Here's what happens when I take a week off: I'm hungry enough for seconds. And that means:
DOUBLE TAKO TUESDAY!
It's a tragic thing in sports when a star falls: whether it's physical, legal, chemical, or psychological, the end of a career can alter an athlete's legacy, making us forget completely about its beginning in some cases. There are far more people that know and think of OJ Simpson not as one of the most dominant running backs of all time, but as a wife beater, probable wife killer, and definite memorabilia hijacker. This is an extreme example of course, but is this the destiny of Tajuan Porter's legacy as an Oregon athlete? Or can we choose to remember him for his legendary freshman year as the perfect spark plug to a veteran Oregon team? Here's my opinion:
Tajuan Porter's freshman year set unrealistic expectations for the rest of his career, and these expectations are as much to blame for how we remember Tajuan Porter's on-field performance.
If he's hot, he can change the dynamic of any game with his score from anywhere shooting. He would have thrived at an elite program like Kansas or North Carolina, carving out a niche as a three-point threat off the bench who either came in and lit it up for six threes, or missed two in a row and sat the rest of the half. But this is not an elite program. Tajuan wasn't fortunate enough to have four years of Ty Lawson, Scottie Reynolds, or Darren Collison. He had one year of Aaron Brooks, and was absolutely spectacular.
Tajuan's sophomore season was critical. I didn't agree with the decision to make him the point guard for a number of reasons: because of his height, he doesn't draw help from other defenders because he simply isn't a threat to score near the basket, and our offense loses the drive and kick game that thrived with Brooks at the helm. He also is a shoot-first personality, even more so than Brooks was (Brooks definitely wasn't pass-first, but his skills as a shooter opened up for his passing). Was he expected to improve? Of course. But should he have been expected to completely change the way he plays basketball? Yes, Kamyron Brown was a true freshman, but his penetrating ability was about on par with TP's, and his passing was much better. Would replacing Brooks with Brown in the starting lineup have been any worse than Tajuan masquerading as a point guard while Malik Hairston stands in the corner and gets annoyed because he isn't getting the ball? Brown averaged an assist more than Tajuan in slightly more than half the minutes. If Kamyron plays 30 minutes a game at the point, he probably averages between 4-5 assists a game, Tajuan shoots a higher percentage because he isn't worried about distributing, and we lose to Memphis in Round 2 instead of Mississippi State in Round 1. This season is truly important, however, because it put the idea that TP is a point guard into Ernie Kent's head, an idea he still hasn't lost sight of (more on that later).
If you look at TP's season-by-season stats, his numbers have been essentially the same: 13-15 points, 2 assists, more turnovers than assists, FG% and 3P% about the same. There are two schools of thought here: either he hasn't improved due to a lack of hard work, or he hasn't improved because he just peaked really early as a basketball player, and has been trying way too hard to be something he's not the last three years. I think the second scenario makes more sense, because there is an ability ceiling for a 5'6" player in basketball. Muggsy Bogues thrived because he was an elite ball handler and passer, never looked for his own shot, and was surrounded by good scorers (Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, Anthony Mason). Earl Boykins has succeeded in exactly the role Tajuan should be playing: off-the-bench spark plug, only Boykins is a much better passer, has much better penetrating ability, and his role has never been a question. David Eckstein or Juan Pierre aren't expected to hit home runs. Why should Tajuan Porter be expected to score 25 points a game and be an inside-out threat in a conference where everybody's got a player over 6'10"? Boykins averaged 26.8 points as a senior, but he was doing it against less talented (and shorter) opponents. He's also a better basketball player, but I just went over that.
Dom, you can skip this next paragraph. I'm gonna blame Ernie for a while.
The question remains: why is Tajuan Porter still running the offense? I know Armstead has taken over as the main point guard, and Garrett Sim is getting time too. But we have two serviceable point guards. Why is Tajuan running the offense at all? He's a senior. He's clearly not doing any good with the ball in his hands. Let's get him back to doing what he does best: finding an open spot outside the arc, and burying threes. Let Armstead play 25 minutes at the point, and give Sim the other 15. The blame for the season I'm putting on Ernie Kent is that no one is sure what their role is on the team, which turns into disorganization, chaos, and turnovers. If you watch Syracuse, Michigan State, or Duke, every player on the floor knows exactly what their role is, and when a new player enters, they know exactly how their role changes. Oregon is lacking that, and is consequently lacking wins. Tajuan Porter had a basketball identity, and lost it during his time here, and it's apparent that most of the team, Longmire, Wiley, and Jamil Wilson especially, doesn't know what their identity is supposed to be.
Here's where I'm gonna blame the fans. Let's think back to 2007-8. We were coming off an Elite Eight season, with four returning starters. We had Bryce, Malik, and Maarty, and yet we were infatuated with this tiny little shooting machine. We took a look at Tajuan and said, "sure, he's short, he can play point guard!" And when he wasn't Brooks 2.0, questions mounted: Is it mechanical? Is it Ernie Kent's fault? Is it the keloid? The people that questioned whether he was playing out of position and was being asked to do too much were out there, but were a definite minority. We talk about burying him on the bench, but it shouldn't have come to that. If he had been coming off the bench and producing like we all know he can, we'd be clamoring to get him more minutes. It's only natural for us as fans to want every player on the teams we root for to be superstars, to do no wrong. But Tajuan Porter simply isn't that kind of player. And we need to stop expecting him to be. At the same time, we shouldn't write him off as a failure. He gave us arguably the most impressive freshman season in Oregon basketball history, and one of the most impressive shooting performances in Oregon basketball history. We definitely don't get to the Elite Eight without him. So when TP comes back in five, ten, or twenty years to catch a game, let's applaud his accomplishments instead of harping on the negatives of his game.