Column: Webster, Blake must step up for Blazers to have a chance
The time is now for Martell Webster and Steve Blake.
There is no more waiting, no more second chances. Both must step up and produce. If they do, they could help save a Portland Trail Blazers season that is bordering on the verge of becoming lost. If not, their long-term future with the team could be at stake.
For Webster and Blake, it all comes down to production. Both are in the Blazers’ starting lineup, yet neither has consistently played up to their potential since the season began.
Webster has shown flashes of greatness; reminders of what made his tantalizing combination of youth and talent so promising when the Blazers selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. A 21-point, 13-rebound performance during a 106-78 home victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 21. And a 24-point night on 9-of-14 shooting in Portland’s 106-96 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies six days later. But other than those two outings, Webster’s comeback season has thus far been severely disappointing.
Yes, his defense has shown improvement. Yes, he was a late insertion into the Blazers’ regular-season starting lineup, following the loss of Nicolas Batum to unexpected shoulder surgery. And, yes, Webster was yanked out of the first rotation for nine games while Portland experimented with a three-guard lineup, and was then asked to resume his starting role as if nothing had changed.
But none of that makes up for Webster’s average numbers: 7.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.6 assists. Even more telling is his 37.4 shooting percentage, which is the lowest on the team heading into tonight’s 5 p.m. road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the most damaging statistic is Webster’s production in December. When the Blazers have needed him most, Webster has failed to produce. He is averaging just 5.3 points while shooting an abysmal 23.5 percent from the field through the first five games of the month. Factor in that Webster has taken just five free throws in his last nine games — a shockingly low number for an NBA starting small forward — and the image of a high-flying phenom who could do anything at any time on the court is starting to feel more like an illusion than reality.
But while Webster has struggled, Blake is facing even more questions.
Portland’s starting point guard has not been himself this season. He started cold, briefly warmed up, and then froze up again. Blake is averaging 7.5 points, 3.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 22 starts. He is shooting 37.7 percent from the floor, which places him two spots from the bottom on the Blazers’ roster. And he is only hitting 36.2 percent of his 3-point shots, despite leading the team with 98 attempts.
In addition, the fifth-year guard is posting averages far below the career highs he recorded last season in points, assists and field-goal percentage.
This season, Blake’s numbers are good enough for a back up. But they are nowhere near the production required for an NBA starter on a team playing without two injured starters (Batum and Greg Oden) and three of its six top scorers — especially with back up veteran point guard Andre Miller sitting on the bench.
However, all is not lost for Blake and Webster, just as hope still exists for the M.A.S.H. unit otherwise known as the 2009-10 Blazers.
Blake and Webster are high-character players who are valued by the community and the organization. They are assets in the locker room, and both have played key roles in Portland’s rise from a cellar dweller to a contender.
But Blake and Webster must step up. Now.
Webster must reclaim his game, once again drawing from an arsenal that includes slash-and-burn moves off the dribble and rim-shaking dunks, rather than just camping out on the perimeter and waiting for the ball swing his way.
Meanwhile, Blake simply has to play as well as he did last season, when he finished first on the team in 3-point percentage (42.7) and fifth in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2).
The loss of Oden changed everything for the Blazers. And injuries to Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Jeff Pendergraph, Patty Mills and coach Nate McMillan have combined to produce a near-knockout blow.
But as long as Portland still has Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge suiting up in black and red, the team can compete with anyone in the league on a good night.
However, competing and winning are two completely different things in professional sports.
And without Webster and Blake at the top of their game, the Blazers will not go far this season. And the team might soon have to start looking elsewhere for better answers.