes a game and he’s mostly playing within the new Blazer offensive sets. GWallace is a hustle player that isn’t taking significant touches away from anybody.  No, it’s not either of those guys, but I think I know why LA isn’t putting up the same numbers.

One, teams are adjusting and double-teaming him more effectively.  He’s passing out of the double-teams much better than he did last season.  But one thing he hasn’t been doing is making a strong, quick strike when he receives the ball in the low post.  He hesitates and waits to see if the double-team is coming.  I like seeing him slash quickly across the key and then use his long arms and soft hands to either launch a sky hook or go under the defenders’ arms and lay it in.

Two, he’s getting tired from all the minutes of banging.  I think Nate needs to sit him sooner in the first and third quarters.  He’s second in the league in minutes played at 40/game. And leads the league in minutes for post players, averaging three minutes/game more than Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

Three, the Blazers are doing a terrible job lately of spreading the floor.  He’s got no room to work and nobody to kick it out to that is making the opponent pay for sagging off the three-point shooters.  The last two games have been horrible from behind the arc.  I’ve been groaning at almost every shot.

Four, the pretty alley-oop lob has been scouted and almost entirely taken away.  It still happens once or twice per game, but it’s not as pretty now that teams are defending it better.

Five, LaMarcus is showing himself to be a great NBA player that is only going to get better.  However, Nate has to be better at creating an offense in which he can thrive.  LA moves so well with and without the ball; I wonder why the only sets he gets the ball in are either pick and pops or down in the post.  I would love to see more high pick and rolls for LaMarcus.  I know Andre and LA could run some sweet pick and rolls reminiscent of Nash-Stoudemire and Stockton-Malone.

The Mavericks are coming to town on Tuesday.  LA started his big run of 30+ games with 35 against the Mavs on Dec 15.  Roy had a terrible game and the Blazers finally admitted he was hurting after that one.  I really want to see Aldridge come out strong Tuesday and get back on track to finish in the top ten scorers this season.


11 Mar

Really, these guys are just kids having some fun.  But I don’t like it.  I don’t like anything to do with USC football.  And I don’t like Blake Griffin.  Sure he’s got skills.  But he looks like some sort of overgrown, kinky-haired mutant version of Dennis the Menace.  I just don’t like the dude.  Maybe it’s sour grapes that he made the All-Star team over my man LaMarcus.  Especially when going head-to-head this season it’s kind of been a few games of ‘Where’s Blake-o?”.  Maybe because unlike other slam dunk champs MJ, DHoward, JRich, Nate Robinson – the guy has zero charisma.

I know it’s not his fault that he’s from Oklahoma.  He probably doesn’t know that if you’re going to bite an icon, you gotta bring it.  If he would asked me, I would have told him:  “Don’t even try it.  Mars Blackmon is off-limits to you.”

SVG vs. David Stern

11 Mar

Who would know by looking at the little gray-haired business man that he has balls the size of Gibraltar?  Stan Van Gundy said this earlier this week, “I certainly can’t have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we’ve seen in this world lately, don’t really tolerate other people’s opinion or free speech or anything. So I’m not really allowed to have an opinion. So it’s up to him. … He decides and he likes the system he has.”

Which world leaders do you think SVG has in mind?  Qadaffi?  Mubarak?  Scott Walker?  Certainly not Obama; sadly nobody listens to him anymore.

The Commissioner is clearly pissed.  First he said he had nothing to say and the league would deal with the Magic organization.  Then he busted out with this, “It didn’t bother me personally. I see somebody whose team isn’t performing, whose star player was suspended, who seems to be fraying …”

Stern said it makes him sad, but I don’t hear a lot of empathy. I hear passive-aggression.  But maybe I’m just projecting.


7 Mar

I spent much of yesterday work working on my computer and simultaneously monitoring my @the6thfan twitter account.  There was a lot of action as many followed the second London game between the Nets and the Raptors.  Some of it was interesting.  I like @jeskeets a Toronto correspondent that was at the game.  He’s funny but not as esoteric as some of the other tweeters like @freedarko.  I don’t even know what that cat is talking about half the time.  And then there are some very simplistic tweeters out there.

I follow Magic Johnson.  I loved Magic as a kid.  So much so that I suspended my Laker hate for several years and did the unthinkable and supported both the Blazers and the Lakers.  I always had much love for Kareem, even though he ignored me and some friends that were waiting outside the (Memorial) Coliseum by the Laker bus after a Blazer game one night in 1980.  And I loved Jamaal Wilkes.  I had a poster of him in my room.  I also had a poster of Magic that I got at B&R.  B&R was a legendary sneaker emporium on NE Alberta.  It was a few blocks from house, which was the hood back then.  Now the building where B&R was located is some sort of hipster nonsense straight outta Portlandia.  The poster was a Converse promo, not quite full size and it showed Magic shooting this one-handed turn around J from the elbow.  (I did a search for it, but nothing came up.)  I used to practice that shot all the time in the seventh grade whenever I was by myself.  Anyway.  Loved Magic.  Loved him, loved him, loved him like Mars Blackmon loved MJ.  (by the way, I just copped some very sweet 40 Acres and a Mule Air Jordans at the Nike outlet for my five-year old daughter.  She calls them her Jordans. Swoon.)  So I loved Magic.  But I got to say his tweets are BORING.  And, not surprisingly, very Laker-centric.  Which I can’t abide in the same ways that I did during the Showtime era.

So I’m on twitter doing my thing in 140 or less.  It’s cool.  I’m not going to be on there quite as much as yesterday most days.  I went to my first Blazer game since I started @the6thfan.  Thought I might do some tweets, but I was too into the game and hanging with my friend.  Good game though.  Blazers killed the Bobcats.  Dante Cunningham checked into the game after a DNP-CD the night before in LA.  He got a big hand and many stood up.  Joel Pryzbilla checked in a few minutes later to a standing O.  Ironically Joel was the player featured on the ticket to last night night’s game.  I read this morning that he’ll remember that for the rest of his life.  He went to the line and I saw the fans around Free Throw Guy tell him to take it easy on the Vanilla Gorilla.  The fans cheered when he hit the first one.  Then we gave him another standing O when he fouled out.  Joel was a good Blazer.  Saw him at a fan appreciation event a few weeks ago.  He posed with my son for a photo.  It’s cute.  I told him thanks and he just looked at me in this weird deer in the headlights way.  Kind of spooked me.

One last thing about the tweeting.  It’s easy to get caught up in echoing the same things everyone else is saying.  I try to express what my true interests are.  Like yesterday I was into tracking the ex-Blazers in the London games.  JBayless played a very solid game for Toronto.  And Outlaw definitely was clutch for New Jersey.  So far nobody had picked up on my tweets, but I’m trusting that if I stay within myself it will come.  “Keep the faith baby” – Lew Alcindor.  Is it disrespectful to attribute the quote to the name he had when he said that?  I don’t want to disrespect Señor Skyhook.