Double Take

National Basketball Association (NBA) history has proven that when freakish athleticism meets level-headed maturity, a player the caliber of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Vince Carter is typically the result.

Travis Outlaw

National Basketball Association (NBA) history has proven that when freakish athleticism meets level-headed maturity, a player the caliber of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Vince Carter is typically the result.

Well, sitting on the Blazers’ 15-man roster rests a player with just those two key ingredients: Travis Outlaw. While Outlaw isn’t on MJ or Magic’s level, and may never get there, he has talent and promise on his side.

Overshadowed by stars like Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden, the Starkville, Miss., native is never the first Blazer mentioned as an up-and-coming star. But the truth is that he should be.

Throughout his career, experts have applauded Outlaw’s springy leaping ability and scoffed at his lack of maturity and alertness on the court. Outlaw has continually been written off because his mind hadn’t developed as quickly as his vertical leap.

Now it appears, for the first time in his four-year career, that the big processing unit upstairs is on par with his two tree trunks down below, which is evident through the forward’s improved decision-making and on-court savvy.

With the 23-year-old Outlaw all grown up, it’s time for his career to take off.

On opening night, he scored 11 points in 20 minutes against the reigning NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, showing promise with a developing 18-foot jumper coupled with the same athleticism that prompted Portland to re-sign him this past summer.

Continuing to knock down the jump shot with consistency is certainly the key to Outlaw’s game-and future for that matter. If he hits this shot regularly, defenders will be forced to stalk him out to the perimeter, which gives Outlaw an opportunity to showcase his supreme athleticism and penetrate to the hoop.

The jumper is like a gravitational pull that drags opponents outside, and consequently frees up space in the inside. But Outlaw’s bread and butter is his flash-to-the-basket dunking style, and he cannot forget that, no matter how sweet it feels to tickle the twine from 18 feet away.

Fellow youngsters Roy, forward Martell Webster and point guard Taurean Green are above-average three-point shooters, so Outlaw should leave the behind-the-arc work to those guys and develop his back-to-the-basket repertoire.

Outlaw could throw a baby hook into his skill set, and even maybe a step-back fade away. He could try to make his presence felt in the paint by incorporating a post-up game, with duck-under moves and pump fakes. And Outlaw could even attack the rim with authority, utilizing his size and strength to score hard-fought buckets.

He needs to pick his spots, utilizing his skills both at and away from the basket. And most importantly, Outlaw needs to realize when it’s time to turn on the jets and go for a rim-rocking slam, and when he should stay within the offense. That naturally comes with maturity, though, which Outlaw is now displaying.

As long as he’s afforded 20 to 25 minutes a night to demonstrate his skills, Outlaw should have no trouble averaging 15 points and six rebounds each night. With career averages of about seven points and three rebounds a game, the agile forward’s career would take a definite jump ahead if he can match those projected numbers.

Nathan Hellman

Martell Webster

The Blazers haven’t had a legitimate star at the small forward spot since cagey Scottie Pippen was leading Portland to the Western Conference Finals in 2000. Martell Webster is about to change that.

Webster, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Seattle Prep., is starting to show more than just glimpses of the promise that made him the sixth pick in the 2005 draft.

While Webster will probably never come close to being the complete player Pippen was in his prime, he doesn’t need to be-not for this team. In fact, Webster has finally started to do the one thing the team drafted him to do: Shoot the ball well.

He proved it all preseason long, and he proved it Tuesday evening against the reigning NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Webster was on the floor for a team-high 39 minutes, and scored 21 points on nine of 15 shooting, including three of six from three-point range.

Perhaps the most impressive stat is his minutes played. Head coach Nate McMillan and his staff are learning to trust Webster, who was one of the last high school players ever drafted. Now he’s eliciting comparisons to Glen Rice and former Blazer Steve Smith, fellow bearer of the number 8 jersey.

What’s the difference? The 20-year-old is finally starting to shoot the ball with confidence, but it’s more than that. Webster used to resemble a well-paid statue, waiting in the corner to receive a kick-out pass and essentially becoming a nonfactor in the offense.

Last year, that inability to get involved caused Webster to shoot under 40 percent, including 36 percent from three-point land. He averaged seven points a game in just over 21 minutes, mostly off the bench, and played in all 82 games.

Tuesday night, however, the statue finally came alive and started torching the nets and terrorizing the citizens of San Antonio. Webster was all over the place, moving without the ball, working to get good looks, and dominating the Spurs in his own personal shooting clinic.

It’s that effort and tough mentality, especially against a formidable Spurs defense, that is most promising. The Blazers are stacked with young talent. LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are the cornerstones of the franchise, but having a confident scorer at the three-spot is essential.

Roy had a terrible game against San Antonio, shooting two of 10, as he was plagued all night by the league’s best perimeter defender, Bruce Bowen. While Roy will bounce back, the cat’s out of the bag, and the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year will face constant pressure this season from each team’s best defender.

That’s where Webster becomes so handy. If he can step in and calmly knock down shots and make a contribution on defense, Portland will win some games.

There are some flaws in Webster’s game. He has a nice stroke from the foul line, but he didn’t take one free throw Tuesday evening. During the preseason, Webster displayed impressive athleticism, and he needs to be opportunistic and punish the rack with some high-flying aerial antics when given the chance.

As long as he stays involved in the offense, there’s no reason why “The Definition” (a nickname a close friend gave him) can’t put up some star-making numbers like his cousin, Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks.

Webster will likely play more than 30 minutes a game, and it’s easy to see him averaging somewhere around 19 points a game with a couple of boards and assists. Sounds like the definition of success.

Owen Smith