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Who's #1?

This season is the Blazer's 40th in the NBA. Has it really been that long? In honor of the 40th anniversary,OregonLive and Jason Quick have been counting down the 40 best Blazers of all time. It has been fun to read about the players of the past and reminisce about the old times. I remembered watching the 1992 season highlight video "Make It Happen" over and over and wondering why the Blazers let Jordan do all the same moves. Every time I watched I thought they would figure out how to guard him and win the championship. I remembered Bill Schonely narrating the highlights from the double OT game against Phoenix in the '92 playoffs ("a gunslinging battle of epic proportions"). I remembered Sabonis and all the amazing passes. I remembered how good Rasheed was when his head was in the game, and how unstoppable his turnaround fadeaway was. I remembered Scottie Pippen suddenly becoming one of my favorite players instead of a player I rooted against. I remembered the drafts and all the trades that were made to obtain the players we have today.

The biggest question of all, of course, was who would grace the top of the countdown. Most Blazer fans knew who the final two would be, but they were left to debate which player is #1 . Walton or Drexler? Bill vs Clyde? Mountain Man vs The Glide? Let's break it down and try to come up with an answer.

Durability: Easy answer. Walton holds the record for most games missed during an NBA career. Not a good record to have. Potentially could have been the greatest center of all time if his feet didn't betray him. Drexler played less than 50 games only once during his Blazer career. Edge: Drexler

Scoring Ability: Clyde was extremely athletic but was a very raw talent when he was drafted from Houston. Clyde could run and jump as high as anyone but didn't really understand how the pro game was played. Over the years, he improved his jump shot and post game and used them to his advantage. Clyde averaged over 20 points six times during the 11-1/2 years he spent with the franchise. Drexler has the single season scoring record (27.2 PPG). He could get to the basket basically whenever he wanted. Clyde also had an uncanny ability to dribble with his head down yet still know where he was on the court. Walton never averaged 20 points a game for the Blazers. He concentrated more on his rebounds and passing rather than his points. Walton was an accomplished scorer at UCLA, famously going 21 of 22 ( 44 points) in the 1973 national championship game. Walton was the ultimate team player and sacrificed his scoring stats for the good of the team. Therefore, we give the edge to Clyde. Edge: Drexler

Hair: Had to put this in the breakdown. Walton had flaming red hair that made him look like he was on fire. His long hair combined with a legit beard was a classic hippie look. Drexler battled male pattern baldness for years. He refused to shave his head when it was most popular to do so. Clyde had a nice fro in college but never really sported it in the NBA. As easy an answer as the durability section. Edge: Walton

Defensive Prowess: As we discussed earlier, Walton was an amazing defensive force. He averaged two blocks a game during his career in Portland with a high of 3.2 a game in 76-77. He also never averaged UNDER 12 rebounds a game during his four years as a Blazer, peaking in 76-77 with 14.4 a game. Drexler was known more for his offensive game and high flying ability, but he was a decent defender as well. Clyde averaged a little over two steals a game in his 11-1/2 years with the team and only averaged over seven rebounds a game one time. Clyde used most of his energy on offense and running the fast break. A good majority of the furious Blazer fast breaks were caused by steals, so Clyde gets points for that. The Blazers ran their offense through Walton, but it all started with his defense. Bill was named first team all NBA for defense two seasons, and he led the league in rebounds and blocks in 76-77. Grabbing boards, blocking or changing shots, and zipping fast outlet passes was a key part of his game. Edge: Walton

Passing: As stated above, the Blazers ran their offense through Walton. Pretty rare for a pro team to run the offense through a seven foot center. They did this because of Walton's unbelievable passing and extremely high basketball IQ. Watching Walton play in old Blazer games is a thing of beauty. The team is constantly moving with screens and backdoor cuts. Walton's high season average for assists was five, which is again rare for a seven foot center. When Walton was healthy, the Blazers ran like a well-oiled machine. But the best part of Walton's passing skill was his outlet passes. Catching the ball in the air and sometimes throwing the ball down the court before hitting the ground was his speciality. His outlet passes were a sight to behold and also keyed the fast break for those teams. Only two centers have been so good at outlet passes (Walton and Wes Unseld). Drexler averaged more assists than Walton in almost every season with the Blazers. Most of these assists were on fast breaks while the majority of Walton's assists came in the half court offense passing to cutters or the open player for a jumper. Gotta give the edge to Walton here. Watch some old Walton Blazer games if you disagree. Edge: Walton

Nickname: "Clyde the Glide" vs "The Mountain Man". Both classic nicknames that originated from Clyde's ability to "glide" and Walton's already discussed hair. Jim Nantz says that he dubbed Drexler "The Glide" when he was broadcasting basketball games for Houston. Clyde's first nickname was "Windex" because he could jump high enough to clean the glass. Walton just looked like a Mountain Man--there really isn't any other way to describe it. I'm giving the edge to Clyde in this section because his nickname oozes coolness and is more remembered among fans and analysts. Edge: Drexler

Stats: Walton should be up high in most Blazer stats, but injuries killed his potential. Clyde is the franchise leader in points, rebounds, steals, and is second in assists. Clyde had the most all star appearances of any Blazer player (eight). Drexler also holds the single season scoring average record with 27.2 in 88-89. Walton is the only Blazer to be named MVP and one of two players to be named first team all NBA (Drexler was the other player). Walton was first team all NBA in defense two years. Drexler is the easy winner here. Edge: Drexler.

Championships: Walton was 1/1 and Drexler was 0/2. Walton's Blazers were looking prime for another title in 1978 before Walton went down with an injured bone in his foot. They were 50-10 when he got hurt and were never the same. From March 29, 1977 to March 1st, 1978, including the 1977 playoffs, Walton's team went 70-15. Drexler's Blazer teams were one of the top three or four teams in the league from 90-92. Their best team that finished with the best regular season record of 63-19 in 1991, lost in the WCF to the dreaded Lakers. Yes, I still have nightmares of Uncle Cliffy dropping the pass on a three on one break with a minute to go with the Blazers down one in game six. Those Blazer teams that made the Finals were just unlucky with the teams that they played against in the finals. Isaiah's Detroit team in 90 was more experienced and defending the title from 89. Jordan's Bulls had finally made it over the hump in 91 and were determined to go back to back in 92. They ran into really good teams defending the title from the previous year. Walton wins easy here because of the Championship win in 1977. Edge: Walton

According to this breakdown, we have an even race for the right to be #1. But we need to dig even further to determine the correct choice. Walton played for the Blazers in the mid to late 70's. The style of play was completely different compared to when Drexler was playing. Back when Walton was dominating, basketball was really all about fundamentals and team basketball. The Blazers' style back then was to work the offense through Walton and try to come up with the best scoring opportunity. Drexler's Blazer teams had a completely different style of play, especially in the two runs to the NBA Finals. Their goal was to play competitive defense and crash the boards hard all game in order to create fast break opportunities. Walton was a master of fundamentals, had a very high basketball IQ, but his body wasn't built to take the beating of playing pro basketball. Drexler was a freak of athleticism but had to be taught the fundamentals of the game by Jack Ramsey.

Because they played so far apart, some fans didn't get to see both of these players play in their prime. A fan who grew up with Walton playing and that great championship in 1977, would probably pick Walton over Drexler. A younger fan who just heard stories of Walton but grew up watching Drexler and those runs to the Finals would pick Clyde. Everybody I asked who had seen both of them play picked Walton over Drexler. Jack Ramsey (who coached both players) said Walton was by far the better player. Drexler was a better player for a longer amount of time, but Walton was the best player in the league for two of the years he played in Portland. If I had the first choice in an all Blazer draft and I could select any player from any year for a full season, I would pick Walton. Drexler would happily go to the person with the second pick. My logic for picking Walton in that pretend draft and in the real countdown is this: As long as you surround Walton with a decent rebounder, a decent shooter, and some quick guards, you are pretty much guaranteed a title if he stays healthy. I would rather have two or three amazing years of Walton and have my team win the title, instead of 11 years of Drexler and no championship. OregonLive and Jason Quick picked The Glide over The Mountain Man because of Drexler's excellence over a long period of time. Let the debating begin.

Owen Reutlinger

2 comments:

  1. I saw both Walton and Drexler in their primes and agree that I'd take the Big Redhead over Clyde. Tough choice though. And ease up on male pattern baldness....

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  2. I wish Drexler had retired a Blazer, but I think you have to count tenure with the team. We may consider Walton one of the great Blazers, but does Walton consider himself a Blazer or perhaps a Celtic? Walton accomplished a lot in Portland but his stint was breif, Drexler on the other hand spent the prime of his career in Portland and most of his years in the league.

    I say Drexler is clearly the #1, Walton#2 but if Roy can retire a Blazer and win a championship or two along the way he steals from both of them at the pace he is going.

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