Alright, time for the rest of my slightly belated Blazer midseason grades. For Part I, click here .
You have to give credit to this young guy. When opportunity came knocking in the form of a rash of injuries to players ahead of him in the depth chart, Bayless was ready, willing, and very, very able.
Bayless plays basketball like my German shorthair pointer plays tug-of-war: aggressive, full contact, and full of attitude. His daredevil drives to the hoop, which often result in either a layup or a foul, give Portland the spark they need to keep games close, or pull away.
Also armed with an improving jump shot, Bayless has proven he deserves a solid 15-20 minutes on the floor. Whether he gets that much playing time will, unfortunately, be determined by forces outside his control.
Watching him play this season, it seems as if Blake peaked last season, when he used a newfound aptitude for hitting three-pointers to earn a starting job and average a career-high 11 PPG.
I say he peaked last season because I haven't seen last season's Blake this season often enough for my liking. While he has his good games, he also seems to be afflicted with the same "Not me! Not me! Please not me!" disease that LaMarcus Aldridge has at the end of games, or in the final three seconds of the shot clock.
Blake is a capable backup, but since he has peaked—and since Bayless could help the Blazers more right now—it might be time for Stevie to take his place on the pine...at least until he hits threes with consistency.
Batum's been hurt. He gets a pass.
Originally brought in to serve as a mentor to the Blazers' young bigs, the venerable veteran was forced to teach by example after both the Blazers' true centers (Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla) were lost for the year after their knees exploded.
While some residents of Rip City were fretting over the loss of the centers, their doubts and worries were put to rest when Howard proved he could still play some good basketball.
His toughness, determination on the boards, veteran savvy (been a while since a Blazer had "veteran savvy"), and the occasional midrange jumper have been invaluable for Portland as they try to cobble together a decent season with no one bigger than the thin, 6'11" Aldridge on the roster.
Juwan Howard has long since earned the respect of the NBA, but this season, he's earned the everlasting respect of Rip City's faithful.
Even since I first saw him play when he was at Arizona State, I thought Pendergraph had a chance to have a long career in the NBA. He fits the mold of the prototypical power forward: big at 6'10", long, and solid as a wall.
Unfortunately, due to a hip injury, he never got to compete for the job of backing up Aldridge. In fact, it didn't seem as if Nate McMillian would give the rookie a chance to play this season...at least, until practically everybody in front of Pendergraph joined him on the shelf.
Once he did get healthy, he's proven to be a scrappy garbage man, playing with absolutely no respect for or fear of anyone. In fact, he plays with such intensity that Brandon Roy once publicly said that he thought Pendergraph was insane.
He was joking...I hope.
Pendergraph is still raw, but as he continues understanding the NBA game (and developing that midrange jumper Howard must have taught him), he may prove to be the long-term answer to the Blazers' backup power forward problem.
After a rookie season full of plays that made him an instant fan favorite in Portland, it seems that Rudy has hit a bit of a sophomore slump.
I know he's been hurt (along with everybody else...), but there's no denying he hasn't been the Rudy we know and love. In fact, after Roy was shelved with a hamstring injury, McMillian went with Bayless to replace him, rather than Fernandez.
Then, after Bayless sprained his ankle, the coach continued to cold-shoulder the Spaniard by plugging Steve Blake into the off-guard starting spot.
Fernandez might still be a little tender from his surgery, but the time has come for him to just suck it up and start playing ball like his teammates. I mean, if McMillian is starting Steve Blake instead of Rudy Fernandez , something has to up.
Like Pendergraph and Howard, the Villanova product didn't expect to play much this season, but was forced to because of the injuries.
When he has gotten on the floor, Cunningham has been serviceable, but far from this year's Nic Batum. While Batum plays like he has been in the league 10 years, Cunningham plays like what he is: a rookie that gives you the good and the bad.
He's been decent, and he has gobs of potential, but Martell Webster has steadily gobbled up his minutes, and McMillian has favored a three-guard set with Roy or even Fernandez at the "three" whenever Webster needed a rest.
With Batum's return imminent (he should be playing Monday against New Orleans), it's very likely Cunningham will be riding the pine again—barring another incredible, spiteful case of the injury bug.
Disclaimer: I only rated the players that have played a significant amount of time for Portland this season; in my opinion, Patty Mills does not count.
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