Travis Outlaw says his confidence never wavered. Despite being glued mostly to the bench in his first two seasons with the Sacramento Kings, the veteran forward continued to put in the work in hopes that an opportunity would eventually arise.
“My confidence level is still the same,” Outlaw said when asked after practice Friday about his morale this year compared to the last two years. “I mean, I never lost my confidence because of my previous situation. I just always kept working (and) hopefully the door opened for me.”
In his third season as a King, that door has finally opened for Outlaw and the 29-year-old veteran is taking full advantage. After playing sparingly since being claimed off the amnesty wire from the New Jersey Nets in 2011, Outlaw has worked his way into Michael Malone’s rotation. Outlaw has appeared in all 11 of the Kings’ games this season and is currently posting a team-leading 63.7 true-shooting percentage.
Malone is finding time for the 10-year pro at both forward positions. According to 82games.com, Outlaw has played 19 percent of his 164 minutes at small forward and 10 percent of them at power forward. The 29-year-old possesses the versatility to be a mismatch for opposing teams that Malone is trying to exploit.
“If you go back to when he was in Portland,” Malone said, “when he had probably the best moments of his career…Nate McMillan played him a lot as a four-man.”
Indeed in his best years as a pro (2006-2009) , Outlaw was playing a large amount of time at power forward. In the 2006-07 season, Outlaw played 29 percent of his 1,532 minutes at power forward according to 82games.com. In 2007-08, 44 percent of his 2,186 minutes were logged at at the four. Not until the 2008-09 season did Outlaw play more small forward than power forward. But even then, he was more effective logging time at the four, where he posted a 23.0 player efficiency rating compared to 14.0 at small forward.
The opportunity for Outlaw to play power forward has been opened up due to a combination of factors, starting with the absence of Carl Landry. After injuring his hip in training camp, the veteran forward underwent surgery last month and isn’t expected to return to the mix until January or February. Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson have battled for Landry’s minutes at the four, but their play to start the season has been inconsistent. That has allowed Outlaw to earn his keep.
“He told me he wanted to try me at the three and the four – both positions,” Outlaw said when asked if he knew coming into the season that Malone would be using him at both power forward and small forward this year. ”So, it’s kind of expected, so thanks to coach (Chris) Jent (for) staying after practice, working with me on certain things and helping.”
Standing at 6-foot-9 and possessing a lengthy wingspan, Outlaw certainly has the height to play the four spot. But at just 210 pounds, he gives up quite a bit of weight at power forward, especially against stronger and more bruising bigs. Outlaw says that he doesn’t trying to out-muscle his more physically imposing competition and instead attempts to use his quickness and length to front and deny entry passes into the post.
Outlaw’s early season success can be attributed to his work ethic. The 29-year-old forward returned to Sacramento in August to work with the new coaching staff and learn their system. The head start to the season appears to be paying off for Outlaw, who seems to be turning around what once appeared to be a lost career.
“He’s a great kid, high character, works hard, versatile,” Malone said of Outlaw. ”He’s another guy that can guard different positions. He’s one of the guys that’s shot the ball very well for us this season.”