Background: The 23 year old Outlaw has finally started to blossom in his 5th year in the league. Its a credit to both the Portland organization and Outlaw himself that theyve persevered through the lean years. Outlaw came out of high school half a decade ago as a raw athlete with very little basketball skill and has slowly refined himself into a high quality role player for the streaking Blazers.
The team thought long and hard about letting Outlaw go after last season but elected to re-sign him. Coach Nate McMillan must have been intrigued by the late season burst Outlaw showed last year as well as the good attitude and coach-ability he possesses.
It appears that loyalty will now pay off as Outlaw is quickly beginning to perform at a level that exceeds his modest salary level.
The Good: Outlaw has been pretty consistent in terms of his usage over the past three seasons. The team typically finds him on the perimeter, inside the three point line for spot shots off of penetration and post ups.
Outlaws set shot still has a long way to go before it can be used as a reliable part of the offense, but he has reached a very solid level of effectiveness off the dribble with his pull-up shot. Its a tribute to his elevation and athleticism that he has become so adept at shooting off the dribble. Outlaws game is about staying in motion and using his length to beat recovering opponents.
While Outlaw isnt an amazing ball-handler, hes leaps and bounds better than he was three years ago. Early in his career Outlaw was limited to transition baskets and the occasional one-dribble shot, which he didnt hit with much consistency. Outlaw used to heavily favor his dominant right hand, a common trait for many players. But he mixes up his drives very nicely now and gets to the basket with good ability going either way.
It was rare for Outlaw to be used in any type of structured offensive set when he first started getting playing time, but now the team uses him frequently in pick and roll situations, which speaks to his improved reliability on the offensive end. As a screener, Outlaw has a few options at his disposal and frequently isolates on the baseline, preferring to take the ball into the middle.
Defensively, Outlaw provides energy with his weak side shot-blocking and his ball-thievery. Hes not a thick-bodied player, so he relies more on timing to challenge larger players, but as a wing defender he is very effective both as a team defender and in man situations. An energy player, Outlaw feeds off the situation on the court and will turn up the intensity when its called for. He is capable of harassing an opponent into giving up the ball when his mind is set on stopping his man from scoring in isolation.
The Bad: Outlaw has come a long way, but he still has quite a bit of improvement to do if he wants to take his game up another level.
One area he could really stand to improve on his range from the elbow and behind the arc. Outlaw is solid when in motion, but suffers when his feet are set. Its almost as if he is uncomfortable standing in one place, often not ready to receive the ball to go into the shot. When Outlaw catches he is instantly thinking drive, which causes him to stand with his feet and body out of alignment. If he added a catch-and-shoot game, he could become a very good scorer.
It would also be nice to see Outlaw utilized in the post more frequently. What he lacks in footwork, he makes up for in length and elevation. Outlaw has good touch on his shots, despite the occasional breakdown in fundamental form. On the face up drive or turnaround jumper, Outlaw would have a speed advantage against most threes and fours with the length and explosiveness to go up for a soft shot.
Though he has flashes of brilliance on the defensive end, Outlaws intensity when playing man defense isnt consistent on every play. If he set his mind to it, he could be an absolute nightmare defensively and could legitimately shut down opposing wing men with his tremendous length and footspeed. But like most players, Outlaw gravitates toward preventative defense as opposed to aggressively attacking his opponent with heavy pressure.
Outlook: Portland has some tough personnel decisions to make over the next couple of off-seasons. Outlaw has to battle for playing time in a rotation with Martell Webster taking some of the wing minutes and Channing Frye taking away from his time at power forward.
But the three year contract and Outlaws penchant for clutch play down the stretch should see him through the eventual personnel movement that is sure to come. Outlaws versatility and two-way ability give him a very good shot at becoming the teams starting small forward in time. Whether or not he starts or becomes the teams all-purpose player off the bench, Outlaw should see an increase in playing time and responsibility as he progresses forward.
Outlaw was on the verge of becoming a journeyman in some peoples eyes as recently as last season, but by the time he hits free agency again the 23 year old should command quite a bit of attention around the league.