Random Ravings: Portland Trail Blazers' Midterm Reoprt Cards (Part I)
Ugh. Life stinks sometimes, you know? I thought I had enough money saved up to make the down payment on the house where I live, getting me a good deal on a place with a depressed value thanks to the current downturn in house prices.
Not only would I be paying a mere $950 a month for a place that could comfortably house a family of four, but I'd be able to say that, at the tender age of 24, I was a homeowner. Imagine that!
However, reality arrived in the form of the car crash my father went through a few weeks ago. He was alright, but our Jeep—well, I can't say the same for the Jeep.
Long story short, the smallish insurance check we'll hopefully receive sometime next week, combined with the bulk of my savings, will be used to get us a new vehicle. I won't be able to make my down payment until the end of March, and that's if we don't get unlucky again.
My current situation kind of mirrors the Portland Trail Blazers', in a way. They, too, thought they had a golden opportunity at the start of this season; a young roster chock-full of talent, a veteran point guard in the fold, and the emergence of Greg Oden would give Portland a team that had a chance to contend this season.
However, after a freakish rash of injuries to most of their forwards, both their true centers, and even their coach, the Blazers have been reduced to a team that will not threaten seriously.
Portland has managed to cobble together a decent half a season despite all these injuries, and with an influx of healthy players due to return, they'll look to make a playoff push, and try to put an exclamation point on this disappointing, trying, and inspiring season.
Now, the grades:
Brandon Roy: Portland's superstar has gone through a trying season so far. In between getting used to playing with Andre Miller, seeing his teammates dropping like flies around him, and his own body taking a beating playing out of position, it's amazing that Roy has actually increased his scoring average from last year.
However, this has come at a slight cost. His other numbers, like his rebounding and assists per game stats, have gone slightly down. Roy has had to shoulder more of the scoring load, and the strain is starting to show.
He is currently in the middle of a four-game break to rest an injured hamstring, and here's hoping he comes back rested and well.
To put it plainly: Brandon Roy is the main reason the Blazers are still in it. If he doesn't come back soon, they'll fall apart.
LaMarcus Aldridge: I was reading Oregonian columnist Geoffrey C. Arnold's midseason awards section a while ago, and I noticed that under the "Most Disappointing Player" award heading, he had listed Aldridge as a nominee.
While I think it's a bit extreme to consider Aldridge the most disappointing player in the NBA, I can see where Arnold's coming from on this one.
LA's numbers are down this year, and he's had to sacrifice both touches and working body parts to help his team cope with the losses of Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. With balky ankles, a thin frame, and a natural tendency to shy away from the paint, Aldridge has been forced into an uncomfortable place this year.
I can understand his dipped stats. However, two things about Aldridge disappoint me greatly: his large contract ($65 million) and his damning tendency to disappear when the chips are down.
I think I've said once that there are two kinds of NBA players, trees and leaves. When the day's sunny and fine, both are going to flourish. It's easy to look good when everything around you does, too.
However, when things get stormy, when the fierce winds start to whip up, the trees of the league—players like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and our own Roy—dig their roots in, weather the storm, and come out a little battered, perhaps, but ultimately better off for their ordeal.
The leaves of the league, on the other hand, get swept up in the wind—things like distractions, trade rumors, playing time (or lack thereof), injuries, and in-game events—and get blown away. They cannot be relied upon in pressure situations, for they let the moment, the wind, get to them.
Think for a moment: can any Blazers fan remember LaMarcus Aldridge having a big fourth quarter, hitting a big shot, or single-handedly winning a game?
I've followed Portland about as closely as any fan can, and throughout his three-plus years in the league, the answer I have to give is no.
I know this can be easily explained. Portland had Roy, Travis Outlaw, or Rudy Fernandez to take that big shot, to be The Man when the Blazers needed a Man.
Aldridge is always willing to be the sidekick, the guy riding shotgun. In other circumstances, this is acceptable and admirable; if the NBA had more guys like Aldridge, it would be much better off.
Unfortunately for Aldridge, this tendency is unacceptable for someone whose teammates are desperate for him to take charge, for someone that is slated to make 65 million dollars doing what I wouldn't shell out $35 million for a player to do.
LaMarcus Aldridge has repeatedly failed in pressure situations this year, proving that he is one of those leaves—a player that folds when the chips are down.
Andre Miller: While the beginning of the season for Miller has been rocky at best, the middle has been gold.
Given the starting job around a month ago, Miller's been what the Blazers have needed him to be: a steady veteran presence that contributes whatever, whenever.
Be it a timely rebound, a nifty pass to a cutting wing, steady defense, or a headlong charge into the paint for a layup, Miller's been a provider. Look for him to continue contributing in big ways as he gets more comfortable with Portland's returning personnel.
Greg Oden: Even typing his name causes my heart to wrench. It is simply unfair, the amount of turmoil Oden's had to endure the last two and a half years.
The big fella seemed primed for a breakout season, as he cemented his starting position with strong play early in the season. He was putting up double-doubles at least once a week, keeping his fouls down.
He was finally starting to develop into what we all knew he could be: the steady inside presence that would vault Portland into the league's elite once again.
Then, his knee exploded. I wish that were an understatement, but it's not.
The only thing that would seem to comfort Oden is that practically everybody else has gotten hurt as well, though the extremely unpleasant people could say that Greg's awful misfortune has rubbed off on everybody else.
Grade: Incomplete (hurt for the year)
Joel Pryzbilla: Having suffered a fate similar to Oden's shortly after G.O. got hurt, Joel can't be given much of a grade, either. Truth be told, his style of play usually doesn't draw accolades, but everyone familiar with the Blazers knows just how important this guy is to the team.
If I know the Vanilla Gorilla, he's going to come back bigger, badder and better than ever. Unfortunately, that won't be until next year.
Grade: Incomplete (hurt for the year)
Martell Webster: A solid contributor having a good January, Webster is the smooth-shooting youngster that gave Portland a good portion of their offense when most of his fellow wings dropped to the injury bug.
Webster has tried to distinguish himself from the glut of talented forwards by becoming the all-around player many small forwards are, but his success in that area has been mixed.
While his defense has improved, he's never going to be as good as Nicolas Batum or Outlaw, whose long, lanky frames and freakish athletic talent are simply better suited to the task of primary defender.
What will keep Webster on the floor when Batum and Outlaw return will be his offense. He better hope he doesn't go cold, or he'll be keeping the bench warm.
Grade: B- (he's been good when he's had to be, but his stats are inflated...everybody else has been hurt)
Travis Outlaw: Even before he broke his foot (in the same bone Webster did last year, funnily enough), Outlaw was on his way to a career year...the wrong kind of career year.
Always an inconsistent player, Outlaw seemed unsure of his role this year. Asked to play power forward exclusively—a role I and others have long felt he, well, sucked at—he'd been patchy.
He didn't rebound well enough for a power forward, and he didn't take advantage of his primary assets (quickness, length, an outside shot) enough against slower, larger players.
With the emergence of Jeff Pendergraph as a reliable garbage man, the steadiness of Juwan Howard, and the glut of threes, Outlaw's future beyond this season is uncertain in Portland.
Expect him to either contribute at the four this year and leave next year, or to be traded for an emergency center.
Grade: Incomplete (been hurt)
I'll cover the rest of the guys soon; I start my workweek later this afternoon, and it's always a problem writing after a ten-hour shift.
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