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.
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