Portland Trail Blazers Report Card: Early Grades for Team's Key Players
Even after a lackluster performance at Phoenix the other night, the Blazers are still near the top of the Western Conference standings and looking to make a strong push for a top playoff spot this year.
Each player on the team plays an important role; and when everyone is performing their roles well, the team is nearly unstoppable. Fatigue and turnovers appear to be their two biggest obstacles, which hopefully can be addressed with time.
Here are grades for each primary rotation player after the first couple weeks of the season.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge, now the unquestioned leader and franchise player of the Blazers, has continued his strong play this season. And once again, he looks like a strong candidate to make the All-Star team.
Aldridge is averaging 21.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, essentially on par with his statistics from last season. He is also leading a very tough Blazers defense, which looks very good on most nights. Tired legs may be mostly to blame for a couple lackluster performances; but look for his strong overall play to continue.
2. Gerald Wallace
Gerald Wallace has emerged as a key second option for the Trail Blazers this season. An interesting statistic that my brother recently brought to my attention: The Blazers are undefeated so far when Wallace scores at least one field goal. That's right—a single bucket, and they win.
That trend isn't expected to continue, but we'll take it for as long as it lasts.
Seriously, though: If Wallace continues to play at a high level, and can do it consistently, the Blazers are as dangerous as any team in the West.
3. Jamal Crawford
The signing of Jamal Crawford by the Blazers may be one of the most underrated transactions of the season. It gave the Blazers someone who could replicate most of the scoring void left by Brandon Roy, while not compromising their financial flexibility for the long term.
So far, Crawford has been great. His scoring his down from recent seasons, but so are his minutes. His biggest impact has been fourth-quarter scoring. The Blazers are tough to beat down the stretch now, with both Aldridge and Crawford being reliable, go-to guys who can create their own shots. Crawford's defense hasn't been as bad as advertised, either.
If Crawford can start shooting a higher percentage, and be a little more careful with the basketball, this team will be hard to beat in the fourth quarter.
4. Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews continues to surprise and improve in his young but already successful NBA career. He is taking full advantage of his first opportunity to be a full-time starter for an entire season.
His numbers are around where they were last season, with his shooting percentages slightly up. In addition, he continues to provide a solid effort on defense, and he is a confident three-point shooter. When his shot is falling, it opens up the floor for Aldridge and Wallace to get easy shots inside.
So far, he is earning every penny of the big contract he signed with Portland last year, and he is doing it by being hungry and getting better each year.
5. Raymond Felton
Of all the new Blazers, Raymond Felton has had the most difficult time up to this point. His passing looks great, and for the most part, he is keeping his turnovers down. His shooting, however, is another story.
He is making only 35 percent of his shots on the year, and that number has fallen to under 30 percent for the month of January. What is particularly worrisome is the fact that he has only made one three-pointer in the last five games, shooting an abysmal six percent from distance over that span.
He's been solid overall, but the shooting percentages need to come up at some point.
6. Marcus Camby
Despite his ever-declining offensive game, Marcus Camby is just as valuable as ever to the Blazers and their playoff hopes this season. The 37-year-old center is barely averaging a bucket per game, but he is still collecting nine rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
He looks healthy, for the most part, and Nate McMillan has done a pretty good job in managing his minutes, limiting him to only 24 per game on average. Camby is still a big reason why the Blazers remain a good defensive team.
Now, if they could just find a way to get a little bit more of a contribution from him on offense.
7. Nicolas Batum
He hasn't really had a huge impact this season, but so far Nicolas Batum has done most of what the Blazers have asked him to do. He's scoring in double-figures most nights, hitting the occasional big three, getting rebounds and playing solid defense.
Batum may no longer be the most important player off the Blazers' bench—with Crawford in the mix—but he provides important depth and lineup flexibility that will help the team down the stretch.
Nothing spectacular, for good or bad, so far in this season for Batum.
8. Kurt Thomas
Kurt Thomas was another important offseason acquisition, which helped to shore up what was previously the Blazers' biggest weakness—frontcourt depth. They are still a little thin in that area—and old—but so far that hasn't kept Thomas from spelling Marcus Camby by playing quality minutes off the bench.
He isn't doing much statistically, but he is playing solid defensive and not making too many mistakes, which is what Portland needs from him. If, however, Camby gets injured for any length of time, we could see Thomas pressed into starting, which may be too much for him at this point in his career.
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