Monday, December 08, 2008

Massive Amounts of Love for Steve Blake in Portland

After the 2002 national championship season, who might you have guessed would be the most successful Terp from that squad in the NBA?

You may have thought Juan Dixon, just because he is, well, Juan Dixon and carried Maryland to that championship. But a longer and more thoughtful analysis would lead you to to the eventual and correct realization that he's a little small to be a force in the NBA at the 2 and not a natural PG to make an impact at the 1. Hence, he's had a journeyman's career, reliably putting up points when given an opportunity, but never developing a presence as an important and long-term piece of the puzzle on anyone's roster. It's a shame but it's true. I will always stop and watch when Juan is in the game for the Wiz, or whoever, because Juan is the THE MAN for many reasons, but an NBA star he is not. This year, it seemed like he was going to be a regular in the rotation for the Wiz under Eddie Jordan, but Juan hasn't played particularly well and new coach Ed Tapscott has forced Juan to have a lot of DNP-coach's decision next to his name. I'm sure it'll get better eventually, tough times for the Wiz right now.

Then there's Chris Wilcox, the freak of nature athlete who left after his sophomore year. He's making big money in Oklahoma City(about $7 million per) and has career averages of 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds. Wilcox is solid, not great. Since he's been out west his whole career, I honestly haven't seen him play much. My take from reading boxscores and the occassion article is that he is solid, but has never done anything to distinguish himself from other very capable forwards who do enough to stay in the rotation, but not enough to carry a team forward in a meaningful way (like, say, an Elton Brand).

In other words, as coach Gary likes to say, from a production standpoint, he's a lot like his current teammate and fellow Terp alum Joe Smith (career averages of 12 and 7). In fairness to Wilcox, his career numbers would be much better if he played more during his first few seasons with the Clippers (he backed up Brand). In the last 3+ seasons, Wilcox is averaging about 14 and 8 as a starter. That's very good, not exceptional, enough to make a lot of money for sure. His numbers are a bit down this year, perhaps because OKC is horrible. As a pro, let's give Wilcox a solid, slightly disappointed B.

Then there's Steve Blake. Out in Portland this season, Blake is averaging a career-high 11.4 points with 4.2 assists and shooting a career-best 43.3 percent on three-pointers. He's my pick as the best Terp in the NBA (especially given that Steve Francis has fallen off with injuries the last few years. Remember Steve Francis???) Blake puts up good numbers and has earned a role as an important, well-liked piece on a good young team. It also helps that he has largely overachieved during his NBA career. I would have guessed career back-up, with a John Crotty like run of a dozen seasons getting 10-15 minutes a game and basically being counted on to not screw up.

Blake has found a home in Portland, doing his unassuming thing, just moving the team along, and recently taking more and more big shots. He hit a 3-pointer in the last 10 seconds Sunday night to give the Blazers a big road win in Toronto. Shockingly to me, he has become a better long-range shooter than Juan Dixon.

Allow me to let the Portland Oregonian's outstanding beat writer Jason Quick make the case for Blake and his impact and importance on the young and very promising (15-7) Blazers team.

Here's a choice excerpt from a recent blog post:

Behind the scenes, Blake is a fiery competitor who can instantly set a tone in Blazers practices. He is the player most likely to kick over a bench in practice or punt a ball into the rafters, and he is the only Blazer who spent part of his summer wrestling and working out with a professional Ultimate Fighter (Nate Quarry).

His teammates also call him one of the smartest on the team, knowing just the right time to call plays for certain players. But above all, he is perhaps the most selfless guy on the team -- not caring about his points, or statistics for that matter -- which is such an important trait for a point guard.

"He's just leading this team," McMillan said.

Here's a link to the full post. Don't miss the reader comments so you can read how much Blazers fans appreciate Blake. Good stuff.

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