Clyde Drexler Plays His Way to NBA Upper Eschelon
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ They don’t call him ″Clyde the Glide″ for nothing.
Gliding down the basketball court, stealing the ball, then scoring with some improbable open-court move are what Clyde Drexler does best. And, this season, the 6-foot-7 guard’s soaring game is being compared with the current greats of the NBA.
No lesser authority than Magic Johnson says the 25-year-old Portland Trail Blazer deserves to be mentioned with the Michael Jordans, Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons.
″There’s no doubt about it,″ Johnson said. ″He’s approaching that level now. He’s a tremendous player on both ends of the court.″
The praise is familiar in the midst of a season that has seen Drexler average more than 25 points, nearly 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2.2 steals per game for the league’s third most potent offense.
″I’ve been hearing it all year. It’s great,″ Drexler said. ″Coming from guys like that, Magic and Bird, it’s a real compliment. If they say it, it’s legitimate.″
So far in his fifth NBA season, Drexler has scored over 30 points eight times, topped by a 40-point performance against San Antonio. On New Year’s night against Philadelphia, he capped a 37-point night by sinking two free throws with three seconds to go, then stealing the inbounds pass and scoring on a lay-up at the buzzer for a 127-125 Portland victory.
But Drexler doesn’t like to talk about his individual play. He nearly always tries to deflect the comment towards his teammates.
″The thing is, when the team wins, that’s when everybody gets their just respect,″ he said. ″If the team was losing and I was doing the same things, you wouldn’t hear much about it.″
The Trail Blazers are running a strong second to the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific Division, despite injuries to Steve Johnson and Kiki Vandeweghe. Drexler admits the absence of the two high scorers has put added pressure on him.
″You can’t let the offense stagnate,″ he said. ″You have to create something.″
The obvious boost in Drexler’s game this season has been his outside shooting. In the past, his line-drive jumper often would misfire. As a result, defenders would worry more about Drexler driving to the hoop than hitting from the outside. His whole offensive game suffered.
During the off-season, he worked on the problem with Vandeweghe and Trail Blazer shooting coach Geoff Petrie, two of the better shooters the NBA has known.
Drexler says Vandeweghe is his best friend on the team. The two have invested money together in rare coins and a race horse syndicate. For two weeks last summer, they spent two hours a day in a gymnasium shooting 500 to 700 jump shots in each session.
″I just tried to put more arch on it and try to give it more of a chance to go in,″ he said. ″I worked on squaring up more.″
Drexler admits he sometimes falls back into old habits. He was only 5 of 19 from the floor Tuesday night against Seattle. But he said people are going to have to realize he’s going to put up some off-balance shots.
″I’m an acrobatic player so I’m going to be in positions where I can’t always square up. I’m not usually going to be the guy who gets the ball kicked out to him. I’m the initiator, the creator,″ he said.
″Most of the time, if I take an off-balance shot, it has a chance to go in, because I’ve been taking them all my life,‴ he said. ″When they go in, they look good. When they don’t, you take the heat.″
Drexler is at his best in the open court, something he attributes strictly to his athletic ability.
″Open court play is just quickness and outjumping the other guy,″ he said. ″That’s it. You just go for it.″
When Drexler came out of college after his junior season on Houston’s ″Phi Slamma Jamma″ team of 1983, and was picked by the Blazers in the first round, he wasn’t thrilled with the prospects of playing in Portland.
″I really wanted to be in a big media market,″ he said, ″but at the end of my first year, I sad, ‘These are the cards I’ve been dealt. I’m going to make the best of the situation.’
″My attitude really changed and I got more involved in what I was doing.″
Drexler, an extremely eligible bachelor, still finds the social life somewhat stifling in Portland.
″Socially for a single man, it can be rather slow at times,″ he said.
But that’s not necessarily bad.
″For me, playing in a smaller town may have its advantages,″ he said, ″for concentration on basketball and peace of mind. When you’re in the city, there are so many things available.″
Besides, he said, he has grown to love Portland.
″I would like to win a championship here. That would make this a big market,″ he said. ″I think it can happen. I think we’re one player away.″
Drexler has one year left on his Trail Blazer contract. He refuses to talk about what happens after that.
″You start thinking about that and your whole game suffers,″ he said. ″You just go out and play as hard as you can every night and do whatever it takes to win. That’s always been my strategy. I just love the game of basketball.″
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