Calkins: Blazers need Camby’s impact

Commentary: Matt Calkins

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Marcus Camby is a 6-foot-11 center who, over his past 70 games, has failed to shoot 40 percent from the field.

That’s kind of like a night club bouncer who, in each of his past 70 bench presses, failed to lift the bar.

Marcus Camby is a 37-year-old center who, in his 16th NBA season, has been asked to start for a playoff team.

That’s kind of like a frat boy who, after his 16th Corona, is asked to win the Sigma Chi dart tourney.

Marcus Camby is as fragile as an egg and as skinny as a peg. He had his lowest blocks-per-game average in eight years last season, missed 23 games due to injury, and produced a scoring output of virtually nothing.

To the Portland Trail Blazers, however, he is virtually everything.

Most will point to location when trying to analyze the Blazers’ woes of late, arguing that their history of road struggles best explains this three-loss trip. But the Rose Garden crowd may not be the most significant absence over the course of that skid.

When Camby sprained his ankle during the second quarter of Portland’s 16-point loss to the Spurs on Sunday, it tore the scab off of this extremely tenuous team.

The Blazers have now been outrebounded in five consecutive games. And the one contest that came before Camby’s injury was one in which Marcus played just 13 minutes.

True, the former Defensive Player of the Year may not log as much time as he did in his Denver or New York days, but he still pulls down .356 rebounds per minute. That’s better than Blake Griffin, the fourth-leading rebounder in the league.

His .394 boards per minute last year, meanwhile, were better than everyone but Kevin Love.

But it’s not just the rebounding the Blazers so badly miss, it’s the rejecting, too.

Camby’s block per-minute rate as high as it was for several years in his prime, and he’d probably have three times as many swats if opponents weren’t floating it 20 feet high to avoid his redwood arms.

The UMass product thrashes his arms so hard at the ball on defense it’s if he’s playing whack-a-mole. But his timing is so precise that lane penetrators can’t help but alter their decisions.

In other words, Camby is a 37-year-old who’s as effective as ever. Just call him the Mountain of Youth.

As far as his offense goes? OK, so he opens every game with a 20-foot jumper that invariably clanks (pretty sure it’s in his contract that he’s allowed to take that), and he’s called for a charge or travel each time he attacks the rim from the middle of the paint.

But when Camby has the ball at the top of the key, he’s a lock to throw a Rembrandt-esque alley-oop once a half. If that doesn’t open up the rest of the offense, Hef doesn’t care about looks.

Look, Camby isn’t going make an All-Star or All-NBA team. He’s not a piece you use to close a blockbuster trade, and if Portland had an experienced center taller than 6-9 to back him up, his injury wouldn’t be causing as much team-wide pain.

But the simple truth is this: When Marcus Camby is off the court, the Blazers are off the mark.

Yeah, the old man may be thin. But Portland’s front court is even thinner.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com. Twitter @blazerbanter