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An Improved Outlaw Coming Soon?

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Jason Quick over at The Oregonian has written an excellent piece on Blazers forward Travis Outlaw and his hometown of Starkville, Miss.  It's a very well-reported story, and it provides a lot of depth about the player and his personal background.  But the part that jumps out is Outlaw's commentary on his aspirations for the seasons to come.

Quick quotes Outlaw talking about how while he is primarly concerned with helping the team win, he isn't entirely comfortable with the role of sixth man and doesn't want to be stuck with it forever.  He's worried about his shot attempts dropping with the entrances of Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez to the second team backcourt, and he would like to have some more freedom from Nate McMillan to shoot the jumper.

All of this comes with a promise from Outlaw that observers will see a much better player this season, that he'll be a better scorer and rebounder in the year to come.   

He'll need to do exactly that if he wants to become a starter in this league.

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From Quick's piece and all I've heard about Outlaw, he sounds like a good enough guy, and even the comments about his desire for more playing time and a more prominent role don't come off all that selfishly.  Outlaw makes it clear that he likes the team he is on and wants to be a part of a winner in Portland.  That he wants a larger personal role is natural.

But until his production rises dramatically, it will be hard to justify having him in any greater role than his current one.

Outlaw is a 6-foot-9, 210-pound string bean who comes off the bench at both forward spots for the Blazers, though he played primarily at the four last year.  With his long reach and slender build, Outlaw has the figure of a slasher, and he has shown in flashes the ability to attack the rim hard and wreak havoc on opposing defenses.  In the final two games of the team's rough 2006-07 campaign, Outlaw totaled 36 trips to the free throw line, hitting on 34 of those attempts.  He had two games with double-digit trips to the line in 2007-08 and five more in which he took at least eight free-throw attempts.

But that's been far more exception than norm for Outlaw.  For the most part, the five-year vet has preferred to settle for being a jump shooter offensively, and he hasn't done it with any particular efficacy.  With his high-release and occasionally hitched jumper, Outlaw has put up just a 44.2 percent field-goal accuracy and, more glaringly, a 50.2 percent true shooting mark for his career, finishing below the 50 percent mark in three of his five seasons.  Outlaw doesn't shoot the ball all that efficiently, takes less than two three-pointers per game (he greatly improved to 39.6 percent from there last year) and isn't a huge volume scorer either.  His 13.3 points per game (18.0 per 36 minutes) last year set a new career high.  While it's nice to have the sort of scoring Outlaw provided off the bench, he did his work in what were practically starter minutes (26.7 per game)  and took 11.7 shots per game, ranking him behind only Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge on the Blazers.

Further, Outlaw has been particularly unimpressive on the boards.  He averaged just 4.6 per game (6.2 per 36 minutes) last season, and that was a career high.  That isn't a great mark for a small forward, and it's a poor mark for a power forward.  While it's a tough situation for Outlaw in that he is a bit big for the three and not quite bulky enough for the four, he simply needs to be more productive on the glass if he is going to make himself into a bigger-deal player in the league.  He's also got the physique to become a very good defender, but it's worth noting that the team was 4.5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with him on the floor than off it a season ago.  

Quick reports that Outlaw has set a goal of 16 points and 8 rebounds per game for himself this year.  If he can put up that sort of production and do his scoring with greater efficacy, he could prove himself a very valuable piece to the Blazers.  With more driving - though he says he loves relying on the jumper - more trips to the foul line and better use of his long wingspan and leaping ability on the glass, he has the potential to acheive those goals.  But until that time comes, Travis Outlaw will remain a likable but mediocre part of one of the Association's most promising young teams.