to_njn_jumperWhen we last saw Travis Outlaw, he was wrapping up a rough first year with the New Jersey Nets. Well, "rough" doesn't quite do it justice — after signing a five-year, $35 million contract as a free agent in the summer of 2010, Outlaw ranked among the worst players in the NBA last season.
For the rangy 26-year-old forward, the 2010-11 campaign was marked by ceaseless struggles in just about all facets of the sport, an 82-game horror show that had the Garden State faithful serenading him with sarcastic "M-V-P!" chants by year's end. It was a stressful season, but hope springs eternal in the summer — unless you're hoping for the NBA to open its books, of course — and as he waits out the lockout in his hometown of Starkville, Miss., Outlaw remains optimistic about increasing his contributions in his second season with the Nets.
And why wouldn't he be? According to his father, John Outlaw Sr., New Jersey head coach Avery Johnson thinks the key to Travis raising his game is more rising and firing. As in, taking almost twice as many shots a night as he did last year.
Wait, what? From Danny P. Smith at the Starkville Daily News:
Travis' father John expects better things from his son as his career with the Nets enters a second season.
In conversation with New Jersey head coach Avery Johnson, John overheard that the coaches would like for Travis to put up at least 17 shots per outing.
Even though Travis felt there weren't the opportunities to take that many shots last year, things may be different moving forward.
"[Johnson] said, 'I want you to put up those 17 shots' so this year, Travis said it's on," John Outlaw said.
This seems weird for a few reasons, not the least of which is that news about the specific degree to which a professional basketball player might be featured in an offensive scheme is being broken by his father in July based on something he "overheard" in coaching conversation. That'd be somewhere between pretty rare and utterly ludicrous, which leads you to believe you should take the report with a grain of salt.
• Nobody on the Nets — not even primary frontcourt scoring option Brook Lopez or ball-dominating point guards Devin Harris and Deron Williams — averaged 17 shots per game for New Jersey last year, according to Basketball-Reference.com;
• Outlaw averaged 8.9 field-goal attempts per game last season — and has never in his NBA career averaged more than 11.8 tries per game, a mark he hit with the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2007-08 season — so this would mean a monstrous increase in his role on the offensive end;
• He certainly doesn't deserve more shots, coming off a season that saw him miss 62.5 percent of his tries, including 70 percent of attempted 3-pointers, while hitting at below or well-below league average from every area on the court, according to Hoopdata.com;
• It's possible that Johnson could have been talking about Outlaw increasing his combined field-goal and free-throw totals — he only managed 2.6 trips to the line per 36 minutes last season, refusing to use his quickness to get to the rim even when his 20-footer wasn't falling, continuing a career-long habit that helped keep him out of the starting lineup in Portland. But only Lopez (22 combined attempts per game), Williams (18.9) and the since-departed Harris (17) managed that many, and it's hard to make a case that Outlaw should be encouraged to try to join that club over, say, Anthony Morrow, who actually hits a lot of the shots that he takes.
Basically, by any rational measurement, the idea of Avery Johnson setting a 17-shot-per-game target for his struggling, league-average-at-best second-unit swingman makes no sense. And yet, 17 is such a specific number that it seems just as ridiculous for Outlaw's father to pull it out of the ether and start telling a reporter about it.
Then again, dads sometimes say weird stuff in the interest of talking up their sons. One time mine told a girl I could balance a spoon on my nose for a super-long time, which was true, but still a pretty weird thing to brag about. Especially when he could have been promoting my sweet, sweet hair.
Anyway, the main takeaway is that it now exists in the realm of public consciousness and possibility that Avery Johnson thinks Travis Outlaw should take 17 shots a game next year. Sorry, Nets fans. Here's hoping this doesn't harsh your Marshon Brooks-inspired mellow.