Ranking Portland Trail Blazers' Top 5 Players Not Named Lillard or Aldridge
Obviously the two superstars, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, get all of the national attention, and deservedly so. Aldridge is hearing early rumblings of MVP talks, and Lillard has put together nothing short of an All-Star season.
However, these two haven't attained a league-leading record just themselves. Who else has been key in the Blazers' success? Who are the top five players on the Blazers besides Aldridge and Lillard?
Let's find out...
5. Dorell Wright
I debated for a while at this spot between Mo Williams and Dorell Wright. In the end, Wright’s consistency won me over, where Williams has been way too frustrating so far this season with his turnover-prone style of play.
Although he only averages 14 minutes per game, Wright provides a defined skill in his outside shooting ability. He particularly specializes in spot-up three-pointers where he is averaging a blazing 44 percent (subscription required).
His defense is just OK, similar to the rest of Portland's players, but he provides a key outside shooting presence off the bench. If Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews comes out, Portland does not see any drop-off from long range with Wright on the floor.
You’ve got to think if Batum and Matthews weren’t playing at such a high level, then Wright would be receiving more minutes.
As long as he continues to light it up from deep, Wright should continue to have a key role for the Blazers off the bench, even with the looming return of rookie guard C.J. McCollum.
4. Joel Freeland
Joel Freeland is by no means a star player, but in ranking the Trail Blazers' top-five players not named Lillard or Aldridge, Freeland is certainly important enough to make the list.
Freeland has put together a solid season so far, mostly predicated on his hustle, rebounding and screening abilities. Essentially, he does the dirty work for the Blazers.
The big man from England also has a particular knack for finding open three-point shooters. He has 26 assists on the season and 17 of them have led to three-point makes, according to Erik Gunderson of The Columbian.
With Freeland’s improvement this season and everything he brings to the table in his hustle, rebounding and screening, he has proved to have an unexpectedly key role in Portland’s early success.
3. Robin Lopez
You won’t find Robin Lopez on many top-player lists, but for the Trail Blazers, he is essential. His most valuable role is his ability to protect the rim, where Portland has basically no one else with that capability.
If you look at the percentages, Lopez has been a better defender around the rim than even Dwight Howard this season. Opponents are shooting just 44 percent at the rim against Lopez, which is a lower percentage than players have against Howard.
On the offensive end, in no way is Lopez a dominant presence, but he takes advantage of his opportunities, mostly in pick-and-roll situations or if he has a mismatch down low. He averages a respectable 10 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Lopez isn’t a spectacular overall player, but for the Blazers he is invaluable with his rim-protecting ability and overall presence down low.
2. Nicolas Batum
Batum is the basketball equivalent of a Swiss army knife; the guy simply does everything. Averaging 14 points, six boards and five assists, he is one of the most versatile and effective players in the league.
Offensively for Portland, Batum acts mostly as a spot-up shooter, hitting 2.1 threes per game; however, his ability to also handle the ball has been key for the Blazers, who lack a great second ball-handler to go along with Lillard.
Where Batum is arguably most important is on the defensive end. He frequently checks the opposing team's best perimeter player. The Blazers, already a bad defensive team, rely heavily on Batum to slow down the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
If Batum can continue his consistent, do-it-all play, then the Blazers should have every shot at getting to the NBA Finals.
1. Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews’ overall game has greatly improved this season, but most importantly, he has been an assassin from long range, shooting 44.3 percent and knocking in 90 three-pointers thus far. The Blazers have a deadly combination when Lillard drives and kicks to Matthews, particularly in the corners, where he is shooting an astounding 50 percent, per NBA.com.
Another affective weapon Matthews has added to his arsenal is his post-up game. Although, predominantly an outside shooter, at 6’5” and 220 pounds, when Matthews is guarded by a smaller defender, he is quite effective down low, converting nearly 50 percent of his post ups.
Along with his improved offensive game, his defense has been impressive as well. With the Blazers already having a resident lockdown defender in Batum, Matthews adds another solid defender on the wing, something Portland lacks. Big and physical, he is able to match up with the majority of the wings in the NBA.
Matthews’ All-Star-caliber play and continued improvement has been a huge key to the Blazers’ success and has made him Portland's best player aside from Aldridge and Lillard so far this season.