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With Increased Role, Victor Claver Is Coming Around

03/07/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0



    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Since the arrival of point guard Eric Maynor, the Trail Blazers seem to have found what has eluded them for most of the year: a consistent group of bench contributors. Maynor's abilities and successes have been highlighted along with the suddenly steady and impactful play of Meyers Leonard. But the third cog in the three man group that gives some people thinking the Trail Blazers have found a rotation is one who takes care of the little things.

    "The little things" are a cliche term for details. The minutiae of life such as meals times and work schedules and, in the case of Victor Claver, the minutiae of the game of basketball. The type of things you can't see in a box score -- setting good screens, being able to hedge a pick and roll, making the extra pass, floating to the right spots on the floor, rotating to the right spot to help your fellow defender, having a "feel for the game" -- all of those things are attributes that Victor Claver has brought to the Trail Blazers bench all year. But now he is also finding more rhythm offensively and is not just becoming a player you can count on to not make mistakes, but also one who is making a positive insight on a nightly basis as of late.

    Since Feb. 1, Claver has found consistent minutes playing both forward positions off the bench. There was a seven game stretch in December when the Trail Blazers were without Wesley Matthews in which Claver started and the Trail Blazers were 5-2. But although one could see what Stotts saw, that Claver was a complimentary player who helped keep the flow of the game going, it seemed like there was a lack of confidence and comfort in the rookie's offensive game.  Early numbers indicate as much, as Claver struggled mightily on the stat sheet despite bringing good length on defense and a high basketball IQ.

    Pre-February, Claver was shooting 30.5 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three in just 12 minutes per game. He's improved since the All-Star break and, with the arrival of Eric Maynor, that improvement has steadily continued. Stotts says that anytime Claver scores it's "a plus."

    "Victor just plays. He's got great instincts and like I said last night (after Claver scored 10 points against Minnesota), if he makes his shots, that's great," said Stotts. "I think he's playing with more confidence all around. Defensively, offensively. I think he's really understanding and learning the NBA game."

    "With every time I feel better and I'm understanding more what I can do and what I can contribute and in which situations I can score, too," Claver said.

    In the last month, Claver is shooting a 44.2 percent while taking one more shot per game. The difference in his performance is more obvious when you take a look at advanced metrics. His effective field goal percentage (a shooting metric that takes into account the extra worth of threes) has improved from of 35.6 percent to 51 percent and taking his true shooting percentage (a metric combining field goals, threes and free-throw percentage) from 36.3 to 50.3 percent. In six games since the All-Star break, Claver is shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the field off the Trail Blazers bench in 18.3 minutes per game and the Trail Blazers defense actually improves, albeit slightly, when Claver is on the court (104.5 points per 100 possessions when Claver is off the court, 103.5 when he is on per NBA.com).

    Claver, as he has been asked to play more minutes at power forward, has started to work more with assistant coach Kim Hughes, whose primary role is working with rookie bigs Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland. Claver can also be seen working on his three-point shot before games, possibly the most important thing he can do to not only make an impact with the Trail Blazers, but be a productive, dependable player in the NBA (Claver has made three of his last seven corner three point attempts according to NBA.com). If he can hit shots in the corner when the ball is swung to him while teams are keying in on stopping Portland's pick and rolls, his value to the team will only increase.

    "I think that all players that consider themselves good three-pointers has to make the corner three. They are shots that are, like the one I made yesterday, when you are swinging the ball around, they are going to call on you," said Claver. "You have to have confidence that you are going to make those shots. And for me, it's a little bit easier because it's the closest distance. I'm more used to it than ones straight ahead."

    And like most rookies, Claver has gotten used to life in the NBA as the season has wore on. It is the details he sees that have changed as he is still spending the majority of his time practicing, training and playing.  

    "On game days, the eating schedule has to change a little bit," Claver said as the Spanish gastronomic schedule involves a late lunch and dinner as well as later 8:30 PM start times for games."I've gotten used to, for example, resting before I eat so that after I eat I go right to the arena. Sometimes I don't have to take the siesta like I used to in Spain. I ate then slept."

    The fact he had to adjust his schedule seems like a small detail, but like the extra pass or making the right rotation on defense or setting a good screen, the smallest things can make the biggest difference. Claver has started to find a rhythm in his new life in the NBA but he's also finding a rhythm on the court, becoming more confident in his abilities and helping the Trail Blazers find, what some see as a consistent group of bench contributors.

    Also, Claver, who had been made aware by his fellow Spaniards and former Trail Blazers Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez about the atmosphere in the Rose Garden says he understands what they meant and is understanding the culture of Rip City.

    "Yeah, definitely, when you travel and you see the other arenas that don't have an environment like ours, the truth is you have to be thankful to the people that even now when we aren't in a great situation, they keep coming and they keep supporting us. Every game is is like the first one against the Lakers where they are cheering us til' death."


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