Well Blazer fans, the 2011-2012 season is in the history books. Does it sting and leave a bitter taste in your mouth? Or do you feel relieved?
Disappointed is a word that will be thrown around a lot in Portland this summer whenever the season is brought up. Sure it hurts that the Rose Garden won’t be buzzing with playoff action while teams like the Thunder and Nuggets continue to represent the Northwest Division (unless Denver loses to the Lakers). As much as the season was an emotional roller coaster, full both of highs and lows, I am kind of thankful for our summer to start early.
Fear not Rip City, this summer will be a total overhaul and I can’t wait for what’s in store. Anyone from Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Roy Hibbert, Rajon Rondo and other stars could be on the Blazers’ roster by the start of training camp. The NBA Draft is deep with talented young stars. The future is bright.
As we sit and relax, I’ll take a look back into what I liked and didn’t like this season.
MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
It’s a no brainer that LA most deserves this recognition. The guy is a stud and finally had the breakthrough All-Star year that he needed to reach the next level. After coming alive as a legit offensive threat halfway through last season, his numbers and productivity continued to climb in 11-12. This season LaMarcus posted some of the best numbers of his career: 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists in in 36 minutes per game. He also busted the top ten charts in a couple other statistical categories worth noting, ranking 8th in points per game (21.7), 7th in field goals made per 48 minutes (11.62) and 8th in points scored (1191).
LA adjusted well to becoming the number one offensive option for the Blazers. With the dream of the “Big 3″ meeting an untimely death with the retirement of Brandon Roy and the release of Greg Oden, LaMarcus became the Blazers marquee player, and Aldridge used the opportunity to develop into one of the most impressive power forwards in the West.
LA reached double figures in scoring in all of his 55 starts, dropping a season-high 39 on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Portland’s overtime loss on February 6th in the game that started the Blazers’ downward spiral. LaMarcus dueled night in and night out with other notable power forwards such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Pau Gasol, and will continue to be one of the league’s best scoring big men as he continues to develop a number of highly effective low-post moves. LA’s other 11-12 highlights included a new career-high of 23 rebounds against the Toronto Raptors, and his first game-winning jumper to seal an overtime victory in Dallas over the Mavericks.
Portland made a smart move by sitting Aldridge for the last eight games, following the diagnosis of a minor hip injury, giving him extra time to heal to hopefully get into top form for training camp in the fall.
LaMarcus will need to continue improving his offensive game and become the late game clutch player Portland desperately needs if he wants to build on his first All-Star season in 2012-13. Hopefully Portland will pick up a nice piece at the point to compliment Aldridge down low.
Best Addition: J.J. Hickson
When Portland picked up Hickson off of waivers from the Sacramento Kings for literally nothing, he could have been damned to forever be a bench player and only see garbage time, or worse, become another trade piece in an attempt to grab an additional draft pick. Now the Kings are smacking themselves on the heads asking “What the hell did we do?”
Hickson was a blessing, coming off the bench behind Aldridge, providing much needed scoring ability and hustle. Aldridge has a tendency to linger outside the paint and settle for the jumper. Hickson had no problem ducking his head and driving inside, feasting on offensive rebounds and lobs. Hickson’s offensive versatility makes him a valuable piece for the future, should Portland decide to pursue him in the offseason. Hickson started 11-12 averaging 4.7 points and 5 rebounds in 18.4 minutes of play, and finished averaging 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in 31.2 minutes and was at times Portland’s offensive focal point. J.J.’s best Blazer performance came in Portland’s heartbreaking 98-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which he scored a season-high 29 points to go with 13 rebounds.
Most Disappointing Player(s): Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford & Wesley Matthews
Where do I begin with Raymond Felton? I wasn’t too hot on Portland trading bad ass Andre Miller for Felton. The move didn’t really help our problem at the point position and the Blazers didn’t that much younger. What the team did get was a slightly chunky and slow Raymond Felton who wasn’t ready for the shortened season. He became the butt of jokes around Portland for his constant turnovers, many of them stupid, like dribbling the ball off his foot for throwing an alley-oop to no one around the basket. He made Andre Miller look like a pure genius. Fans got sick and tired of “Felton Time,” that time during the course of a game when Ray would seemingly cost the Blazers a winnable game by turning the ball over, or getting worked by an opposing point guard. It got so bad for Portland that it was well known that Felton was available at the trade deadline along with Jamal Crawford. Neither were picked up.
When I found out that Jamal Crawford would sign a two-year deal with during the off season I was excited. A former Sixth Man of the Year and known for just his scoring abilities, I believe that Crawford would be just the right punch off the bench, giving Portland’s second unit some automatic firepower. What transpired was one of Jamal’s most disappointing seasons. Crawford put up season low numbers in points and shooting percentage. Jamal was not the guy Portland was looking for. It got pretty old watching him over dribble the ball, only to chuck up a long three-point shot that hit nothing but the back iron at the end of the shot clock. A few four-point plays and some fancy dribbling were nice, but due to his lack of productivity and his sliding popularity in Portland, it comes as no surprise that Jamal will be testing the waters of free agency.
I feel bad for including Wesley Matthews here, but this season simply was not a good one for him, and it sure made that five-year, $34 million contract look pretty pricy. Looking lost on offense, Wesley didn’t bring the firepower till very late in the season when nothing really mattered anymore. He constantly looked frustrated, like something was holding him back. His shooting percentage took a nose dive, .449 a year ago down to .416; his three was off as well, .407 to .387. I wouldn’t be surprised that if a good offer were made for Matthews, the Blazers would take it. Who knows what the market will be like for shooting guards, though. Best guess is that Portland hopes for a better season from Wesley in 2012-13
Top Second-Year Player: Luke Babbitt
Luke Babbitt has been an unfortunate inside joke with Blazer fans, known for his time sitting on the bench, appearing in garbage time, and being the only white guy on the team. He got the distinction of being Portland’s designated to-go “Chalupaman” after hitting a three two push the Blazers over 100 points, awarding the Rose Garden crowd free Taco Bell coupons, one memorable evening. After what has become his most famous quote (“It feels good to give the fans free Taco Bell”), Portland fans rooted for Babbitt to shoot from beyond the three-point line every time he touched the ball.
Early in the season Babbitt didn’t see much playing time due to former coach Nate McMillan’s desire to play his veterans and rotation players, and Luke’s production slipped. After McMillan was fired, interim coach Kaleb Canales gave Babbitt a chance to prove himself, and that’s what he did. Babbitt was given plenty of minutes and was welcomed by Portland fans to shoot the ball, and shoot it often. Aside from being deadly downtown, Babbitt grew into more of a skilled player, showing some never-before-seen post moves and floaters, showcasing more of his all-around talents. He has been made fun of plenty, but I am here to announce myself as a Babbitt Believer.