What's Up With Mr. Webster?

You can’t help but sense a bit of relative giddyness from Blazer Nation as of late. I mean, why not feel good? Portland is coming off a successful road trip where they won 4 of 5 games. Brandon Roy’s hamstring has been silent, Marcus Camby’s ankle is OK and Rudy Fernandez has shown flashes of life. The one thing that is putting a big ol’ grilled cheese sandwich smile on Blazer fans faces has been the recent play of Nic Batum. The Frenchie has shown some serious all-around game, validating those who vouched for him to be inserted back into the starting lineup immediately upon return from injury. The career game at Minnesota was followed up by another gem in Memphis. But Batum’s emergence, along with some minutes watching, begs the question: What’s up with Martell Webster?

No matter how you want to slice it, Martell Webster is caught in a good old fashioned funk right now. His funk is so funky Bootsy Collins would be proud…and slightly disgusted. Webster came out of the All-Star Break with a smoking performance against the Clippers. 28 points, 7-for-11 from behind the arc, 8-for-17 from the field. It seemed to ease the tensions of the Batum/Webster debate for a second. And then the bottom fell out, the slump hit and Webster found himself coming off the bench. In the seven games since dominating the Clippers, Webster has totaled 23 points and has only made seven field goals period. I’ll give you a second to let that soak in because I definitely let out a “Damn” when I saw that. Now, Webster has slumped before so we could give him the benefit of the doubt. Or we could sit and try and rack our brains and try to figure out why. I think the latter option is way more fun, also in part because anytime I can post about Martell Webster and poke fun at Coup’s super man crush I will take it.

It’s hard to ignore that the emergence of Batum and the fall of Webster may be more than just a coincidence. One thought that comes to my mind is the fact that the two have never had to truly deal with battling for time with one other. Webster was hurt all year last year which allowed Batum to take the spot. Batum was hurt the majority of this year which allowed Webster to take the spot. I’ll admit I was one of those people who disagreed with those who thought Batum should just get the starting spot back when he came back in late January. Why? A couple reasons. Unless he is a superstar, I’ve always been a fan of easing guys back into play. Another factor? At the time, Martell Webster was playing the best basketball of his career. For the month of January, Webster averaged 15 points a game (his career high for a year was 10), five rebounds, and was shooting 42.5% from the field and 38.9% from behind the arc. And not only was he delivering the goods statistically, he was consistently showing up game in and game out. If you don’t know why I bolded and italicized that word, let me put it this way: Consistency and Martell Webster have gone about as good together as the majority of couples from The Bachelor.

Basketball 101 says you don’t just yank a player playing the best hoops of his career like that. It’s silly, how on earth do you explain that? Here is a far reaching example, let’s say you’re in an inconsistent relationship with your significant other. All of a sudden she stops doing all the things you had been complaining about, whatever little things that drove you crazy are now gone. You’re…*gasp*…happy. You’re not just gonna dump her right away are you? Even if the other option may make more sense, or fit better, if things are going well you’re going to stick with it right? That’s how I imagine why Nate stuck with Martell: it was finally working out the way he imagined. Also, one has to consider the confidence issues surrounding Webster. He’s shown with confidence and aggression, he can get the job done. Without those he can sometimes…well he’ll float and disappear most of the time.  I wondered how the two could co-exist and how Nate would integrate Batum in. I figured after the All-Star Break that Batum would return…I just didn’t know the damage it would have on Webster.

The one thing we have learned over the past couple years is what we have as a team. We learned that Steve Blake was the answer over Sergio Rodriguez and Jarrett Jack. We learned that his game complimented Brandon Roy. And then we learned that we could only go so far with Blake as the starting PG. We learned that Jerryd Bayless CAN give us minutes. Enter Andre Miller. Over the past few years, we learned that Travis Outlaw has a lot of talent. Then we learned that no matter how well it worked in video games or the 4th quarter, Travis Outlaw just couldn’t start for the Portland Trail Blazers. Enter Nic Batum. We learned that we could move on without Travis. All that brings me to this question: Are we learning something new about Martell Webster? Not the confidence or aggression issues or the disappearing acts. Are we learning that he’s the type of guy who absolutely needs a ton of minutes to really produce. In that career-best month of January, Webster averaged 35.1 minutes a game.

The Blazers are 4-2 in games that Batum has started. In those 6 games, Webster has averaged 3.3 points a game and has shot 30% from the field (6-for-24). Look at the difference between Webster’s numbers this season as a starter and coming off the bench.

  • In 49 games as a starter Webster averaged 11.9 points a game, 4.1 rebounds, averaged 9.8 field goal attempts a game, shot 41.8% from the field and 39.2% from the three point line. He also averaged 30 minutes a game.
  • In 14 games off the bench Webster has averaged 4.4 points a game, 1.8 rebounds, 4.4 field goal attempts a game, 27.85% from the field and 21.9% from the three point line. Off the bench he’s averaged 14 minutes a game.

Also check this out. As far as scoring goes, the more he plays the better he scores.

  • In, 24 games in which Webster has played less than 25 minutes he has only scored in double digits once. February the 9th vs. Charlotte, scoring 10 points in 23 minutes. In those games he’s averaging 3.5 points a game.
  • In the 25 games that Webster played 30 or more minutes, he reached double figures in 22 of those games. There were 8 games that fell in between the 25-30 minute range and scored in double figures 5 times. In the 6 games he played 40+ minutes he reached double digits in all of them and scored 20+ in 4 of those 6.

The only problem with Martell Webster needing a ton of minutes to really produce are the following. There is a complete logjam at the perimeter position. Roy is a superstar numero uno. Then there is the logjam of Rudy/Batum/Bayless and Webster on the perimeter. There is not really anywhere for Webster to soak up more minutes other than at the backup three in a traditional lineup. Also, Batum should be the starter. He’s the better fit for the team, he started all of last year, he’s the best perimeter defender. Overall he has shown he can be a more complete basketball player than Webster. Martell has to deal with that. From all accounts it seems as if he is taking it well and continuing to buy in, stay plugged in and remain a great team player. On the court he’s just not really producing. And now with limited minutes and limited chances, one has to wonder if he will start pressing the issue a little bit. Jason Quick did a story on how Martell has been staying positive and it had one little passage that raised my antennas like a dog when they think they hear a knock.

“It’s hard. I’m not going to say it isn’t,’’ Webster said Friday before the Bulls game. “I just have to deal with it. I’m not necessarily happy with the situation –  I’m not – you just have to handle it. It’s the game. My thing is my mind frame. Whenever I do get back, or have the chance to take advantage of something, I’m going to try my hardest not to give it back.’’

The most important thing about Martell Webster is making sure his head is on right. Obviously, Nate and Co. need to find a way for him to produce on the court. He’s talented enough that I’m not pressing the panic button yet. If his head is not on right, I fear he may never come back all the way. We imagine him being able to come off the bench and provide scoring and energy on defense. However, that has not quite worked. This is where that above passage worries me. Martell has got to embrace the new role and figure out how to make it work. I know he’s happy for Batum and the team, but he’s not making it work for him. Instead of focusing on trying to get his starting job back he just needs to focus on playing well with what he has. I’d rather he be trying to do the latter, because if he just does that everything will work out in the end.

Not only that, but, while it makes it easier for fans to float Webster in trade rumors when he’s not playing well, his value takes a big hit when he’s either not playing or not playing well. However you feel about his long-term value or general talent relative to the team, it’s in everyone’s best interest for Webster to be effective on the court, even if that means Nate goes with the hot hand and Batum has to sit every so often.

Hopefully it comes sooner than later because if Portland wants to make a run to the playoffs and make some noise while there, Martell Webster has to give them something. Outlaw is gone and Webster has to provide some scoring (along with Rudy) to replace that.  7 field goals in 7 games just is not going to do anyone any good. It’s close to put up or shut up time.

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