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.