February 12, 2011
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During the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers victory over the Toronto Raptors, there was a moment that drove Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett absolutely crazy. Ex-Trailblazer Jerryd Bayless drained consecutive threes and hit four of them in about a four-minute stretch of game time.
After the second one, Barrett had his patented disgusted tone of voice as he said something along the lines of, "A 29 percent three-point shooter and he hits another one."
Improbably, after hitting two more without a miss, Bayless would have been surprised to hear Barrett lament, "A 28 percent shooter and he cannot miss." It is not often someone makes four consecutive shots and has their percentage decline.
Naturally, it had not. The issue was a player having a short stretch of game that reflected a statistical outlier. As a general rule, if Bayless attempts three three-pointers he will miss two of them. However, that is an average, not an ironclad statistical truth.
Bayless was illustrating a basic truth about basketball players. Averages reflect their results over time, not in any particular stretch. Who can forget Ray Allen hitting eight triples in Game 2 of the Finals last year? Or going zero for eight on the same shot the next night?
Neither result was truly representative of what could be expected, but neither was either outside the realm of believability. Players like Allen, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant and so forth are stars because performances of high-scoring outputs, usually on a relatively low volume of shots, are expected and taken as a matter of course.
When Carmelo Anthony scored 50 a few nights ago, it was notable but not outside the realm of what we might expect from him. Anthony is a very capable scorer who puts up a large volume of shots. Scoring totals in the high 20s, 30s, 40s or even 50s are not infrequent. A night when the ball bounces just right a couple of times turns a high 20-point night into a high 30-point night.
And if he averages out a night where he missed more shots than expected with a night he gets to the foul line and makes more shots than expected, we see one of those magical nights where one player puts on a transcendent performance.
Blazer fans surely have been enjoying this with LaMarcus "LaMarvelous" Aldridge as he has recently exploded for a pair of 40-point games sandwiched around games tipping into the mid thirties.
It is becoming regular enough that as one individual recently noted, his career-high 42 was "just" a "quiet 30-point night" until the last four minutes of the game.
I would not go so far as to say we expect big scoring outputs, but I would say we are not surprised when superior offensive players put up big numbers.
What surprises us is when lesser players have those same explosions. For example, when Bayless, carrying a robust 9.5 points per game average, entered the fourth quarter with no points the other night. Who expected he would finish the night with 18? It was a huge quarter.
Of course, any Raptor fan who watched the game might easily be justified in pointing to Rudy Fernandez and saying, "What about him?"
Fernandez had a tremendous first half Friday. He was everywhere. Tipping passes, jumping into the lane to redirect drivers and flying out to the perimeter to contest formerly open shots.
Knowledgeable Blazer fans are nodding their heads. We have seen those nights when Fernandez controls a game in every area except scoring. Recently, however, he has been scoring very well.
This is a refreshing change, as he was expected to contribute more than nine points a game. He has been in essentially a season-long slump interrupted by occasional brilliant outbursts.
Friday was such an outburst. In the first half, he absolutely erupted, burying all eight shots he attempted en route to 23 first-half points.
Raptor fans who are only casually aware of his playing style were probably shocked and devastated, expecting more of the same in the second half.
Unfortunately for Blazer fans, that is the difference between players such as Rudy and someone along the lines of a healthy Brandon Roy.
It is unreasonable and unlikely to see this sort of production continue over the course of a full game. Indeed, after taking and making eight shots in the first half (including six threes), he attempted but three shots in the second half and made none. His total at the end of the game matched his total at the end of the first half.
Now, on the one hand, his play in the first half was everything and more a Blazer fan could ever want. He was active, effective and deadly. He more or less carried a Blazer team so lethargic they managed three turnovers in their first three possessions to a half-time lead.
He was so effective his contributions made up for Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Andre Miller combining for more turnovers than points in the first half. He was so effective a Raptor fan could be excused for assuming the game was over at the halftime.
His second half was, from a scoring standpoint, so ineffective it is nigh on unbelievable the Blazers found a way to win.
But that is just the point. Good teams often have players like Fernandez. They plod along game after game providing their comfortable single digit points, a couple rebounds, maybe throw in an assist here and there.
Then there comes a game where they have one of those outliers, statistically speaking, where they score a weeks worth of points in a quarter, game, or half.
I am reminded of the night Martell Webster scored 26 points against the Jazz. Of those 26, 24 came in the third quarter. This was in a year in which he averaged 10.7 points per game. The Jazz never saw it coming and unexpectedly lost a game when a role player had a star-level night.
Most often when players like Fernandez, Webster and players of their ilk have big nights, they come over the course of a single quarter or half.
A case in point would be the night DeJuan Blair of the Spurs had last Tuesday. He was absolutely dominant in the first half, leading the Spurs to a five-point halftime advantage with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The rebounds were not unexpected. It is a pace any NBA fan might expect him to continue. He is a smart player who uses his knowledge and timing to grab large numbers of rebounds. The points were a bit unexpected, however, and it was reasonable to assume he would end the game with maybe 15-16 points.
As is so often the case with role players who have star quarters or halves, however, he was even less effective in the second half, dialing up a whopping zero points and collecting just one rebound.
Therein lies the problem, if there is one, with second line players taking on major and unexpected scoring loads in the first half.
If the stars are having an off night, how they respond to the outburst often determines the outcome of the game.
Talented, winning teams like the Spurs accept it for what it was...an unexpected and much appreciated bonus...and continue to run their offense to get their best players more attempts.
Teams with less stellar records seem to be more prone to trying to replicate the first half success in the second half, only to find that guy who typically scores ten a game is not going to have the same second half success as he did in the first half.
Unexpected success is difficult to maintain. But it sure is fun while it lasts.
There are some players who seem to specialize in it. Rudy Fernandez might be the king of impressive explosions followed by extreme disappearances. He seems to regularly have a double digit scoring quarter only to not score again for a game and a half.
So in honor of Rudy and with a nod of the head to the home of such great basketball terms as "The Voskuhl", "the Mario", etc., I propose we begin using the term, "a Rudy" to describe an outburst wherein a player scores double their average or more in a half but is non-existent statistically speaking for the other portion of the game.
As a Blazer fan, let me say I hope to see more from Rudy and his running buddy Patty Mills this year. They sure are fun to watch.
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