Portland Trail Blazers: Grading Each Player's 2011-2012 Season

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2012

Portland Trail Blazers: Grading Each Player's 2011-2012 Season

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    The 2011-12 NBA season is nearly at its end, and with just seven games remaining, the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves 4.5 games out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.

    Throughout the course of the year, we've seen various players on the roster both excel and disappoint at different parts of the season.

    Typically, a lot can happen in two weeks of basketball, but with the playoffs a distant pipe dream for this team, it's time to reflect back on the season that was for each of the final pieces of the Trail Blazers roster.

Elliot Williams

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    2011-12 Stats: 3.7 PTS, .500 FG%, 6.2 MPG

    Grade: Incomplete

    Elliot Williams missed his entire rookie year because of a dislocated right patella, and after just 24 games this season, the high-flyer from Memphis found himself sidelined once again with a season-ending separated shoulder.

    The 22-year-old guard showed massive amounts of potential and highlights when given minutes, but under head coach Nate McMillan, those minutes were few and far between most of the year.

    With his season shortened, Williams was never given the opportunity to improve under interim head coach Kaleb Canales, who has played the young guys on the roster more and more as the year has progressed.

    Although efficient at times this season, his game is raw, and more time on the court should help improve his jump shot and overall defensive presence as he continues to grow.

Hasheem Thabeet

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    2011-12 Stats: .8 PTS, 1.2 REB, .250 FG%

    Grade: F

    Nobody really expected Hasheem Thabeet to come in and make a difference for the Trail Blazers this season.

    With his 7'3", 263-pound frame, though, it would have been nice to see even a semblance of productivity when he stepped onto the court at the Rose Garden Arena.

    Despite his incredible size, Thabeet can't score, has trouble boxing out and doesn't impact the defensive end of the floor as much as he should.

    Fair or not, Kurt Thomas summed it up nicely when asked about being a mentor to Hasheem Thabeet. 

    "I can't make wine out of water," he told Bill Ingram of HoopsWorld.com.

Nolan Smith

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    2011-12 Stats: 2.6 PTS, 1.0 AST, .310 3PT%

    Grade: D-

    Struggling to see the court in meaningful minutes this year, Nolan Smith's impact on the court has been seldom felt throughout the 2011-12 regular season.

    During a seven-game stretch in March, Smith played more than 16 minutes per game following Nate McMillan's firing. During that stretch, though, the rookie point guard averaged just 4.8 points and 1.7 assists.

    In a season where point guard has been such a problem for the Trail Blazers, Smith missed a golden opportunity to step up and take over a wide-open backup spot on the roster.

Jonny Flynn

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    2011-12 Stats (With Blazers): 3.5 PTS, 2.5 AST, 1.3 REB

    Grade: D+

    Jonny Flynn's production has certainly increased as his minutes have gone up this season.

    Flynn hasn't had a huge impact, but his presence has been almost refreshing considering the fact that the team went the entire first half of the season without a true backup point guard.

    His field-goal percentage has been low, as it has been his entire career, and it will be interesting to see if he becomes a part of the Trail Blazers' plan moving forward.

Craig Smith

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    2011-12 Stats: 3.3 PTS, 2.4 REB, .510 FG%

    Grade: D+

    Craig Smith was one of the more intriguing additions to the rotation at the beginning of the condensed NBA season.

    A relatively unknown signing to a lot of fans, Smith started slowly. His hustle plays and bruising style grew on people, though, as "The Rhino" began to earn the affection of the fans with solid play in the month of December.

    While the hustle has stayed all season long, his minutes and production have shrunk significantly, and it became clear that Smith was never going to be an integral part of the rotation.

    Given more time, though, it would have be interesting to see how Smith impacted a team that was being criticized for its effort at one point in the season.

Luke Babbitt

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    2011-12 Stats: 3.9 PPG, 1.9 REB, .492 3PT%

    Grade: C-

    Luke Babbitt has made a transformation unlike most on the Trail Blazers roster.

    Once known as the guy who made his first basket in 285 days, the second-year forward has become an integral part of the team's revamped rotation.

    It was a sad start to the year for Babbitt, as his minutes and points were as low as anyone's on the team.

    The once bumbling reserve, though, has seemingly settled into his spot on the team and is taking full advantage of the extra minutes that have gone his way.

    His overall aggressiveness needs to grow, but he's shooting so well from three-point land this season that Babbitt has the potential to fill a desperate shooting role on this team moving forward.

Kurt Thomas

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    2011-12 Stats: 2.8 PTS, 3.4 REB, .6 BLK

    Grade: C-

    When the Blazers brought in Juwan Howard for the 2009-10 season, he became a symbol of toughness and leadership and was a big part in the team making the playoffs that year.

    Kurt Thomas never quite became that guy.

    The 39-year-old center has been solid, healthy and has ultimately played the role that he was supposed to fill in Portland this season.

    During the first half of the year, Thomas showed that he can still contribute. Since the youth movement at the trade deadline, though, he has seen less and less time and has completely disappeared in the rotation behind recently acquired J.J. Hickson.

Raymond Felton

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    2011-12 Stats: 11.2 PTS, 6.6 AST, .309 3PT%

    Grade: C-

    Raymond Felton has been awful for most of the 2011-12 NBA season.

    The 27-year-old point guard was supposed to be the answer long-term, but has instead posted a career-low point-per-game average, been out of shape most of the season and has committed numerous late-game turnovers, which have recently been referred to as "Feltdown."

    His grade this season would be far worse, however, if it weren't for his recent output of excellent showings.

    In the past nine games, Felton has averaged 13.2 points, 8.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds as the team has tried to make a late push at the postseason.

    The question, of course, is, where in the world was that kind of performance early in the season?

    Whether he's finally getting accustomed to the team, finally getting in shape or simply remembered that he's in a contract year, the sudden inspiration is a classic case of too little, too late for Felton.

Joel Przybilla

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    2011-12 Stats: 2.1 PTS, 5.3 REB, .6 BLK

    Grade: C

    Joel Przybilla has come back to Portland and done exactly what was expected of him so far this season.

    His strong, physical presence has disrupted more than a few shots, but a lack of extreme mobility has resulted in fewer blocked shots than what he was known for just a few seasons back.

    The 32-year-old center's offense has certainly been limited as well, and with his conditioning being an issue this season, the team has been left to play four-on-five basketball on more than one occasion.

    His impact, though, both in setting screens and occupying the paint, was exactly what the team was looking for. A true fan favorite in Rip City, Przybilla provided a sense of familiarity to a seemingly ever-changing Trail Blazers roster.

Jamal Crawford

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    2011-12 Stats: 13.6 PTS, 3.2 AST, .933 FT%

    Grade: B-

    At the price for which Portland got Jamal Crawford this summer, a player of his experience and stature should be considered a bargain.

    A threat to go off on any given night—not unlike he did against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday—Crawford is a valuable weapon to bring off any NBA bench, and was arguably the team's only late-game isolation player all season long.

    His field-goal percentage, though, has been the lowest of his career since his rookie year. His three-point shooting has taken a hit and defense clearly hasn't been his priority throughout the shortened NBA season.

    "Inconsistent" is one word that has certainly describes Crawford, as hot streaks and dry spells have left their marks all over his first stint with the Trail Blazers.

Wesley Matthews

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    2011-12 Stats: 12.9 PTS, 1.4 STL, .371 3PT%

    Grade: B-

    Wesley Matthews has had a bit of a statistical drop-off this season.

    His points are down about three per game, and his three-point percentage has been the lowest of his career.

    Effort, though, has never been a question, as his ability to dive after loose balls and play tight perimeter defense has boosted his steals to nearly 1.5 per game.

    The 25-year-old shooting guard lost his starting position at one point during the season to Nicolas Batum. Following the deal that sent Gerald Wallace to New Jersey, though, Matthews has jumped back into his old spot and is averaging nearly 15 points per game during the month of April.

J.J. Hickson

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    2011-12 Stats (With Trail Blazers):  14.1 PTS, 7.2 REB, .566 FG%

    Grade: B

    The grade may be high considering he's only been a Trail Blazer for three weeks now, but since his arrival in Portland, J.J. Hickson has become one of the most entertaining players on the roster.

    Whether as a starter or a backup, Hickson has had a number of standout performances and is proving to be a hustle guy on both sides of the court.

    A legitimate scorer, Hickson has shown that his combination of physicality and athleticism can help take some of the low-post scoring load off of LaMarcus Aldridge.

    Hickson has seemingly earned himself a contract in the past few weeks, and if Portland is smart, they will make sure he ends up signing with them this offseason.

Nicolas Batum

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    2011-12 Stats: 14.0 PTS, 4.6 REB, 1.0 BLK

    Grade: B

    With his ability to shoot the three, finish at the rim and play lockdown defense anywhere on the court, Nicolas Batum has proven that he can be one of the most versatile players on the roster.

    He's also shown, though, a complacency when it comes to passive shooting on the perimeter. 

    With two weeks left in the NBA season, Batum is averaging a career high in points and rebounds, and his three-point percentage is nearly 40 percent on the year.

    At times this season, a "B" grade would have been too high to give to the 23-year-old forward. Other times, though, he was looking like the player that Portland fans hope he will become as his career continues to progress.

    For now, a "B" will suffice. Moving forward, though, Batum will have to show more aggressiveness and consistency if he is ever going to become the true No. 2 option on the team.

LaMarcus Aldridge

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    2011-12 Stats: 21.7 PTS, 8.0 REB, .512 FG%

    Grade: A-

    In making his first All-Star appearance this season, LaMarcus Aldridge shot the highest field-goal percentage of his career, showed what he can do in crunch time and nearly averaged a career-high in points despite increased double-teams.

    Aldridge became the "main guy" on the team a season ago, but in a full year with no Brandon Roy by his side, he was able to turn a corner and become the team's No. 1 option on any given night.

    Admittedly, to not give Aldridge a solid "A" grade is to nitpick. To give him that "A," though, would be to say that you're completely content with what he's accomplished.

    Further boosting his rebounds, becoming a greater defensive presence and getting his team to the playoffs should all be goals heading into next year.

    For now, though, be excited about the improvements he's made and the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers have officially entered the LaMarcus Aldridge Era in Rip City.