Portland Trail Blazers Power Rankings: Rating Each Player After First 6 Weeks
Basketball is back in Rip City!
After a stunning start to the season, the Portland Trail Blazers are finally back on top of the standings after a decade-long absence from contention.
Coach Terry Stotts has the young Blazers playing inspired basketball. Their defense is vastly improved, their bench is a strength rather than a colossal weakness and the starters remain one of the top groups in the league.
There are many reasons why this team is overachieving and make no mistake about it, they are overachieving. If you bump into someone that says they thought this type of start was possible, you have an obligation to call shenanigans.
From top to bottom, this team is leaps and bounds better than last year's squad. And to make even the biggest pessimist look on the bright side, this team still has plenty of room to improve.
So, let's take a look at the individual pieces and do our six-week power ranking of the players representing the Rose City.
14. Meyers Leonard
Okay, so there are players on this roster that have worse numbers and players that have contributed less.
But Meyers Leonard finds himself dead last in our power rankings because he has been such a disappointment over the past two years and has played himself right out of the rotation.
For the season, Leonard has played in only three games for a grand total of 21 minutes and is averaging 3.3 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
Sure, we can argue all day about why Stotts needs to do a better job of developing Leonard and how the big man has all the tools to be a stud in this league.
But, the bottom line is that Joel Freeland outplayed him during the summer and Leonard has fallen completely out of the rotation. In a lot of ways, Leonard is becoming the human victory cigar, only getting to play when the Blazers have the game well in hand.
The key for Leonard to get playing time will be his energy level, his ability to rebound in traffic and court discipline when it comes to committing fouls.
Right now, he just plays out of control and his instincts are horrendous on both sides of the ball.
13. Victor Claver
You have to kind of feel for Victor Claver.
One of the few holdovers from last year's pathetic bench, Claver actually showed glimpses of potential last season.
But, the Blazers effectively replaced Claver when they brought in Dorell Wright, and the rotation is pretty much set.
Claver has shown that he can shoot but a lack of elite athleticism in comparison to Wright has effectively anchored him to the bench.
Without an injury to one of the regulars, it seems unlikely that Claver will crack the second unit.
12. Will Barton
The case of Will Barton is a somewhat curious one.
Last season, the Blazers gave Barton some run at the end of the year, and he responded with some awesome scoring numbers.
But Barton, for all of his athleticism, can't shoot the ball to save his life. Last season, he hit only 38 percent of his shots from the field, including a pathetic 13.8 percent from three-point range.
Those are truly staggering shooting numbers.
This year, he only has played in six games and is still only shooting 40 percent from the field. For a slashing two guard, those numbers need to improve drastically.
11. Allen Crabbe
Most Blazers fans were excited about Allen Crabbe as a draft pick.
And why shouldn't they be? At points last year, Crabbe looked like a can't-miss first-round pick.
But, Crabbe finished the season trending in the wrong direction and as a result, ended up a second-round pick.
Crabbe has potential, showing the ability to score in a variety of ways. But, he is way too raw at this point to crack the rotation and would probably be better served getting demoted to the developmental league, which is sure to happen once C.J. McCollum returns from injury.
10. Earl Watson
Earl Watson, at this point of his career, is little more than a bench mentor and stop-gap at the point guard. He really should only be pressed into duty by injury or immense foul trouble to one of the top two point guards on the roster.
But for all intents and purposes, it appears that Watson is doing a good job acting as Damian Lillard's mentor on the bench.
Watson is a coach's dream. He is smart, professional and acts as a coach on the court.
So, the fact that Watson finds himself higher on this list than some of the other bench players is due mainly to his intangibles, not his performance.
9. Joel Freeland
Joel Freeland has been such a pleasant surprise for the Blazers this year.
The Englishman has contributed much-needed muscle, size and energy off the bench.
His numbers aren't gaudy (3.5 points, 3.6 rebounds per game), but he always makes his presence felt.
Freeland is the perfect player to bring off the bench when Robin Lopez comes out of the game. He does a lot of the same things as Lopez and is quickly becoming a favorite in Portland.
He also hits his free throws (over 83 percent), which is an added bonus.
8. Dorell Wright
I'll be honest, I really thought Dorell Wright would have a bigger role with Portland this year.
His ability to hit the deep ball paired with his versatility on both sides of the ball due to his length made him a likely candidate to be a big contributor.
But the fact that Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum are hitting the deep ball at tremendous clips have made Wright less of a factor.
He still is a nice player to have on your bench and should be a matchup nightmare in the playoffs if the Blazers decide to go with a small-ball lineup.
It's safe to say that Wright still has plenty of work to do this year.
7. Thomas Robinson
It's easy to get frustrated about Thomas Robinson when you think about where he was drafted.
He was supposed to be a can't-miss power forward that would be a double-double machine and a monster on the glass.
Instead, he has bounced around and is on his third team in two years.
But if you peel back the numbers, you see that he has been fairly effective in small minutes. In fact, per 36 minutes, he is averaging 15.7 points and 10.8 boards.
The key for Robinson getting minutes is how much energy he contributes. Ideally, you would like to see Robinson develop into a better defender and potentially a shot-blocker.
But in the meantime, he is a situational rebounder and mid-range shooter.
Robinson should model his game after Charles Oakley.
6. Mo Williams
Mo Williams is looking more and more like an inspired pickup by the Blazers.
He has provided leadership, scoring and playmaking off the bench.
In 25 minutes per game, he is averaging over nine points and four assists.
He still is a good shooter, but his three-point percentage is slightly down from his career mark of 38.6 (36.6).
That really is the only gripe one can have about Williams. He is never going to be a lockdown defender, and he probably turns the ball over too much.
But, he clearly has been everything that the Blazers hoped he would be this year.
5. Nicolas Batum
Blazers fans are probably sick of the Scottie Pippen comparisons given that Nicolas Batum is probably never going to be much better statistically than Tayshaun Prince.
But that's okay. In a lot of ways, Batum has shown steady improvement this year.
What I personally have been impressed with the most about Batum is his new-found playmaking ability. There was a time in his career where zero assists were common on a nightly basis.
But this year, Batum is averaging over five dimes per game. He also is grabbing over six boards to go along with 13 points per game.
He is a long, wiry defender who can give his opponents fits.
He still vanishes for too long offensively but some of that has to do with the emergence of some of his teammates.
At this point, he is the fourth option on offense. But, he plays that role well. The next step for him will be the development of a nice post game and a baby hook.
4. Wesley Matthews
For veteran players whose team drafts their apparent replacement, Wesley Matthews should be your shining example of how to handle yourself.
When the Blazers drafted C.J. McCollum, it was assumed that it was only a matter of time before the talented rookie replaced Matthews in the starting lineup.
But when McCollum went down with another foot injury during training camp, Matthews decided to really turn it on.
He always was an underrated player on this Blazers squad, but this year Matthews has turned it up a notch.
He is averaging 16.6 points per game. He is absolutely scorching the net to the tune of 54.6 percent from the field and a ridiculous 51 percent shooting from deep.
He will never be confused with a playmaker, but he does an excellent job of bailing out Lillard and spreading out the floor for the bigs.
Matthews will likely keep his job for quite a while.
3. Robin Lopez
The top offseason priority for the Blazers, besides improving their bench, was to add a true center. LaMarcus Aldridge, in particular, even pushed management on this issue.
Who can blame the talented Aldridge? He was stuck with an undersized power forward masquerading as a center last year. This forced Aldridge to play much more physical than usual.
Enter Robin Lopez.
Lopez has been a revelation for this Blazers team. He brings high energy, excellent size and surprising touch near the hoop.
He also has shored up the interior defense through effort and communication.
Lopez just simply plays smart basketball.
His numbers are solid (8.5 points, 8.3 boards, 1.3 blocks), but his real contribution has been his intangibles. His energy is infectious and has led this Blazers team to become a very good rebounding group.
And to make matters better, he has become perhaps the biggest fan favorite in town.
2. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard continues to improve and impress.
Okay, let's start with the bad news. Lillard's assists are down from last year, and he isn't shooting the ball quite as efficiently from in close. His overall shooting percentage is below 40 percent for the first time in his young career.
But, that really is the only thing to nitpick.
His defense has improved greatly—he is committing fewer turnovers and scoring the ball more.
He has firmly cemented himself as the point guard of the future and present in Portland and is sure to only get better.
He is already a top-10 point guard in this league and is poised to take yet another step forward once he learns to finish near the hoop better and develop a more consistent floater.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge continues to get better with age.
Saddled with a disproportionate amount of the responsibilities on the defensive side of the ball last year, he has benefited greatly from the arrival of Lopez.
This has allowed Aldridge to take the next step in his development. He is now turning into a double-double threat every night, posting career highs this year in both rebounds (9.6) and scoring (22.7).
His shooting percentage is slightly down, but that has more to do with the fact that he is developing a deeper jumper.
Long considered the next Rasheed Wallace, Aldridge has quietly developed into the player many hoped Wallace would become.
Aldridge is quite simply one of the top power forwards in the game.