By now, NBA season previews are rolling out. Countless basketball sites, podcasts, and television shows are breaking down all 30 teams, projecting how each will fare based on additions and subtractions. I would like to do something different and focus on teams through the fish-eyed lens of their respective most intriguing player or players. I continue with the Detroit Pistons.
Look. Even in the uniqueness of choosing to write player-centric NBA season previews, instead of focusing on synopses of whole teams, there are a few commonalities between these articles I'm writing. I can select a 20-something budding star, an established star who's coming off injury, or a player joining a new team. This dictates the tone and part of the makeup of these pieces. So in an effort to mix things up, I won't write about more important Detroit Pistons players. We know Andre Drummond is young and fantastic. We know Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tobias Harris need to grow their games and take that next step in order to give Detroit the best chance to make the playoffs. But there's someone on the team that caught my eye that I knew no one will write about. But I will.
Flashback to 2002. It's April 1st in the Georgia Dome. The NCAA Men's Basketball Championship has been decided, as the Maryland Terrapins defeated the Indiana Hoosiers. Three Terps were drafted from that team--Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon, and Steve Blake. Wilcox went in the lottery, Dixon was drafted in the first round to the hometown Wizards. Blake also stayed near the beltway, but was selected in the second round the following year.
Wilcox washed out the league before the turn of the decade. Juan Dixon was busted for performance-enhancing drugs while playing in Europe. Steve Blake is...still playing. Judging from their potential as college prospects, Blake was barely supposed to make a roster, let alone be playing. He's entering his 14th season, and has played in at least 28 games in every year. He has outlasted considerably better players by discovering an element of consistency that better players can overlook because of their talent.
With lowered expectations, players like Blake can focus on doing one thing well, not necessarily exceptional. Blake isn't particularly good at anything. He's a decent shooter, defender, and facilitator. But the more important factor to his game is that he rarely puts the team in a bad position. He is not a liability, and that singular fact is why he is an asset.
The other side of this spectrum is that marginal players rarely stay on one roster for a considerable length of time. Detroit is Blake's tenth stop and ninth different team. His longest consecutive stint is with the Lakers, where he spent three years. Five of his previous thirteen seasons were spent with Portland, the most with any one team. He's only started 347 of the 870 games in his career, but averages a shade under 24 minutes per game. His teams (loosely speaking in the possessive, here) have been in the postseason 60% of his career, including the last six years. While I'm certainly not implying that Blake is the key cog to any franchise's playoff success, he definitely seems to find a way to contribute to squads that make the playoffs.
The proper label for Steve Blake's career is ''journeyman." But as he enters the final phase of that journey, he can say while his travels weren't in the most spectacular vehicle, he logged more miles than many people--possibly including himself--expected. Not bad for a second-round pick.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.