Hey, it’s NBA awards season, let’s get in on the fun. In order to keep from being overly negative right as the playoffs are starting (and after great back-to-back wins), we’re going to dole out the less-than-positive, yet super meaningful and important, honors today with the more uplifting categories following later in the week. All awards were chosen after a lengthy discussion between myself and SJ, in which we plugged a number of qualitative and quantitative values into a proven formula, one which inadvertently gave us all the answers to Lost. I’ll handle the awards, while SJ chimes in with some bad memories from the year. As you’re reading, keep telling yourself, “We won 50, we won 50″, preferably in Vin Scully’s voice.
The Sebastian Telfair award for Biggest Disappointment or, “Where you at, bro?”: Is there any other choice besides Rudy Fernandez? Martell Webster has been woefully inconsistent and Jerryd Bayless hasn’t exactly made the most of his minutes increase, but neither one of those two players had been hailed as a potential future All-Star or 6th Man by various national writers before the season. I thought Rudy was being a tad overrated by our fan base because of his highlights with Sergio Rodriguez last season, but still believed he was in for a marked improvement in his second season, as is common with many European players as they adjust.
Well not only did Rudy not improve, he fell off a reasonably high precipice. His PER fell from 15.5 to 13.1, True Shooting Percentage dropped 40 points, his Turnover Percentage rose and his WARP (Wins Over Replacement Player) went from 3.4 to 1.4, not to mention a +/- rating on the wrong side of 0 by most measurements. Some of his issues can be written up to dealing with a bad back since last season, but that still doesn’t account for the greatest disappointment of all: he hasn’t been a playmaker.
While Fernandez displayed some strong instincts in his rookie season for creating inside the arc — again, a little overrated thanks to the glitzy, yet impressive, passes — he has been effectively awful when in position to do anything off the dribble in the half court. As with most shooters, the Blazers have to run Rudy off down screens to get him space, and when the open three isn’t there, he hasn’t been able to consistently get by his defenders, often backing up and dribbling back and forth, wasting valuable time on the shot clock. In the times that he has gotten past the first level of defense, he’s turned to an abortion of a floater that doesn’t always hit iron. The mid-range pullup jumper has been more effective, but rarely seen.
Rudy still shows signs, like last Sunday against the Lakers when he got into the paint off an Aldridge pick, drew the help defense and tossed a lob for Aldridge to finish. Question is, where has that Rudy been all season? Glass-half empty question is: What does Rudy do in that situation if the double team doesn’t leave Aldridge open?
Bad Memory: Anything involving injuries and Blazer players over this entire season. No-brainer. Oden being carted off, bars becoming funeral parlors late on that Saturday night, Przybilla’s knee exploding. Heart-wrenching. We’ll lump the Oden picture saga in with this, just to tear the band-air off quicker. Not just because of the attention the photos got, but because every person I had ever entered a serious Oden/Durant debate with had the ultimate upper hand/comeback. I wonder how many sons walked in on their moms looking at the Oden pics, or even worse had their mothers ask them for help in finding them. Sadly, I know people who this happened to.
The Jarret Jack “Stepping on the baseline and hitting popcorn vendors with lobs” memorial award for Inspiring the Least Confidence: Much as it pains me to say, the “winner” here is Martell Webster. While Webster played notable strong defense through the first two months of the season — picking it up lately — and shot the lights out in January, at no point in the season has he been the guy you want making decisions on a fast break or dribbling at all in general. In fact, every time Martell puts the ball on the floor, you can imagine a pack of ninjas emerging from the stands and tossing shirukens at his hands and feet and the difference between fantasy and reality wouldn’t be all that great. Nate McMillan probably envisions similar scenes, judging from Webster’s fluctuating playing time.
His effort, athleticism, cutting ability and shot (when it’s on) keep this from being a complete disaster of a season for Webster, even if you only count the months after Nic Batum took back his starting spot. While he could certainly get his mind and talents on the same page in the future, it’s impossible for even his biggest backers (myself included) to claim he’s helped his stock this regular season.
Steve Blake gets an honorable mention here for his last few months in a Blazer uniform. Blake had some very fine moments in Portland, some of those being in important late-game situations, but from the ’09 playoffs on, his work on fast breaks, defense and in the clutch caused the lamentations of many.
Bad Memory: This. Seriously.
The Travis Outlaw “We like you, but…” award for Most Likely to be Traded: This is a tough one, especially with so many guys who could get right with a good playoff series. Portland’s only significant financial asset is Andre Miller’s $7.8 million option coming up next summer, but given how well he’s played, what Jerryd Bayless has shown as a backup point guard and the dearth of 1’s in this year’s draft, it’s tough to see Miller going anywhere unless it’s for a young point. And we know the other four starters aren’t going anywhere.
That leaves us with a trifecta of cheap and talented rookies: Bayless, Fernandez and Webster. Of that group, we’re going to cherry pick Rudy. Though it’s been an overblown media story, Fernandez has expressed dissatisfaction with his situation. We know that much. While we don’t have a lot of tangible evidence of this, Rudy might also think he’s a better player than he’s ever displayed in Portland, and surely there are those in his camp that would like to see him play in a faster offensive system with less of an emphasis on defense.
Of the three, Rudy’s stock is probably the highest, as he carries a strong international pedigree and there are probably a few GM’s that want to stick Rudy in the open court and see what he can do. Rudy’s cheap rookie contract makes him tough to deal for equal value without putting him in a package deal, but he still has the highest ration of value to expandability — for personal and on-court reasons — on the team.
Bad Memory: The stretch from February 19th to February 21st. Two home losses, both crushing in their own separate ways. It all started with a 20-point thrashing courtesy of the Boston Celtics, notable because this was right after the trade deadline and there was a small sense of optimism that got absolutely annihilated by the C’s. Then onto the 21st and a matchup with the Jazz where the Blazers saw a 64-39 lead with seven minutes left in the third quarter turn into a 93-89 overtime loss. If you were of age and a Blazer fan you were probably doing bad things to your liver.
The “Using your trading card as a form of identification when pulled over for speeding” award for “Come on, really?”: To Blazers management, for firing Tom Penn weeks before the playoffs and draft season and creating the media cluster**** that followed. This personnel move led to a number of nasty columns being written about Kevin Pritchard, questions about Pritchard’s future with the team, a joke of a press conference in which Pritchard looked defeated and Larry Miller said nothing and Paul Allen sending out a press release that read, “I support everyone who works for me”, which is like a Disney character giving you a hug and a photo-op at DisneyWorld.
Could the Blazers have completely avoided the bad P.R. from a Penn firing during the summer? No, but it would have been blunted at least. Worst of all, they hearkened back to the awful management during the Jail Blazer days and, depending on how you read them, broke their own 25-point pledge. (Honorable mention here goes to the Oden pics, again).
Bad Memory: The fact that we almost had Hedo Turkoglu instead of Andre Miller. Or that really weird, unnecessary and annoying “OMG Andre Miller is such a bad guy” phase that the fans had with him for a little bit. Probably the most overblown story I can remember.