The Portland Trail Blazers' final regular-season grades reflect the main narrative of the 2012-13 squad: solid starters with a terrible bench. While the Blazers were once in the playoff hunt, multiple long losing streaks cost them that chanced and put them right back into the draft lottery.
With a core of Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and even Wesley Matthews, the Blazers have a strong group to build around. The main challenges for this team going forward will be to add a starting center and improve its bench.
Here is a look at the Blazers' final regular-season grades. Grades are based on production, expectations and potential.
Damian Lillard burst onto the scene in his first NBA game with 23 points and 11 assists against the Los Angeles Lakers. The rookie point guard used that game as a launching point for a season that will surely end in a Rookie of the Year award. Lillard finished the year with averages of 19 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.
The smooth scorer flashed superstar potential throughout the season with his ability to shoot jumpers just as well as drives to the basket. In addition to scoring in bunches, Lillard showed a coolness in his game usually found in veteran players.
The biggest area of improvement for Lillard this season has to be his consistency. It's understandable that he struggled at times with the adjustment from college to the pros. In addition to dealing with the bump-up in games, Lillard played more minutes than anybody in the league with 3,167 total minutes.
In his debut year, Lillard did everything the Blazers expected and more.
Overall Grade: A
Wesley Matthews continued his impressive career with another solid season. Matthews benefited from playing with a better point guard and knocked down more of his shots. In 2011, Matthews shot 41.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three. This year, he shot 43.6 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from downtown.
While Matthews' overall shooting was up, he continued to be all over the place with his shot. He struggles to carry good performances into the next few games. With the Blazers depending so heavily on their starters, they struggled behind Matthews' inconsistency.
As the team struggled defensively, Matthews continued to improve his individual defense. Matthews delivered some great defensive performances, but he also contributed to the team's lack of overall defense.
Overall Grade: B-
The Blazers made a big decision last summer to retain Nicolas Batum for a hefty sum. While Batum has improved his game, it's questionable whether or not he's played up to his $10.8 million price tag.
When you look at Batum's scoring numbers, it doesn't look like he improved much, going from 13.9 points in 2011-12 to 14.3 points this season. Batum wasn't as efficient with his shot as his field-goal percentage dropped from 45.1 percent to 42.3 percent. The biggest improvement was his ball movement, which contributed to the Blazers offense.
Coming into the year, Batum's best season passing the ball was in 2010-11 when he averaged 1.5 assists per game. He was much more of a complete threat with the ball this year, averaging 4.9 assists per night. The Blazers need to see that continued next season but also get more efficient scoring from Batum.
Overall Grade: B
LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers' only All-Star, once again was a constant threat at the power forward spot. This season, the biggest adjustment for Aldridge was the presence of Damian Lillard as a new leader for this team. Aldridge has done a great job allowing Lillard to play his game and take control of the team.
A nice area of improvement for Aldridge was his rebounding. As a team, the Blazers struggled without a true center, finishing 24th overall in rebounding. Individually, Aldridge had his best season rebounding, averaging a career-high 9.1 rebounds per game.
For the Blazers to make the playoffs next season, they need Aldridge to get even better. With Lillard as a huge offensive weapon in the backcourt, Aldridge should benefit from getting less defensive attention.
Overall Grade: A-
J.J. Hickson had a fantastic individual season, averaging a double-double with 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. While he was extremely productive, the Blazers really suffered from a lack of a true center. It's hard to blame Hickson for that, who played most of the season out of position.
Hickson did everything he could as a terrific do-everything player. When he was on the floor, he gave his best effort and contributed in any way he could. Unfortunately, that type of competitiveness wasn't contagious among his teammates.
The Blazers have a big decision this summer when it comes to Hickson. The big man would be a great backup big if the Blazers can bring in a true center. The issue will be the price, which is certain to be high for the double-double machine.
Overall Grade: B+
The Blazers' big midseason addition, Eric Maynor fit in perfectly with the team. The trade worked out very well for both the team and the player. Portland got a capable backup point guard, and Maynor got double the minutes with an extended role.
The backup guard was critical in taking pressure off of Lillard. The combo guard can fill in for Lillard as the point guard or work alongside him as another scoring threat. With some additions, Maynor could be the leader of a nice second unit.
Just like with Hickson, the Blazers have to make a decision on Maynor this summer. Retaining him is going to be costly, but with limited options in the backcourt, the Blazers may need to dish out the cash to keep him.
Overall Grade: B-
The Blazers rookie big man had an up-and-down season with inconsistent play as the major theme. The 7'1", 245-pound center has ideal size to be a starter down low, but the problem has been getting him to utilize that size. Too often he was timid in the paint defensively and didn't rebound as well as he needed to.
Depending on how the summer plays out, Meyers Leonard could have a big role next season. For that to be a successful move, the Blazers need Leonard to take a big step in his second year.
While Aldridge is a decent defender with good size and length, the Blazers need a player who can be more focused on taking up space in the middle of the court. If Leonard can become that player, the Blazers could be in great shape.
Overall Grade: C-
After scoring in double figures just three times for the majority of the season, Will Barton poured in 17 points or more in four of the last five games. Up until injuries forced the Blazers to turn to their reserves, Barton didn't have much of a role on the team.
The lengthy shooting guard showed great slashing ability down the stretch. His aggressive attitude on offense was a nice change from the usually offensive-challenged Blazers bench. In order to have a bigger role on this team next season, Barton needs to tighten up his game and become a consistent scoring threat off the bench.
There is potential there, but when it mattered most for the Blazers, Barton came up short. While he didn't have many opportunities, he could have done more to force the coach's hand to give him minutes.
Overall Grade: D+
Luke Babbitt earned a role on the 2011-12 team because of his three-pointing shooting ability and overall high field-goal percentage. Last year, he finished the year shooting 41 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc. This season, that hasn't been the case as Babbitt shot 36.8 percent from the floor and 34.8 from downtown.
The Blazers are still in need of three-point shooting off the bench, and it appears that Babbitt isn't the right guy to do it. In his 11.8 minutes per game, Babbitt scored just 3.9 points. As a free agent this summer, Babbitt is doubtful to be back in Portland next year.
Overall Grade: F
In his first NBA season, the 24-year-old Victor Claver showed potential as a backup for Nicolas Batum at the small forward position. The Spaniard played in 49 games (16 starts) this season, averaging 3.8 points, 2.4 assists and 0.9 assists per game. While his numbers aren't that impressive, Claver showed some potential with his active presence on the offensive end.
Claver showed he fits in well with this Blazers team. He is active on offense with strong cuts and drives to the basket. Shooting 28.7 percent from downtown this season presents a concern for the Blazers, who need to add scoring and three-point shooting to their bench.
Claver should be allowed the chance to develop as a potential bench player in the next couple of years. He did about as well as expected during his first season.
Overall Grade: C-
After two full seasons in the league, it's safe to say that Nolan Smith is a bust. The 21st overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft hasn't justified his draft selection and forced the Blazers to make a trade deadline move to acquire Maynor so they would have a capable backup point guard.
Smith is just too slow and hasn't been able to show command of the offense. He averaged 7.2 minutes per game, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.9 to 0.7. When he was on the floor, he didn't have enough of an impact to keep the Blazers in games.
As an upcoming free agent, it's hard to imagine Smith being retained by the Blazers.
Overall Grade: F
Acquiring Sasha Pavlovic hasn't worked out very well for the Blazers. The journeyman shooting guard averaged just 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game. In limited minutes, Pavlovic hasn't been able to replicate his production during the beginning of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Pavlovic's game is based on his scoring ability and little else. This season, he hasn't scored often enough, and his lack of activity and athleticism has kept him on the bench. With non-guaranteed salaries over the next two seasons, Pavlovic will likely be looking for work elsewhere this summer.
Overall Grade: F
Yet another player who just finished his first NBA season, Joel Freeland showed some potential at the power forward position. He looked good in small doses, showing some scoring ability while being very active on the boards. He still has to be considered a project, but he's worth developing over the summer and next season.
In the regular-season finale, Freeland played his best game in his biggest role of the season. Playing 28 minutes, Freeland scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebound and two steals. While there is plenty of work to do, Freeland has proved he deserves a shot going forward.
His role will likely be determined by what the Blazers do at the center position. If they let Hickson walk, Freeland could have a much bigger role.
Overall Grade: C-
Jared Jeffries started the year in the rotation, but his role decreased dramatically as the season progressed. As the Blazers went into reserve-mode, Jeffries remained on the bench in favor of the younger players. While his veteran presence may have meant a lot off the court, it didn't mean much to the team on it.
Jeffries played an average of 9.2 minutes per game, scoring 1.2 points and collecting 1.6 rebounds per game. When he was on the floor, he just wasn't productive enough to earn minutes or stay in the rotation. The journeyman was a good addition in theory, but it didn't work this season.
Overall Grade: F