Maybe it’s a good thing that I only have time to look at box scores. Watching losses at home to Oklahoma City, Houston and then, to cap it off, the 7-22 Wizards would likely have translated into at least one broken television. Now that LaMarcus Aldridge is set to miss a few games with an apparent sprained ankle, the situation looks bleak for the West’s 8th-seeded team. Bleak, but not without some good news.
The Blazers have performed historically badly in close games according to Basketball Prospectus’ Kevin Pelton. Though this may come across as bad news to some, I actually see it as pretty damn good news. The fact that very few teams in the last decade have finished close games as poorly as Portland is a sure-fire indicator of regression to come. Portland is not a bad team, and should perform better down the stretch. I’m not saying it’s all bad luck, but it’s not likely that any team is truly this inept at closing out games, especially a winning team.
You may like to cite the lack of a true clutch finisher on a team that once had Brandon Roy. The research in this area is limited, though it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how a few of these close losses could have turned out differently, clutch performer or not. In the second overtime of the loss in Dallas, Delonte West hit three contested jump shots consecutively to give Dallas a 4-point cushion. 82games.com suggests that 73% of West’s shots are jump shots, and that he averages less than a point per attempt. In three shots, he is most likely to make one or two, and much less likely to make three. The defense was not bad, but the other team’s player was just temporarily better. Temporarily being the key word. That bad luck is not going to continue forever.
The other good news comes in the form of a tall Frenchman. 82games.com suggests that Nicolas Batum has made positive contributions during his time on the court, while Raymond Felton has made negative contributions. Sure, it probably didn’t take a neato statistic to tell us that, but at least it agrees with what we see on the court. Batum was slotted into the starting lineup in place of Wesley Matthews last night, and he scored 33 points while using 29 possessions. For the season, he has scored 349 points in 323 possessions, maintaining a 1.08 ratio. Felton, Crawford, and Matthews sit at 0.74, 0.88 and 1.00, respectively. Matthews is hardly the problem, but Felton is the epitome of inefficiency, and Crawford hasn’t been much better. Last season, Felton and Crawford recorded ratios of 0.90 and 0.97, so there is some room for improvement, but neither is the scorer he thinks he is.
I’m not sure exactly why we have to start a point guard at all. Matthews, Batum and Wallace can all handle the ball, and Batum guards point guards anyway. It might be a bit radical, but I’d be all for seeing a starting lineup of Matthews, Batum, Wallace, Aldridge and Marcus Camby (pending Aldridge’s return). That’s probably not going to happen, so my second wish would be to see a lot more of Batum on the floor. His start last night in combination with Aldridge’s injury might just get him into the starting lineup for good. It’s a place he belongs.
The only sore spot in the lineup can be found at the #1 position. I feel like the Blazers are an efficient point guard away from being the best team in a Western Conference that isn’t particularly top heavy. Until then, I expect some positive regression in the close wins department (even with said point guards), and better overall efficiency with Batum’s (hopefully) increased playing time.
Update: And just a few nights after Delonte West helped the Mavs beat the Blazers on three consecutive jumpers in double OT, Gerald Wallace goes 4-4 from deep and Portland wins a two-point game on the road. The coin had to start landing on heads sometime…