It's high time we start talking about this guy, Mr. Travis Outlaw. Dave over at Blaz..."/> It's high time we start talking about this guy, Mr. Travis Outlaw. Dave over at Blaz..."/>

Big Bad Blazer Trout(law)


It’s high time we start talking about this guy, Mr. Travis Outlaw. Dave over at Blazersedge has started calling him by the nickname Trout, and, for the time being, it works for me.

When Travis, the man with the mysterious ESPN profile, entered this offseason as a free agent, he wasn’t a huge topic among Blazer fans who were still living off Oden-mania, but I remember thinking how important it was to get him signed. Forget about picking up Steve Blake, we couldn’t let another young guy go and pull any variation of a Jermaine O’Neal on Portland. Outlaw had always seemed a little lost in the clouds, but over the years you could see his jumper becoming tighter and more consistent, and coupled with his ridiculous/insane/phenomenal athleticism (at the age of 23), there was little reason not to take a chance. The only reason we shouldn’t have signed him was if he asked for some stupid $30-million contract.

But he didn’t ask for the crazy contract, and we got a relative steal at $14-million over 4 years. Part of the reason I think he took so little was, aside from really not being a good player over his first contract, Travis was still young and he didn’t really know anyplace else. You know those college freshman that have trouble adjusting without their parents around and end up having some terrible drunken nights, Travis always seemed like one of those; a kid having trouble adjusting on his own. Now it looks like he is on his way to becoming a man.

When Trout played his first two years, he wasn’t much of anything, much less a factor. He would drift, throw down the occasional garbage-time dunk, block the occasional shot, but all positives would be quickly erased by terrible and unforgivable (for Coach Cheeks) lapses on defense. Then he added the pull up, slightly-fading jumper that rewarded him with larger chunks of playing time of the previous two seasons. But the shabby defense continued, with the fadeaway going on two-game streaks followed by ten-game disappearances.

Now, his scoring is up to 11.0 per game, up from 9.6, the rebounds up to 5.1 from 3.2, and the field-goal percentage at a steady (and rising) .449 after reaching 20 points three times in the last five games. So what’s different? His shot is falling, for starters, but he’s also taking what the defense gives him, taking the extra dribble to get the better shot or finish at the rim. He’s also less tentative with his jumper, stopping, popping and following through with little hesitation, whereas before he would hang at the top of his jump for half a second more.

Outlaw could still stand to drive more, considering he can jump over just about anyone, but his aggressiveness has translated into more trips to the line (14-16 against Milwaukee tonight), clutch shots (the Memphis game-winner) and monster dunks (sorry Daequan cook). What does all that add up to? Confidence. As Steve said that I said, he’s got enough confidence in the tank to keep running for at least a month — and it’s growing.

In the NBA especially, confidence can turn you into a freight train, or it can be the piano falling on your head. Few Blazers have ever needed confidence more than Travis, except the guy Trout will probably supplant in the starting lineup soon, Martell Webster. Webster seems to be going through the same third and fourth-year streaks that Travis was. Blazer fans can only hope that the trends of the Trout continue upward, and that Webster follows in turn within the next couple years.

Outlaw’s streakiness will continue, but he deserves his due for the current run — we could be seeing the young 18-year old kid finally coming into his own. If he is, you won’t want to miss it.