Grading Every Key Portland Trail Blazers Player Heading into the All-Star Break
The Portland Trail Blazers have exceeded even the wildest expectations of their fanbase. They have been the best team in the league offensively, they have the best power forward in the game and they have one of the league's top young point guards.
Obviously, a recent somewhat mediocre run of losses throws a bit of a monkey wrench in their season, but overall, this year has been a rousing success.
That being said, not everything has been golden in the Rose City. This team still needs to improve its perimeter and interior defenses, its ability to protect the rim and its scoring off the bench.
Here are the grades for all the key players on the Portland Trail Blazers.
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF
If you have some tangible complaints about LaMarcus Aldridge this season, you either haven't watched Portland play all year or have completely unreasonable expectations. While we are talking like critics, think about your take on Kate Upton. If you have anything negative to say about her, it probably isn't a problem of hers.
The point is that Aldridge has been putting up epic numbers this year, averaging a double-double of 23.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He has improved almost every aspect of his game and is now putting together numbers only seen by Hall of Famers.
You could compare this year of his with just about any power forward in the history of the game, and his numbers will look good. Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett would be proud to have a season similar to Aldridge's.
Aldridge has now become the premier power forward in the game, and only Kevin Love can be placed in his stratosphere.
Damian Lillard, PG
Damian Lillard put together one of the more impressive rookie seasons for a point guard in recent memory. His blend of shooting ability, character and court savvy would make even a 10-year veteran proud.
That being said, Lillard still needs to continue to improve his ability to distribute. His assist numbers are down from 6.5 to 5.8 per game, and while his three-point shooting and scoring numbers are up (40.1 percent and 20.7 per game, respectively), he still needs to get better at setting up his teammates.
He already is one of the top pick-and-roll point guards in the game, and his defense has improved considerably.
Ideally, you would like to see Lillard average upward of eight assists per game on top of his 20 points plus.
He is capable of those numbers, and eventually he will get there.
Wesley Matthews, SG
Prior to this season, Wesley Matthews was in a bind.
The Blazers had just drafted in the lottery a shooting guard known for his range and dynamic scoring ability.
To Matthews, it probably looked like the writing was on the wall and he was done in the starting lineup.
But an early injury to C.J. McCollum gave Matthews the opportunity to showcase his stuff, and he has gone on to have career-year numbers in nearly every category, including points (16.8) and rebounds (4.0) per game. He is also the best defensive guard on the roster and shows much more athleticism than most want to give him credit for.
Matthews is now squarely one of the top 10 shooting guards in the game. He is poised to get even better, and despite being either the third or fourth option on offense, he is getting his numbers.
Nicolas Batum, SF
Nicolas Batum has been just scratching the surface of his talent for years. The hope initially was that he would be the next Scottie Pippen.
In a sense, he is becoming that. He has improved most of his numbers this year, and his assist numbers in particular are very impressive at 5.3 per game. He is now one of the top two distributors on the team.
The Blazers have been experimenting with Batum as a point forward, again adding to his Pippen comparisons.
His defense, especially on the help side, is impressive, and his range continues to improve. He just needs to look for his shot more and become a little more aggressive. But he is still very young and should only get better.
Robin Lopez, C
Prior to the season, LaMarcus Aldridge was the biggest advocate for the Blazers signing a genuine center. The year prior, he was stuck trying to bail out one of the worst defensive big men in the league in J.J. Hickson.
Lopez had never had a huge season and, instead, was pretty much considered a space eater and zealous defender.
But he has exceeded all expectations this year, upping his rebounding average from 5.6 to 8.4 per game.
He has even showcased solid post moves on offense and a better rim-protecting ability than previously thought.
Lopez has been easily the best offseason pickup by the Blazers.
Mo Williams, PG
One of the keys to improving a stud young point guard is having a smart veteran point guard playing with him.
The Blazers were trotting out Nolan Smith last season, which wasn't helping anyone.
Mo Williams is just the type of vet you want behind your stud. He is smart, savvy and can contribute instant offense off the bench. He also continues to improve his passing and has only gotten more intelligent with age.
The Blazers have been wise to occasionally pair the two point guards together, although McCollum figures to cut more and more into those minutes.
Overall, Williams has been just the type of player you want playing behind your young point guard.
Joel Freeland, C
Portland fans have always had a bit of a soft spot for Joel Freeland.
The British import was a former first-round pick and was viewed as a potential wild card for this squad.
Freeland hasn't exactly set the statistical world on fire, but he has done exactly what the Blazers have asked of him.
Beating out former first-round pick Meyers Leonard during training camp as the backup center, Freeland has provided energy, physicality and intensity off the bench.
He just needs to watch his fouls and stay on the court a bit longer, and he will be doing everything that the Blazers want from him.
Thomas Robinson, PF
Similar to many prognosticators and general managers, I thought Thomas Robinson would be a good professional basketball player.
After all, he showed at Kansas solid defensive instincts, excellent rebounding chops and the potential to be a good low-post scorer.
But after a couple seasons for three different teams, Robinson is looking like a bust.
He still shows flashes of solid play and has been hindered by inconsistent minutes in Portland, averaging 10.9 minutes a game, but he is far from the level of a high lottery pick.
Robinson needs to play with a high motor at all times, and he also needs to play under control. He still has time to become a solid pro, but he is far from lottery worthy at this point.
C.J. McCollum, SG
When Portland drafted McCollum, as previously stated, it was obviously with the intention of grooming him as the shooting guard of the future.
But after his early-season injury and the re-emergence of Matthews, McCollum finds himself pigeonholed on the bench.
McCollum can score in a myriad of ways. He can shoot, drive and catch-and-shoot. He knows how to play without the ball as well as with it. He has good court vision and excellent court savvy.
He continues to improve and likely will be the key bench player going forward.
Dorell Wright, SF
The Portland Trail Blazers didn't exactly set off alarms when they acquired Dorell Wright this summer.
After all, Wright has been somewhat underwhelming during his NBA career.
But he has been a pleasant surprise this year for Portland.
He has excellent length, solid defensive skills and outstanding range.
If the Blazers are going to have a pronounced postseason run, one can see Wright hitting some huge shots in the playoffs.