Final Regular-Season Grades for Every Portland Trail Blazers Player
With the regular season finally coming to an end, there are many questions left unanswered for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Do they have enough defense to contend with the likes of the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder? Can they find new ways to score when defenses take away the three-ball? Can Damian Lillard have a breakout performance and take his place among the NBA's elite point guards?
With these and many questions to be answered in the upcoming weeks, let's take a look back on what we learned about the individual players who sported the Blazers uniform this season.
We will be looking at all players who are still with the team and played at least three games this year. Grades are obviously subjective, but we will be taking into account their overall contributions to the team's success, their importance and whether or not they improved from past seasons.
Here are the final regular-season grades for the Portland Trail Blazers.
The unquestioned best player on the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge took another step forward in his development.
After a frustrating season a year ago, Aldridge pleaded with management to bring in a true center. Last year's model, J.J. Hickson, was a liability on defense, which forced Aldridge to take way too much of the load on his own shoulders.
The Blazers brought in Robin Lopez, who did an excellent job especially on defense, which allowed Aldridge to shine on offense.
Aldridge responded with his best year as a professional, with career highs in scoring (23.2), rebounding (11.1) and a career-low mark in fouls per game (2.1).
Aldridge is one of the few big men left in this league who can score with his back to the hoop as well as straight up, in the pick-and-roll as well as the elbow and with range that extends to the three-point line.
Aldridge is now considered one of the top three power forwards in the game and was an actual MVP candidate for much of the season.
When the season began, there was hope that Will Barton would figure into the mix at some point.
The exciting wing finished last season exceptionally strong, averaging nearly 17 points per game over the season's last week.
But Barton was a victim of a few different circumstances.
First, the team brought in Dorell Wright to take time away from him at small forward and C.J. McCollum to steal minutes at shooting guard.
Second, Barton never really developed a deep jumper, averaging no better than 30 percent from deep during the year.
Barton has talent, athleticism and potential but this season he never really had a chance to showcase it.
Nicolas Batum has been seen as a rising talent around the league, although he is far from a household name.
To those who know him, he has been compared from everyone from Tayshaun Prince to Scottie Pippen.
Batum brings plenty of skill to the small forward position. He can shoot from deep, drive to the hoop and play good defense.
He has the athleticism to be dangerous in the open court and the youth to still improve.
This year, Batum showed just how good he can be at times. Sure, his scoring was slightly down (13 ppg), but had career highs in assists (5.1) and rebounds (7.5).
His shooting percentage was a solid 46.5 percent from the field as well as 36.1 percent from deep.
Batum will never be a first option on offense, but this year he showed the ability to bring plenty of other things to the table. For this, he has become a valuable member of this team.
Victor Claver, like Will Barton, was a solid member of last season's bench unit. Also like Barton, Claver saw his minutes and role drop remarkably once the Blazers were able to bring in more talent for their second unit.
Claver brings to the table good size for a wing player, but little else.
He isn't a great shooter (16.7 percent from deep this year) and doesn't necessarily excel on defense.
Claver can score in a few different ways, but his talent level makes him a fringe NBA player at best.
Allen Crabbe was a player who Blazer fans were excited about heading into this season.
Although most agreed that he would probably not find a big role with the team, a solid college career made him an intriguing project.
Crabbe spent much of the season in the D-League, but when he did get an opportunity to play he rewarded the Blazers with good shooting from deep (42.9 percent) and a good attitude.
Crabbe has good height for a shooting guard (6'6"), and given his shooting range could eventually be groomed into a spot-up shooter off the bench. However, his ceiling is probably in line with former Chicago Bulls guard Craig Hodges.
Joel Freeland was one of the biggest surprises for the Blazers during the preseason.
Most had anticipated that Meyers Leonard would be the first big man off the bench, but Freeland beat him out with his hustle and court savvy.
Freeland isn't the most talented player on either side of the ball, but he makes up for his perceived lack of talent with a very high motor and a desire for contact that is lacking in a lot of today's big men. Freeland plays the game like a rugby player, however under control.
Freeland put up good rebounding numbers (10.4 per 36 minutes) to go along with 47.5 percent shooting from the field.
A late-season injury disrupted his overall performance, but in general he had a good season.
If Joel Freeland was one of the big surprises during the preseason, Meyers Leonard was a big disappointment.
Leonard didn't crack the rotation until later in the season, but eventually did show some of the promise that made him a lottery pick last year.
Leonard is big, athletic and somewhat skilled offensively. Yet he is a project that will take much more strength training and practice to develop into the type of player who deserves such a high lottery pick.
For this season, it would have to be viewed as a step backward. His scoring, rebounding and overall numbers were down across the board. Sure, much of that was attributed to his lack of minutes.
Additionally, he needs to learn how to stay on the court. He averaged 7.7 fouls per 36 minutes. That is just a ridiculous number.
What else can be said about Damian Lillard?
Lillard burst onto the scene as a rookie, immediately taking over the reins as the unquestioned starting point guard and initiating the offense like a pro.
As a sophomore, Lillard improved in a lot of ways. He increased his scoring (20.7 ppg), rebounding (3.5 rpg) and committed fewer turnovers per game (2.4). His shooting from deep improved (39.4 percent), and he did all this while playing in fewer minutes per game (35.8).
But not everything was rosy for the Rose City's point guard.
Lillard's assists went down nearly one per game, and he didn't take as much of a step forward defensively as one might hope.
But Lillard has established himself as one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league. He knows when to set up his teammates on the perimeter and when to call his own number.
The key for Lillard will be to learn how to set up his teammates with easier hoops. When he can do that, he will see his assists rise from just over five per game like this past season.
Robin Lopez was brought in for his defense, and to take pressure off of LaMarcus Aldridge and a very weak overall team defense.
He brought toughness, savvy and an energy that made him an instant fan favorite.
Lopez had a career year, scoring 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
He truly was a revelation this year.
Lopez receives a higher grade because of what he meant overall to this team. He single-handedly reshaped the team culture and made everyone a better rebounder and defender.
Prior to the season, there were whispers that rookie C.J. McCollum was going to take some minutes away from Wesley Matthews, the incumbent shooting guard.
But an early-season injury coupled with a new and more driven Matthews resulted in an excellent year. Matthews has emerged as arguably one of the league's top 10 shooting guards in the league.
He mixes good strength, size and sneaky athleticism. He pairs this with excellent range (39.3 percent from deep), solid defense and an ability to score in a number of ways.
He responded with career highs in scoring (16.4 ppg), rebounding (3.5 rpg) and did so while only committing 1.3 turnovers per game.
Matthews is a dynamic scorer that this team needs. He perfectly spaces out the offense and provides an excellent third option.
An early-season injury helped to derail the rookie campaign of the Blazers' top pick in last year's draft.
That being said, C.J. McCollum has exhibited some tremendous skills during his brief first season.
McCollum is a dynamic scorer, able to score in isolation with the ball in his hands, off the ball off of screens and as a spot-up shooter.
McCollum was particularly good from deep, hitting over 37 percent of his triples.
It seems that McCollum started to find his mark in February, scoring in double digits in three straight games.
But his minutes became increasingly sporadic, and heading down the stretch he may not have a huge role in the playoffs.
However, McCollum did show that he could have a nice future in the NBA.
Thomas Robinson has had a tough career thus far in the NBA.
He was a high lottery pick, but his original team, the Sacramento Kings, gave up on him after just 51 games.
His second team, the Houston Rockets, gave up on him after just a 19-game tryout.
When Robinson came to Portland, he knew that he was going to have to re-invent himself. He wasn't going to get a shot at starting since he was going to be backing up one of the best power forwards in the game.
So he was going to have to get his minutes and make his mark as an energy guy, playing tough defense and grabbing boards.
And though his minutes were short (a career-low 12.5 per game), he was effective. He averaged 14 points and 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.
The future once again seems bright for Robinson as he has become a valuable contributor on a playoff team.
It almost seems unfair to judge Earl Watson.
He is reaching the end of his career and was the third point guard on this team. When your starting guard is one of the league's best, there aren't a lot of minutes to go around.
Watson played smart, carried himself with class and served as a mentor to some of the younger guys.
But his numbers weren't eye-popping. He had a team-low 6.7 minutes per game and a team-low .5 ppg.
Mo Williams was brought in to be a veteran presence on a young team and to serve as a mentor to Damian Lillard.
He also was asked to be the top scorer off the bench.
Williams did not disappoint, averaging 9.7 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 36.9 percent from deep.
In the playoffs, he will be asked to provide big shots on a team that lacks playoff experience.
Dorell Wright was one of the team's most underrated pickups during the offseason.
He provides length, three-point prowess and athleticism in the open court.
And when Aldridge went down, he was asked to play the power forward spot, where he was able to stretch the defense with his ability to knock down the triple.
Wright was a versatile and valuable member of a much-improved bench.