Monday, July 6, 2009

What's in a Name: Mr. 4th Quarter

It has been said it is not how you start, but how you finish. For Travis Outlaw, in the past two seasons, finishing hasn’t been a problem at all. The 6th year forward from Starkville, MS has been dubbed “Mr. 4th Quarter” by play by play announcers Mike Barrett and Mike Rice after hitting big shot after big shot seemingly time and time again in the 4th quarter during the 2007-2008 season.
Well, just how clutch has Travis been? According to, Travis has taken 7 game winning shots, which are defined as having less than 24 seconds left in the game and the team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 or 2. Of those 7 shots, Outlaw has connected on 6 of them, for an insane .857 percentage, which is good enough for #1 in the NBA with at least 5 attempts through the past 5 full regular seasons, playoffs, and through February 4th, 2009. To put his percentage into perspective, the league wide percentage in game winning shots is only 29.8%.
Statistically speaking, it is easy to see why Coach McMillan has so much faith in Travis in crunch time. In fact, according to, Travis is 2nd off of the bench in “Super Clutch” time, which is defined as the game being either in the 4th quarter or overtime and neither team holding more than a 3 point lead with 47 minutes of “Super Clutch” time in the 2007-2008 season.
Now why is one of the most clutch players in the league, on a $4 million contract, and reported best buddies with LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy seemingly not wanted back in Portland this year? According to OregonLive's You Be the GM, Travis had the largest gain of returning votes in 2008, improving from 68% in 2007 to a nearly untouchable 96% retention. In 2007-2008, Outlaw averaged 13.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and shot almost 40% from 3 point land. What did he do that was so awful to be the only rotational player to be voted to go in 2009 then? His stay rate dropped 53% from 96% in 2008, to a measly 43% in 2009. In 2009, he put up very similar stats by averaging 12.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and shooting 37.7% from 3. He even cut back on his turnovers from 1.3 to 1.16 and shot a higher field goal percentage, 45.3% up from 43.3%.
It is true that Travis had a poor showing the playoffs, but if we were to make judgments based off of every player's 2009 stint vs. Houston, I think nearly everyone not named Brandon Roy would be on the trading block. The bottom line is it was Outlaw's 1st ever big game experience, because the playoffs are a whole other animal than the regular season and he never went to college to experience March Madness. I think his play over his tenure here in Portland deserves to buy him some benefit of the doubt.
By no means am I advocating Travis to being an untouchable asset on this squad, but why is there such a love/hate relationship with him? Why, for example, did Rudy Fernandez have a 98% vote to stay on the team? In 2 less minutes per game, Rudy averaged 2.4 less ppg than Outlaw on a worse field goal percentage, 42.5% to Outlaw's 45.3%. Even as Rudy broke the rookie 3 point record, he only shot the 3 pointer 2% higher than Outlaw.
I know the argument is that this was Travis' 6th year in the NBA compared to this being Rudy's 1st year in the league. But Rudy is only 7 months younger than Travis and has been playing professionally since he was a teenager in his native country of Spain. But something to think about when comparing the players is team chemistry. Outlaw has always let it be known that he wants to start, but he knows it is best for the team to come off of the bench and become one of the elite 6th men in the league. He is the quintessential "glue-guy" on this team. He keeps everyone loose in the locker room and there is not a person on the team who doesn't love Travis. On the other hand, we are already hearing rumors of Fernandez wanting out of Portland if we bring in another talented wing and wanting a bigger role with the team. Rudy is already whining about playing time now, will it stop when he doesn't get more than 24-28 minutes per game due to being Roy's backup?
This is not a Pro-Outlaw, Anti-Rudy blog, but I want to know why is there such a difference in opinion among the Blazer faithful? Is it because Rudy is the flavor of the month? Is it his outstanding court vision? Do people not think Outlaw has any more room to grow or that his playoff performance reminded too many fans of Cliff Robinson, a great regular season player who faded in the playoffs? Just know, there is more that meets the eye in regards to these two players.

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