Blazer Breakdown 3/18




Joel Freeland

Terry Stotts has the cerebral tendencies to suggest that he would make a fine chess player.

But poker just might be his game.

Stotts doesn’t reveal his hand.

He studies, plots then decides his direction, and never exposes what’s up his sleeve. Sometimes, even his own players are left guessing.

Take, for instance, Joel Freeland. On Saturday night before the Trail Blazers faced the Detroit Pistons, Freeland followed his usual pregame routine — early individual shooting, then one-on-one work with Meyers Leonard — but didn’t know that Coach would give him a chance to try out those moves early in the first quarter.

“It’s tough. Really tough,” Freeland said about the unexpected rotations, and if you didn’t believe him the first time, he added this: “Really, really tough. I can’t lie about it, but it’s my situation.”

After 65 games into the season — whether by choice or circumstance — Stotts still has not selected a set rotation of eight, nine or 10 players. Lineups have fluctuated, as have minutes. Although Leonard, Eric Maynor and Will Barton have appeared as the regulars, it’s a crapshoot with the others. Bench players like Freeland are left guessing when or if they’ll actually strip off their warm-up suits.

Over the course of his rookie season, Freeland’s minutes have sharply decreased from a 10.5 average in December to just 5.4 in March. Also, Freeland has only been on the floor for 10 percent of the team’s total minutes this season, the second lowest on the Blazer roster just above Nolan Smith’s 9-percent statistic.

“I’ve got to be ready to go in at any moment. I think I’m getting better at that, but I’m still not 100 percent with it,” Freeland said. “It’s like (Saturday), I had no idea I was going in, you know. You’ve got to be ready like this (snaps finger). You’re thinking, ‘Oh my God! I’m going in!’ Now you’ve got to get focused and now you’ve got to get ready for the game. I mean, you try to stay as focused as you can on the bench, but when you’ve been sitting for 10-15 minutes, your legs are cold, your arms go cold and you got to get into the game.”

But Freeland didn’t show cold feet on Saturday night. Although he last saw first-quarter action on March 12 against the Memphis Grizzlies and did not get off the bench two days later when the Blazers hosted the New York Knicks, Freeland relieved LaMarcus Aldridge at the 7:13 mark of the opening quarter.

He played as a mobile big around the rim and scored on a tip-in, a layup and two dunks. At the end of the quarter, Freeland led the Blazers with eight points and he also collected two rebounds — a surprise to some, but maybe the master plan from the card shark Stotts.”

Before (Aldridge) getting two fouls, I had planned on getting Joel in the game,” Stotts said. “I thought this was a game that kind of was set up for him to play. (Detroit) played a little conventional with their big guys and it just seemed to make sense. I thought he did very well.”