Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trail Blazers Position Breakdown: Small Forward

The small forward position is all about potential. Then again, it has been about potential since one Martell Webster was drafted in 2005. While not much was expected out of Martell his first year or two in the league, having come straight out of high school, he seemed to make a jump to serviceable starter in 2007-2008. With flashes of brilliance (ok, one major flash of brilliance) the previous season, to go along with a highlight filled preseason game in 2008, it seemed as though this may finally be Martell Webster's year. Then a stress fracture in his foot kept him sidelined for all but 5 minutes of the 08-09 season. Enter young Frenchman Nicolas Batum. After a maligned summer league in which he seemed perpetually lost on the court, it was a question as to whether he could back up Travis Outlaww at SF, but with his long, athletic frame, great timing, and high basketball I.Q. he became the starter in only the second game of his young career. Batum filled in admirably through the year. Though he still often got lost on offense, frequently floating to the wings and staying put, his defense was remarkable. It's not often that your 19 year old rookie is your defensive stopper. Reports are that Martell Webster is back and finally healthy again. Travis Outlaw is still in the mix for some small forward minutes, and there is Batum. All three promising players with their own set of skills, however none yet distinguished as the clear cut favorite for the starting job. Do you take the often hot shooting and solid defense of Martell Webster, or the spotty offense and lock down D of Nicolas Batum. Who has the more upside? Many would say Batum but the ballad of Martell Webster has been, 'If he could only consistently do what he did for one quarter, he will be the perfect outside weapon to complete this team.' I tend to think that Martell will break out if ever given the chance to lead a team. He won't get that chance in Portland. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are the focal points of the offense, and everyone else is complementary. I hope that I'm wrong and he learns to create openings for himself and take advantage of openings created by the big two, but I haven't seen evidence of that yet. So, at this point my nod goes to Nicolas Batum. As he continues to grow I believe that he can be a good, if not great offensive player, but more than anything, his tenacious and stifling defense set him apart. When you have a guy that can guard Paul to Parker, Kobe to Carmello, the big, the small. You name it. That is a weapon that needs to be on the floor and needs to be developed. This brings in Martell off the bench, where I hope that he can flourish as a part of a big two off the bench playing along side Rudy, whom if one game is any judge, he has a nice report with. Travis will primarily see minutes at the 4 with spot minutes at small forward when we're running with a bigger lineup. As to the strength of the position, I see it the weakest on the team. When the rest of the lineup is filled with as much quality as the Blazers have, this isn't a terrible thing, but no one has shown me that as of this year, they are championship team quality. One of these two players will need to rise up and become one of the last pieces to our puzzle. He'll need to make the strides to bring this team one step closer to the championship. I only hope that those strides are made sooner, rather than later. 2009-2010 Trail Blazer Small Forward Grade: B-

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