Forward has had some good stretches in limited court time

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Trail Blazers' Luke Babbit has had his moments on the court, and becomes a free agent at the end of the seasonLuke Babbitt dressed quietly at his cubicle in the Trail Blazers’ Rose Garden locker room Tuesday night, ignored by the media after Portland’s 102-98 loss to Phoenix.

The third-year forward from Nevada played virtually no role in the game, seeing only eight minutes of action, taking one shot and going scoreless for the 13th time this season.

It has been a mostly disappointing campaign for the 6-9, 225-pound Babbitt, averaging 4.1 points and a dozen minutes while shooting .353 from the field and .338 from 3-point range in 46 appearances.

Babbitt has had his moments, draining four treys and scoring a season-high 14 points in a 101-93 win over Denver on Dec. 20, and dropping in clutch shots in several other Blazer victories.

But Babbitt has not been the consistent producer Portland desperately needs off the bench, making management’s preseason decision not to pick up the option on his contract seem a wise one.

Babbitt becomes a free agent on July 1, so he’ll have a choice where he winds up next season.

To his credit, he is thinking team-first right now.

“I really haven’t thought about any kind of decision for next year,” Babbitt says. “I just want to be productive in these last (28) games and help us win games.”

After DNP-CDs (did not play/coach’s decision) in seven of Portland’s first 15 games, Babbitt has been in first-year coach Terry Stotts’ rotation most of the way since Nov. 30, playing as many as 27 minutes or as few as one. He has kept a good attitude about his role.

“I’m happy with whatever minutes I get,” he says. “My focus is to make the most of them. There have been a couple of games where I’ve played 30 seconds. My job is to do the same thing I do when I play 25, 30 minutes. That’s my mindset every time.”

It’s hard to get into a shooting groove with limited playing time. Babbitt shot more accurately a year ago despite averaging only 13 minutes, hitting at a .410 clip overall and at a team-best .430 from beyond the arc. He has not been near those figures this season.

“There have been some positives,” Babbitt says. “I’ve played well in a lot of stretches. There have been times when I’ve liked to have shot better, but overall, it’s been OK personally. I’m trying to stretch the floor, hold my own defensively and rebound well.”

Given the configuration of the roster, with Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Will Barton, Victor Claver and Sasha Pavlovic all getting minutes at the two wing positions, Babbitt has played “probably 90 percent” of the time at power forward instead of small forward, according to Stotts. The coach has inserted Babbitt into the lineup almost exclusively when rookie point guard Damian Lillard is in the game.

“I’d say 90 percent of his minutes are with Damian on the floor,” Stotts says. “His presence on the court opens things up for us offensively. Some of our more effective lineups are with him on the floor.

“He can shoot it better than he has this season, but the threat out there is still legit. It changes the game for us. It opens things up for Damian, helps LaMarcus (Aldridge) with his post-ups, opens up holes for the big men to work with.”

When the Blazers, through a trade with Minnesota, made Babbitt the 16th pick in the 2010 draft, they hoped he’d be a deadeye shooter who would develop into an overall player.

Babbitt, 23, has worked hard on his rebounding and defense, but those are never going to be his strengths. He’ll have to hit shots from downtown to merit a long career in the NBA.

Going into Friday’s visit to Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Lakers, Babbitt is 47 for 139 from 3-point range and 19 for 48 (.392) on 2-point attempts.

“The majority of my shots are 3s,” he says. “I understand the percentages are what they are. I’m just going out and trying to stretch the floor, and I won’t hesitate to shoot any open shot that’s out there. “I’d like to shoot better. I shot pretty well last year. I’m capable of shooting better. The biggest thing for me, though, is rebounding, playing defense and doing whatever the team needs me to do.”

If Portland finishes with among the NBA’s worst dozen records, it retains its No. 1 selection in the June draft. If the Blazers end better than that, they’ll send the pick to Charlotte as part of the trade that brought Gerald Wallace here three years ago.

While Stotts and the players want desperately to make the playoffs, there has to be some ambivalence among management about keeping the draft pick and what would seem to be a probable first-round postseason ouster.

“I think everyone would agree the playoffs would outweigh that,” he says. “There are a lot of positives to getting into the playoffs. Oklahoma City was the eighth seed a couple of years ago and took the Lakers to a good, competitive series, then built on that. That has to be our goal.”

Babbitt, who rents a home in Sherwood, has enjoyed his time in Portland.

“I like Coach Stotts’ system,” he says. “I think he likes what I can do. I fit well with Damian. We have a good bunch of guys. I want to do what I can to help us get into the playoffs this year.”

Babbitt says he would prefer to re-sign with Portland after the season, but knows the Blazers would have to want him back. Agent Bill Duffy will help him weigh the options when it comes time to look at the future after season’s end.

“I want to be back,” Babbitt says, “but there’s a lot of basketball to be played, and a lot of decisions that are somewhat out of my hands.”

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