Blazers midseason grades
See how the players have done so far
Monday, February 11, 2013
LaMarcus Aldridge, power forward
Stats: 21.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg
After Aldridge's name was revealed during the All-Star reserve selection broadcast, TNT analyst Chris Webber actually uttered these words with a straight face: "I like Aldridge and I put him on the list, but I actually thought Damian Lillard has been the best player on that team all year."
Wrong, C Webb. That Best Blazer moniker belongs to Aldridge: the bedrock of this team rebuild, the primary option in the playbook, the consummate captain leading by example.
Luke Babbitt, small forward
Stats: 4.2 ppg, 33.8 percent 3-point shooter
Often stepping in to play the hybrid-four position to help the Blazers stretch the floor, Babbitt's worth comes from his shooting touch and recently he's chosen his spots wisely and has shot 47 percent from beyond the arc through February. Babbitt enjoyed his best stretch of the season midway through December during a five-game winning streak. He averaged 21 minutes over those games. Still, even now, Babbitt can become a bit predictable, as most of his attempts are 3-pointers. A little variety — even a step or two inside the arc — could serve him well.
Will Barton, shooting guard
Stats: 3.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Barton has always played with great energy, however midway through his rookie season it seems that he has harnessed that activity to make sound judgments. Before, Barton was prone to leave his feet for passes and commit turnovers or take bad shots — after all, he was the leading gunner at the Univ. of Memphis. However, around the time he returned from his second NBA Development League assignment in January, Barton has played more under control while making the right basketball play.
Nicolas Batum, small forward
Stats: 15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg
General manager Neil Olshey could understand why Minnesota went after Batum so hard during the offseason. The Timberwolves system fits Batum's skill set — trusting the pass and moving without the ball — and before the season began, Olshey said: "Nic would've been a monster there." Turns out, Batum's a different kind of beast here, too. As Olshey predicted, Batum has made a dramatic leap in production while playing in coach Terry Stotts' system, which has similar concepts to the Minnesota style of play. Batum is averaging career-best numbers across the board and has even become the Blazers' second best passer. A willing defender in transition and a deadly catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter, Batum was well worth the hassle last summer.
Victor Claver, small forward
Stats: 2.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg
At the beginning of his rookie season, Claver was the Bigfoot of the Blazer roster. A rumor. A mystery. Just some fantasy story we told our children — like the Easter Bunny or the existence of unicorns, because fans rarely saw the Spaniard on the floor. On Nov. 23, Claver began a stretch when he sat for nine straight games until suddenly, Wesley Matthews injured his hip and Claver abandoned the bench for the starting lineup. Although now Claver sees consistent minutes in the rotation, he's still adjusting to the NBA — still a step slow on defense, still a missing man on offense. But, Claver can also brag about this factoid: The Blazers have their best winning percentage (4-2, .667) when he plays in the starting lineup.
Joel Freeland, center
Stats: 2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg
If it can be said that Claver has yet to fully feel comfortable in the NBA, then that goes double for Freeland. Drafted by the Blazers in 2006 but making his rookie debut six years later, Freeland shares limited minutes in the center rotation with Jared Jeffries. He hasn't been on the floor much — before Sunday, Freeland had not played in six of the last seven games. However in Orlando, Freeland played active minutes during the Blazers' second-half rally and was a plus-11 on the floor. Also, Freeland has lost about eight pounds due to a recent bout with a stomach virus, so maybe a lithe and attacking Englishman will show up moving ahead in the season.
J.J. Hickson, center
Stats: 12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg
The odd man out in the starting rotation is also the team's most active rebounder and highest percentage scorer. Although when the team wants to spread the floor or just go with Meyers Leonard for a longer spell, Hickson typically has to take the seat — he's the only starter averaging less than 30 minutes a game. Even so, he's reliable to contribute a double-double (27 this season) and scores at a 56-percent clip, eighth in the NBA. So why does a guy like that sit as much as he does? Hickson can grab rebounds but, as a 6-foot-9 center, does not anchor the defense where he can become a liability in protecting the rim. Still, his offensive numbers are the best in his career and he's even developed somewhat of a short-range jump shot.
Jared Jeffries, center
Stats: 1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg
How to grade the Blazer who plays the fewest minutes of them all (8.9 per game)? Well, start with this truth: Low expectations greeted Jeffries when he was traded to Portland last summer. And he's lived up to those expectations. Jeffries knows his role on the court — defend, take the charge — but excels with what he brings to the Blazers when away from the bright lights. Jeffries speaks up in the locker room, in the video room and just about any room when the Blazers gather as he has stepped to the microphone as the unofficial team spokesman. Still, since this report card judges a player's on-court production, it should be mentioned that Jeffries has made just 14 shots all season — all but three from five feet or less — and even that comes at 29.8-percent accuracy.
Meyers Leonard, center
Stats: 4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
Leonard, the No. 11 pick in last summer's NBA draft, did not take the immediate step forward as his draft mate Damian Lillard did from day one. And that's OK. Leonard — an athletic 7-foot-1 big man — will continue to be a work in progress for his rookie season and maybe, even next year. Leonard can leap for exquisite alley-oop slam dunk finishes but has shown an aversion to the post on both ends of the floor. Also, despite being built like a Marvel super hero, he often gets bullied away from rebounds. Again, that's OK. Leonard won't turn 21 until late February, so he still has much to learn in the way of playing against grown men every night.
Damian Lillard, point guard
Stats: 18.4 ppg, 6.5 apg
So, Chris Webber may not be correct when he labels Lillard as the "best player" on the Blazers. But here's the consolation prize: Lillard is the best rookie in the NBA. Stunning from the start, Lillard has outplayed his peer group and even matched some of the best veterans in the game – he's tied for seventh in made 3-point field goals (111). Lillard has won all three Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards presented this season and gets another opportunity to showcase his game on the national platform next week at All-Star weekend.
Wesley Matthews, shooting guard
Stats: 15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg
The team's best individual defender, Matthews will take the challenge against anyone from James Harden to Kobe Bryant and even Kevin Durant. He has also improved his offensive game and has shot the three ball better than anyone on the roster (37.5 percent). Matthews is a gamer and only a hip injury this season forced him to snap his Iron Man streak of 250 consecutive games played. Besides his defense and 3-point shooting, Matthews also serves as the litmus test for the Blazers. If ever he sounds the alarm after a bad loss, then know that others inside the Blazer locker room mirror his emotions.
Sasha Pavlovic, small forward
Stats: 2.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg
Recently slowed by plantar fasciitis, Pavlovic has played just once over the past 12 games. The Blazers picked up Pavlovic in a trade in the offseason and much like the other acquired veterans — Jeffries and Ronnie Price — his arrival didn't move the needle. Pavlovic performs as a member of the much-maligned and low-scoring Blazer bench. Though he has played on more successful teams than Jeffries and Price, and even has reached the NBA Finals while in Cleveland, Pavlovic has only scored a single-game, season-high of 10 points.
Ronnie Price, point guard
Stats: 2.8 ppg, 1.8 apg
Price missed the start of the season with a right-ankle sprain and the injury has returned over the last several weeks. Price has sat the last five games, making way for second-year player Nolan Smith to get the backup minutes at point guard. He has held a steadier hand than Smith — 0.8 turnovers per game while averaging 13.2 minutes — and plays better defense. However, the down side is that Price fits right into the Blazers' offensively-challenged bench. This season, Price's greatest act was taking a charge against Dallas guard O.J. Mayo to set up Aldridge's game-winning shot at the buzzer. Later, the NBA ruled that the charge was the wrong call. Figures. Even when a Blazer role player does something special, someone's got to criticize it.
Nolan Smith, point guard
Stats: 3.0 ppg, 1.1 apg
In his second NBA season, Smith has yet to live up to his first-round selection of the 2011 draft. This year, Smith has drawn an NBA D-League assignment and when Price is healthy, he plays as the third and last option at point guard. Smith got buried deep on the bench after an underwhelming performance against Milwaukee on Jan. 19 but found redemption nearly a month later when he played 18 minutes and scored 13 points against the Utah Jazz. That recovery bumped Smith up to a "D" from a "D-."
Grade: Inc, has not played this season and expected to miss entire 2012-2013 year with an Achilles tendon tear.
(NOTE: All statistics through Feb. 8)