Is Steve Blake better suited to start for the Blazers than Jerryd Bayless?

It has become an article of faith among many Blazer fans that Jerryd Bayless will unseat the much-maligned Steve Blake from the starting point Guard position. The sterling play, dazzling moves, and potent scoring ability of Bayless will turn the starting 5 into an unstoppable machine that will blow opponents out of game after game as the Blazers steamroll their way through the League. There are several problems with this scenario.

First off, regardless of how much talent he may have, it should be remembered that Bayless is a Rookie. The transition from Pac-10 college ball to the pro level includes a steep learning curve. To be sure there are occasionally players who step in and make huge impacts but for the most part, teams that start Rookies at key positions such as Point Guard do not fare well.

This is not a knock on Bayless. I was pretty excited when General Manager Kevin Pritchard Pritch-slapped the Pacers* and acquired him as I was more excited about him than the undersized alternatives available at the Point coming out in the draft.

My excitement has not abated after seeing him dominate the summer league. Reports coming out of Blazers propaganda central have touted his speed, aggressiveness, defense, and will to win. He sounds like the complete package.

Bayless will bring an ability to slash, to score, and provide tenacious defense. He sounds like an exciting player with few weaknesses. There are really only two things keeping him from being the starter.

First, as a rookie it will take him some time to adjust to the League and team. LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Brandon Roy and Steve Blake all have experience playing together. They are already going to be adjusting to replacing the defensive stalwart but offensive liability of Joel Przybilla with the more mobile, more athletic Greg Oden who will demand touches down on the block. Changing point guards at the same time would mean 40% of their starters were changed and, if Travis Outlaw supplants Webster in the starting line-up the changeover would be 60%. That is far too much change for a team that perhaps overachieved a bit last season.

Second, and more importantly, Blake is a better fit in the starting line-up. Blake is not as flashy as Bayless, can't penetrate nearly as well, and is not the defensive force that Bayless provides. However, his skill set is a better fit with the other starters.

Blake is very good at distributing the ball and setting up the offense. He also provides a zone-busting, court-stretching outside presence. His 3 point shot is consistent and deadly meaning teams cannot collapse off him on the Blazer's interior forces of Aldridge and Oden. With Webster and Blake providing the deep threat and Aldridge and Oden standing by to take passes, the slashing game of Roy is taken to yet another level. It is a line-up that integrates very well.

Bayless is better at driving than being the downtown threat. In the starting unit he would not provide as much of an outside threat as Blake and would largely duplicate the role Roy already capably handles.

Meanwhile, the second unit needs a player like Bayless. Przybilla does a good job of controlling the boards and providing a defensive presence on the interior. Bayless will join Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw in providing scoring punch off the bench. When he comes back from knee injury, Channing Frye will add power to the front court and make the Blazers 10 deep. He will provide them with a bit of a post-up game and the ability to pop out for 15 foot jumpers off of the drives of Fernandez and Bayless.

While Outlaw will occasionally drive, by his own admission he has fallen in love with his jump shot. Fernandez has the ability to get to the rim but will not dominate the ball the way Roy will. Thus Bayless provides a key role on the second unit that helps turn them into a potentially explosive unit that has the flexibility to score inside or outside.

Thus Blake, while potentially not being as physically talented as Bayless still provides what the starting line-up needs and would be unable to be as effective with the second unit and Bayless gets the opportunity he needs to produce with the second line-up that he would not get in the starting line-up.

I will be the first to admit I have not been a big Steve Blake fan over the years. I wanted Jarrett Jack to start ahead of him. I wanted to see Sergio Rodriguez get more minutes at his expense. But the plain truth is, Blake provides what this starting unit needs and, while his numbers will never blow anyone away, taking him out of the line-up does not improve the team.

In another year or 2, assuming Bayless is the real deal and develops as expected, he will indeed take away Blake's job. But for this season expect to see Blake penciled into the starting line-up pretty close to 82 times.

Note: Despite the rise of the term "Pritch-slapped", I actually think the Pacers did rather well for themselves in this deal. At the cost of relatively unused Ike Diogu and a draft pick they acquired a proven solid backup point guard in Jarrett Jack, a promising Rookie, and throw in Josh McRoberts. They got what they needed and so did Portland which seems like a pretty good trade all around from where I sit. That has been the secret to Pritchard's success. The deals he offers make sense for his trading partners. They only end up looking so good because they always result in fitting Portland's master plan.


Will anticipations of Blazer Championships deprive their fans of enjoying the journey?

"Better than the deed, better than the memory is the moment of anticipation."
Jaques the Bowler (Albert Brooks) while preparing for a date with Marge Simpson.

I am obviously highly interested in the results of the upcoming Blazer season in particular and more generally in the results of their next few years. As with most Blazer fans, I expect improvements this year and hope for a Championship or 3 in the next 6 - 8 years.

I will also admit to being perhaps a bit more optimistic than many Blazer fans but more realistic than another group. I believe a win total north of 50 and perhaps even winning a playoff series are not unrealistic goals even within the Western Conference, though winning it all this year seems a pretty sizable stretch.

But what if it doesn't happen, not just this year but ever? Perhaps Brandon Roy's heel issues limit his effectiveness, shorten his career and remove one of the bright stars from the Rose Garden. Or maybe Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless fail to live up to expectations. Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster stop improving. An ill-advised trade moves LaMarcus Aldridge and disrupts the team chemistry.

Or maybe they just keep running into great teams. Last season's Celtics were assembled essentially instantaneously and have a few years left. The Jazz have assembled a talented, versatile roster. Kobe Bryant has been given a lot of help and is still a talent capable of winning entire series almost single-handed. See also James, LeBron. That is without even mentioning to this point the Spurs, Suns, Hornets, Magic, or....well, you see the point.

In short, there are a lot of ways the Blazers franchise total of NBA Championships won could remain at 1 even when the current crop of studs is retired, traded, departed as free agents or however this core group is dismantled .

But it shouldn't matter because between now and then they should create a number of great memories. Those should be reason enough to watch. And they are created game in and game out.

For example, last season there was a game where the Blazers were struggling, on the verge of being blown out in the first half. The opponents, I believe it was the Hawks, had the ball with mere moments remaining in the first half. They had a lay-up to push the lead even further out when Travis Outlaw came out of nowhere to make a spectacular block.

With the crowd on their feet still yelling, the Hawks (?) inbounded it for a dunk attempt which Outlaw launched right back into the seats.

Regardless of whether Portland won or lost that night, those moments stick out in my mind. And there were many more equally exciting plays. I can replay in my mind the Roy hand-switching lay-up reminiscent of Jordan versus the Lakers, any of dozens of Joel Przybilla blocks including several on dunk attempts, sky walking Outlaw dunks, Webster treys, Sergio Rodriguez passes, and more.

Too often sports fans get distracted by the goal of "winning it all" and forget to enjoy the journey. That can sap out a great deal of the fun of spectator sports. Take a team like the Oklahoma (Tropic) Thunder. They will be statistically be eliminated from playoff contention by approximately the third game of the season but their realistic playoff hopes will die a few games prior to that, maybe about the time they open training camp.

Yet with that said, failing to attend the games would rob Thunder fans of memories about some pretty spectacular games. With Kevin Durant aboard and cranking up shots basically any time he feels like it, they are likely to see a couple of 40+ point explosions. He is a freakish talent who should provide some spectacular entertainment even in losing causes.

At the other end of the spectrum would be teams like the Spurs who, if everything breaks right, could sneak back into the Finals and win another Ring. Whether they do or not, it is another year to watch the magnificence of Tim Duncan with his great footwork, court vision, and passing ability. It is another chance to see Tony Parker expand his game and make some great cuts into the lane.

You can find reasons to watch virtually every team in the League from game to game. They all provide entertainment as long as you recognize the journey is in many ways worth more than obtaining the goal.

Sure, I remember the excitement of Blazermania when the Big Redhead lifted the trophy over his head...31 years ago. But I also remember watching Billy Ray do his "Rock the Cradle" dunks for some pretty average Blazer teams as well, enjoyed the return of Maurice Lucas, saw Arvydas Sabonis, and so forth.

There was that fantastic triple overtime game with the Suns where Sabonis, Tom Chambers, and Rex Chapman hit unbelievable off-balance, heavily guarded threes to extend the game 5 more minutes. I remember that just as fondly as the Championship. Or the time Larry Legend and the Celtics came to Portland for his last game here and he ripped us for I think it was 51 points. The memories are great.

But so is the anticipation. This year I expect to see some incredible moves from the talented Blazer roster, to see some high-scoring explosions and great defensive plays, to see the team develop, win a lot of games, and perhaps even win a playoff series.

I like to think, however, that even if they just tread water at 41-41 I will still come away happy with having watched some fun basketball. If I leave with a smile on my face then they will have done their job.

Ultimately, maybe Jacques had it right. The promise of the next few seasons is so great that it seems impossible for any results to match them. Maybe if the Blazers exceed all (realistic) expectations, rip off 10 consecutive 60 win seasons and win5 championships in that time the memories and deeds will be better, but for now, as Blazer fans, lets just enjoy the anticipation.