In sports, and often in life, there exists a firmly cemented belief in “what has been.” Tradition and history often supersede any argument running counter to the conventional wisdom. The phrases “because this is how it’s always been done” or “I’ve seen player X do it, I haven’t seen player Y do it” are offered as proof or evidence against a push for reformation or reinvention. This isn’t necessarily wrong or irresponsible, but it can become problematic. Living in the past, only dealing with what has occurred rather than would could be restricts our thinking; it lacks vision or creativity. We end up with a limited understanding, labeling players who are clearly capable of winning championships as “unable to win the big one” until they actually triumph, dismissing others as “chokers” until they make the big-time shot.
In some respects, relying on evidence and history is an admirable endeavor. However, we can’t let the lessons from the past completely shake our belief in progress or evolution. There exists one area in particular in professional basketball that remains all too colored by past experience in tradition: crunch time. Michael Jordan and later Kobe Bryant ingrained this idea of isolation and hero mode as the necessary vehicle to late game success. Somehow, this later evolved into the idea or question of “crunch time five.” Who are the five guys your team will consistently trust to deliver positive results when it’s late in a close game? Without a set 5 your team has no chance at winning the most important of games.
It takes a lot of courage, a lot of bravado, and a little bit of insanity to go against common preconceptions. It’s never easy to be the one who experiments and asks: What if? But it’s also a chance to be ahead of the curve; to gain an upper hand on the competition. I think the Blazers and Nate McMillan are faced with an opportunity to test much of the so called “wisdom” that surrounds closing time. There’s so much possibility in the Blazers’ depth and versatility.
According to 82games.com, the Blazers have a rather unique distribution of 5 man rosters that have seen the floor for Portland. The starting lineup (Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Marcus Camby) has seen an astonishing amount of minutes with 179 (obtaining a a +/- of +13), but after that no single unit has seen much more than 20 minutes. It’s a good sign that McMillan has being willing to experiment and test various mixtures of talents, size, and length.
The Blazers retain what is a powerful tool in their ability to adjust their crunch time 5 from game to game, and situation to situation. Based on the opponent, who’s playing well, or the matchups that can be exploited, The Blazers have the the personnel to throw out the traditional five of Felton-Matthews-Wallace-Adridge-Camby, the longer more unconventional lineup of Felton-Nicolas Batum-Wallace-Aldridge-Camby (also a +13), a small but deadly lineup of Felton-Jamal Crawford-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge (+7), or another small but very long lineup of Crawford-Matthews-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge (+12). Granted, these results are based on extremely small sample sizes, but there exists a lot of success in numerous different lineups for Portland.
This will not be an easy adjustment for the Blazers. In many ways, this shift as much as anything marks the tragic end of the Brandon Roy era in Portland. Over the past few years, the Blazers had relied on Roy to single-handedly lead them to victory late in games. But clinging to what has already passed, while comforting, will not best serve this team. It’s time to move forward, to leave what has been behind and instead focus on what could be. Sure we could root for history to win, to prove that it’s always been done a certain way for a reason. But rooting for the past to rule over the future seems a little too fatalistic. Instead put some faith in the Blazers, in their capability and promise. At the very least it will be a hell of a lot more fun.