Przybilla So Much More Than a Stopgap

A Daily Babble Production

Joel Przybilla's job can't be easy from a mental standpoint.

A season ago, Przybilla made 67 starts at center for the Portland Trail Blazers as the guy keeping the position warm for franchise savior Greg Oden.  No matter the job he did, he was most likely headed to the bench to begin 2008-09 behind Oden.  He returned to the starting lineup for 13 straight games after Oden got hurt in the season opener, but he has since gone back to the bench so that Nate McMillan could get Oden more comfortable with the first team.  Przybilla still plays 23.6 minutes per game (a minute and a half more than his successor), but as Oden becomes more comfortable with each passing week in the pros, the reminder is there that the lion's share of the minutes will eventually be his, possibly sooner rather than later.

Through it all, Joel Przybilla has managed not only to be a class act and the best center on the Portland Trail Blazers but one of the linchpins to the team's impressive 18-12 start.

Przybilla has brought his hustle and veteran savvy to the floor every night for the Blazers so far.  He has a real willingness to do the dirty work and be a banger in every sense of the word.  He hasn't gone out looking to be a superstar on either end of the floor, because that isn't who he is. 

On the offensive end, Przybilla is a guy who knows his limits.  While he won't look to create his own shot, he is constantly screening, crashing the offensive glass and drifting to open spots down low to finish any open look the defense gives him.  Though he only takes 3.4 shots per game, he is making them count, shooting an insane 76.5 percent for the season.  That figure is only so low because of an ice cold December in which Przybilla has shot just 68.2 percent from the field, sending his efficiency plummeting after an 86 percent effort in November.  In addition to the 6.3 points per game Przybilla gives the Blazers, he grabs more than two offensive boards per game.  His ability to finish inside (he's got six double-digit scoring efforts this season so far) and clean up the trash on the boards has forced defenses to stay honest with the Blazers and not treat him as an offensive liability.

Przybilla has been just as important in other aspects of the game.  Despite averaging less than 24 minutes, Przybilla is grabbing 8.3 boards per game.  He is also leading the league in rebound rate, pulling down 22 percent of rebound opportunities while he is on the floor.  He doesn't back down from anyone on the glass or 50-50 balls, and he has already put up nine double-digit rebound effort.  That includes his 10-point, 19-rebound performance in which he knocked down all four of his late free throws and was clearly the Blazers' best player in Tuesday's win over Denver.

Defensively, Przybilla has busted his tail all season.  In addition to blocking more than a shot per game, Przybilla has been effective at rotating and helping defensively and not costing the Blazers by being out of position or late to the play.  The Blazers are 5.1 points better defensively per 100 possessions with him on the court than without him, and they are a net 4.4 points better overall per 100 possessions with him on the floor. 

Przybilla has picked up the slack on several occasions for the Oden as the youngster continues to work his way back into full game shape and battle the foul trouble that often plagues young big men.  It is Przybilla who has often been on the floor in crunch time, and thus far, it is Przybilla who has earned those minutes.  He has set a great example for his young charge in how to influence an NBA game without always having the ball in his hands, and by all accounts, he has set just as good an example off the court.  Standing on the court Tuesday night after sparking the win over Denver, Przybilla deflected credit to his teammates and feigned not hearing the first time the sideline reporter tried to give him the praise he earned for his part in the victory.  It was symptomatic of the attitude Przybilla has brought to this team all season.  He has done everything asked of him and more this season, and he has done it with a smile, even as he helps groom the man who will ultimately diminish his role in the rotation.

The man with the coolest nickname in the Association - the Vanilla Gorilla - has been a pleasure to watch and listen to from afar throughout this young season.  One can only imagine how strongly Blazers fans - and Przybilla's teammates and coaching staff - feel about the job he has done.

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