Before the season started, it was a running joke around Portland that you knew the season was already heading downhill when the Blazers were patiently waiting for Ronnie Price, dribbling enthusiast and part-time backup point guard, to return from injury. While some playoff teams in the Association get to run out Darren Collisons, Eric Bledsoes, and Benos (whatever that is), the Blazers were left with the guy who made Jazz fans want Deron Williams to average 48 minutes a night.
When looking at a backup point guard, especially for a bad team like Portland (don’t let the projected playoff standing fool you) it’s important to consider what is a realistic expectation. Certainly, Price isn’t going to average big points, or provide one easily recognizable benefit. In years past, the Blazers were subbing in Sergio Rodriguez (fastbreaks! turnovers!) and Jerryd Bayless (crossovers! turnovers!) and you knew what you were looking for. With Price, it’s a little different.
Part of the reason could be the change of pace from a clear All-Star in Damian Lillard. The rookie has been taking a huge scoring load, especially considering his position, and when Price subs in for him it’s an obvious change of strategy offensively for Terry Stotts. What Lillard does well – shoots threes, creates shots, hits long twos – Price doesn’t do at all. In fact, Price is shooting just 25% from 3-point range and 34% from the field in total.
Despite the obvious inequities, Price is providing some value. While overall neither Price nor Lillard are spectacular defenders (Synergy has Price ranked just below a block of wood at defending any screen or rotation play) it seems that the backup point guard has been able to produce turnovers via steals in key situations, including a third quarter steal during a LeBron James crossover Thursday night. And in fact, Synergy has Price ranked as a better defender than Lillard so far this season.
For the Blazers, it’s not about performance, it’s about need. While many teams are looking for a strong backup point guard to lead their sixth man forward during breaks for the starters, the Blazers really just need a game manager. That means no turnovers and more assists. Price, surprisingly, has stepped his game up for Portland this year. He’s above his career average in AST% and down in turnovers. He’s got a better assist/turnover numbers than Norris Cole, who is starting for the team who will most likely win the championship. He even has a positive win share, which the Heat guard can’t attest to.
And really, that’s Ronnie Price as you see him this year. Because the Blazers are so terrible, we’re quick to look at him in a poor light. His comparative numbers are marginally better than some starters who are also terrible, but that’s kind of the point. He’s not as bad as he could be, and in fact, he’s filling a role quite nicely for Portland. If he stopped shooting the ball, you could even say he’s serviceable. At this point, I think that’s the best the Blazers are going to get.
Better than Nolan Smith, anyway.