Ben and Myles seemed to perfectly sum up all of the areas, possibilities, good and bad of the draft night; However, the most important aspect of it could end up being the trade of Luke Babbitt and Ryan Gomes to the Portland Trailblazers for Martell Webster.
While the salary cap aspect seems to be a mystery to people it shouldn’t be a mystery to, the talent aspect is very clear. The Wolves are getting rid of a very incredible role player in Ryan Gomes. Gomes is one of those San Antonio Spurs-type of guys off the bench that is very understated but always seems to make the right play. He’s also an incredibly likable person who seems to get what being a professional athlete is all about. He’s one of the good guys that doesn’t force anything with his fame and physical prowess. He just lets everything come to him in life and with a young team it’s hard to imagine you’d want to get rid of veterans like that.
What the Wolves give up in goodguyness (made it up) and basketball talent, they definitely get back with the acquisition of Martell Webster. Martell’s career has been a bit of a struggle so far. After feeling his way from high school to the highest level of basketball competition for two seasons, he broke through during the Blazers breakthrough season as a franchise. The Blazers went 41-41 as their young team (almost exemplified by Martell Webster in a way) started to put the potential into progress.
But after Martell and the Blazers broke out into being taken seriously in the league, he played just five minutes in the 2008-09 season. He was sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot in the pre-season before the season started and then only made a brief appearance in a December game against Raptors before sitting out the rest of the season while trying to heal.
When Martell returned to the Blazers rotation last season (82 games, 49 started, 24.5 minute per game) with a fully healed foot, a lot of the promise he showed before the injury returned. His skill set reads like a GMs ultimate fantasy. He can knock down the three, play lockdown defense against good perimeter defenders and has the athleticism to wow the crowd. And he’ll bring a lot of that to the Wolves.
However, figuring out where Martell is going to play next season might be the key to whether he is successful or not in his time with Minnesota. In case you haven’t paid attention to the Wolves David Kahn five-year plan of forming a full team by drafting just one position each season, year two was the small forward year. Even with acquiring Martell Webster, the Wolves pulled in four small forwards on draft night and a Brazilian center to be forgotten later. And of the four small forwards acquired, Martell is the most likely to be able to play the shooting guard position.
The problem is the idea of him playing shooting guard is sort of a foreign concept. According to 82games.com, Martell Webster played 11% of the allotted shooting guard minutes in Portland during his rookie season, while logging 14% of the minutes at small forward. Unfortunately, that was four years ago and he’s never played more than 4% of the shooting guard minutes in any given season since. In fact, in 2006-07 and 2009-10 he played just 1% of the shooting guard minutes. While it’s really fun to imagine him as a shooting guard because he’s athletic, can shoot and sort of looks like one, the evidence shows that he really doesn’t play there.
And when he does play there, it’s just a small sample size that is all over the board that it’s hard to know if this pipedream of him being a legit 2-guard is… well… legit. Check out the performances at shooting guard and small forward over the past couple of seasons:
It seems nearly impossible to predict that Martell Webster can be the shooting guard on this team based on these sample sizes. Appearance makes him fit the part of the shooting guard role but history says he doesn’t fit the bill. Of course, playing on the same team as Brandon Roy over the past few years makes playing time at the shooting guard position kind of scarce. Roy played 33% of the shooting guard minutes in 09-10, 59% in 07-08 and 42% in 06-07. For Webster to receive a lot of minutes at the shooting guard would have caused the Blazers to put their best player out of position.
But if Roy wasn’t around, would Webster have been the right call as the shooting guard anyway? Last season, he shot 37.3% from three-point range, which is right in line with his 37.2% career rate. According to Synergy Sports, Webster was a 38.3% shooter on spot-up jumpers and a 39.8% shooter on spot-up threes. These spot-up jumpers accounted for 41.6% of his offensive plays that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or trip to the free throw line. While those aren’t terrible percentages, they also don’t make you want to lump him in with the Steve Kerr’s, Reggie Miller’s and Jason Kapono’s of the league. Webster isn’t strong taking the ball to the hole and he’s not a deadeye shooter. So throwing him into the shooting guard position doesn’t scream of guaranteed success.
While this all seems to be a negative case for Martell Webster, my thoughts couldn’t be further from that assessment. The strength of Webster isn’t going to be the offensive production he brings; it will be the defense he brings to the table. The Wolves got killed on defense last year. The perimeter defense was terrible. The interior defense was terrible. The pick-and-roll defense was pretty bad too. And while Webster doesn’t solve all of that, he does provide a lockdown presence on the perimeter that makes the best offensive perimeter forces in the league have to work extra hard.
In most normal seasons, Webster would have been lauded for the defensive presence he was on the floor during the 2009-10 campaign. He didn’t exactly reinvent the way to play perimeter defense but he was a solid road barrier in the way of guys scoring efficiently. Unfortunately for him, he played on the same team as Nicolas Batum who received the highest remarks for his defensive efforts all season (and deservedly so too). Webster is strong enough to body-up the bigger players and still athletic enough to stay with the quick players. His quick leaping ability, quick feet and 6’11” wingspan allow him to challenge jumpers on the perimeter. And best of all, he’ll be able to teach Corey Brewer and Wesley Johnson the tricks of the defensive trade.
Overall, I love the idea of Martell Webster being a Wolf next year, especially when it means having to replace Ryan Gomes. You don’t find many 23-year olds as savvy and veteran (I like using it as an adjective too) as Webster.
Let’s just not fall in love with the idea of him at the shooting guard position just yet…