Travis Outlaw: Exercises in Futility

After the completion of a wild New Jersey Nets season, Nets are Scorching will be looking back at the players that made it happen.

Gerald Wallace Charlotte Bobcats Travis Outlaw New Jersey Nets
That about sums it up.

Final Stats: 82 G, 55 GS, 28.8 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 1.0 APG, (0.7-3.3) 4.0 RPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 37.5 FG%, 30.2 3P%, 77.2 FT%, 97 ORtg, 8.8 PER (career low)

Close your eyes. Picture a Nets game from this past season. Any game, because Outlaw played in every single one. Outlaw receives the ball on the left wing. Does he:

a) call for a pick-and-roll
b) swing the ball around, looking for an open man
c) pump-fake, dribble around with no direction for 3-5 seconds, and fire a contested fallaway 18-footer
d) retire

If you answered anything but “C,” I don’t think you’ve seen much of the Nets, or spend your time reading my Twitter account during any Nets game.

When the Nets signed Outlaw, I was in the same boat as everyone else: yeah, the guy got a little overpaid, but since it was a flat contract going ahead, I wasn’t too concerned. $7 million in 2015 for what I thought Outlaw would be wasn’t necessarily a bad deal. It was essentially the MLE. But Outlaw wasn’t the guy we thought he could be this season. He wasn’t even close. Avery Johnson dogged him mid-season for his lack of conditioning. The athleticism he had exhibited in Portland seemed a distant memory. He’d get lift on his jumpshot, but he’d take such poor shots that they were doing far more damage than good in the long run. He was long, so he could disrupt opponents on defense, but he was consistently a step behind, whether he was isolated or helping out.

The Nets signed him as a starter, but aren’t trying to keep him there. That much is clear. Had Damion James not broken his foot, had the Nets not been plagued with Quinton Ross & Stephen Graham as alternatives, there’s a good chance Outlaw wouldn’t have started at the 3 again. Given his skill level, he deserves to be a seventh or eighth man somewhere, making a difference on a playoff team that doesn’t really have any need for him but could use him to spell their starters.

He knows he can do better. He wants to do better. He’s said as much as this season draws to a close. And that’s cool. I’m glad he’ at least saying he’s committed to improving. Unfortunately, I don’t know if he can. I’ve been wondering if that broken foot he suffered in 2009 with Portland never fully healed. It would make sense; he’s been robbed of his athleticism and looks clumsy while handling the ball. He reminds me of watching high school ball, gangly 15-year-olds who haven’t filled out their body yet.

It’s because of these reasons that I give Outlaw this year’s Yi Jianlian Award: the guy we all knew wasn’t great, wanted him to thrive in his role, but forgetting that below-average players don’t thrive in roles without great players around them.

The Pink Shirt: (ed. note: in honor of The Greatest Nets Fan in the History of Nets Fans, this is our award given to a player’s best moment of the season.)
As much as Outlaw’s season felt like one tragic comedy, he did have some good games – he took apart his old Clippers team, and was instrumental to the Nets upsetting Denver. However, his sublime moment was was one indisputable highlight: March 5, 2011, in London, in triple-overtime, Nets down 136-135 with 12 seconds remaining. Outlaw drew the foul, stepped to the line, and calmly sunk two free throws with the eyes of the raucous London crowd placed firmly upon him. The Nets got a stop on the next possession and won the game.

The Paper Bag (ed. note: in honor of last season’s Brett Yormark controversy, this award is given to the player’s worst moment of the season.)
With Outlaw, his moment in the dark lasted over a month. Between December 3rd and January 12th, Outlaw shot a preposterous 29.3% from the field on 188 field goal attempts, also missing 53 of his 65 shots from deep. Outlaw averaged just under 10 shots per game in this span, which meant he averaged shooting 3/10 per game in this stretch. He never shot above 50% in any one single game in this span.

Final Thoughts: Outlaw will likely be back next year, but there’s no question the Nets will be looking to move him. (We’ve got some trade ideas coming, too.) After understandably falling out of Avery’s good graces, he became one of the many scapegoats for the struggles the team faced this season. If he does come back next year, he’s almost assuredly going to be coming off the bench – where I think he’s destined to be.

Final Grade: D-