Monday night’s heartbreaking 98-95 loss to the Washington Wizards, the worst team in the NBA record-wise, marked the exact mid-way point in the 2012-13 season. Forty-one games down, 41 to go. What better way to celebrate making it halfway to the end than to take a deeper look at what we’ve already seen?
In this first of a two-part mid-season review, I will be breaking down every member of Portland’s roster (active and inactive), giving each Blazer a grade. Each capsule will include a few important stats to help gauge level of play, a paragraph or two of my personal feelings about each player and his performance, and a letter grade.
I’ll list each player in reverse order based on minutes played, meaning I’ll start with the guys that barely play and finish with the guys who play all the time.
Grading is standard school-style, and breaks down as follows:
A: Excelling Above Average
B: Above Average
D: Below Average
Quick note, I wanted to ask some of the principals about how they felt the first half of the season went so I could include their opinions along with my own. Just so you know, answering kind of frivolous questions is not something pro basketball players want to do after losing for the sixth straight time and then being forced to talk about it for TV cameras and reporters. Which is to say, I spared myself the indignity, and didn’t ask.
Elliot Williams is the forgotten man of this season. Williams, drafted 22nd overall by the Blazers in the 2010 NBA Draft, has played a total of 24 games over the course of three seasons. Elliot missed his first year with a knee injury, most of last season with a shoulder injury, and all of 2012-13 with an injury to his Achilles tendon. I’m big on Elliot’s game, what of it we’ve seen, and his athleticism and scoring attitude could have been huge for Portland this season considering the total lack of scoring punch off the bench. If you think too, that since the Blazers’ bench is basically non-existent, how a healthy Elliot might be playing around 15 to 20 minutes a night, developing into a very talented basketball player right before our eyes, you’ll probably agree that Elliot Williams has gotten a pretty raw deal.
The one real positive take away about Elliot Williams in 2012-13 is despite the injury and the non pick-up of his contract extension, Williams has seemed to stay engaged. He’s around the team, both at home and on the road, something an injured Greg Oden hardly ever did, and he’s in the locker room talking it up with his teammates seemingly every night. I still believe Elliot has potential to break through in the NBA. He needs time, though, to make up for all the minutes he hasn’t played. The good news is that not picking up Elliot’s existing extension, the Blazers might be able to retain Williams for cheaper than he is currently signed for. I’ll be surprised if that happens, but there’s always a chance.
Grade: I (Incomplete could be the title of the Elliot Williams Story if it were published today)
Stats: 8.2 minutes per game, 2.4 points per game, 1.1 assists per game, 20 games played, 4.4 turnovers per 36 minutes
We know the story on Nolan Smith, we’ve known it for awhile. Nolan’s a great kid, he’s got a great story, the best coach in the world has his back, he’ll certainly have a long and fruitful career. Unfortunately, that long and fruitful career won’t be with the Blazers and probably shouldn’t be in professional basketball. It’s hard to watch Nolan this season and not wonder what the Blazers were thinking by selecting him, while also wondering what Nolan himself must be thinking watching a kid from Weber State fill the role of point guard of the future that he was selected to maybe try to fill.
Smith fell out of the rotation early in the season, after recovering from a concussion in Summer League, but was given a second chance to prove himself in January. That second change got away from him early in Portland’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. As I said at the time, it’s hard to stick a whole loss on a guy who played less than three minutes in the actual game in question, but Nolan’s +/- for that game speaks for itself. Before you call me a Nolan hater, let me say that I watched him in Summer League too, before the concussion of course, and though that maybe he had turned a corner. If Nolan could prove he’s an NBA player, I would gladly keep him around.
Regardless, we’ll always have December 10th of last year. That night in Portland Nolan scored 11 points (a season high), helping his team knock off the Toronto Raptors.
Stats: 12.2 minutes per game, 32% shooting from the field, 2.4 points per game, 6 starts, 5.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, 38% True Shooting Percentage
Portland’s Spanish rookie swingman is the first of the Blazers’ new acquisitions that we as fans should take our time deciding about. Victor Claver has been decent at best, but the question shouldn’t be has he been good this season, it should be can he be good ever. And if you think he can be good, then the follow-up question is how long should it take for him to get good. I personally think Vic has a ton of potential. He seems to be a heady basketball player, he shows some sings of being an intuitive defender, his shot needs work but isn’t that far away from being serviceable.
What worries me some about Claver is his tendency to miss open shots (especially at the rim), and the fact that he has yet to score more than eight points in a game. To be effective, Claver has to figure out what he does best, and do that every time he’s out on the court. If that’s passing, that’s OK. If that’s rebounding, I want to see him relentlessly attack the boards ever night. Right now, I feel like Victor is trying to do everything all at once, and because of that he’s struggled to be effective.
The good news is that Victor is probably very aware that he needs to improve, so it’s unlikely that we’ll spend much of the off-season listening to trade demands from his agent.
Grade: C- (his potential and effort allow him to pass, but just barely)
Stats: 9.4 minutes per game, 2.3 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, 1 start, 8.3 total rebounds per 36 minutes, 41% True Shooting Percentage
Joel Freeland is Portland’s other new foreign player who might deserve a little time before we as fans decide his fate. Coming into the season, I felt like Freeland could be the surprise member of this roster. Joel is older than Victor Claver, a little better established, and basically the face of his country’s basketball program (apart from NBA players Loul Deng and Ben Gordon who count as British for the purpose of the Olympics only). Freeland hasn’t quite lived up to my hype. He’s shown potential here and there, but he did go seven straight games to start the season without making a field goal.
Maybe the pace of the game is too fast for him, maybe he’s letting frustration from not being the principal offensive weapon get in the way of him playing effective minutes. Whatever the case may be, Joel Freeland is not where I thought he might be in regards to being an actual NBA contributor. I do think Joel will get there though. He’s shown range on his jump shot, he can battle under the hoop, and I can bet he’s determined as hell to make it work in the U.S. I still think Freeland might benefit from getting in a scrap or too, he always strikes me as that kind of guy. That being said, if one guy on this roster is going to be upset with how his first 41 games have gone, it’s probably going to be Joel Freeland.
Grade: D (as a motivational tool)
Stats: 9.1 minutes per game, 29% field goal percentage, 1.1 points per game, 6 total rebounds per 36 minutes, 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes
Double J, as I choose to call him, is the definition of a tough call. To the naked eye, Jared Jeffries basically doesn’t do anything. He has two games where he’s scored four points (his season-high), has two five-rebound games, and arguably his best night came in a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, meaning he rarely is the difference between winning and losing a game. But, as we know, basketball at the NBA level is about more than just what can be seen. Jared Jeffries is the only actual veteran on the team, he’s a locker room guy, and his defensive presence is a good counter-point to the scatterbrained J.J. Hickson. Do those things make him valuable? That’s what’s hard to say.
I appreciate Jeffries, and what he brings, I just cringe when he goes to the line in a close game, or hoists up an uncontested 15-footer. Jared has taken the unique, back-seat leadership role, and he’s filled the space vacated by Juwan Howard for a few seasons ago. He’s not the biggest surprise of the first half of the season, but I would say that what Portland has gotten from Jeffries is pretty much gravy. If he can add some consistent offense in the second half of the season, who could possible make himself an impact player.
Grade: C+ (passing due to effort, not above average because stats and actual play have to account for something)
Stats: 10.3 minutes per game, 34 appearances, 36% shooting from the field, 2.8 points per game, 9.7 points per 36 minutes, 4.7 total rebounds per 36 minutes
In my note in the opening of this piece, I mentioned that I decided not to ask anybody about their feelings about the first half of 2012-13. Monday night just wasn’t the time. This is not a happy team right now. However, since getting halfway through a season is more monumental for rookies, I did feel like I wasn’t in the wrong asking Will Barton how he felt his first 41 games went. To paraphrase, he is confident, he wants to continue to help his team win, and he has lofty goals for himself. Those are all good things.
Right now, there is no player on Portland’s roster more raw than Will Barton. There is also no other rookie (aside from Damian Lillard of course but he doesn’t really count as a rookie the way Barton does) on the Blazers’ roster with a higher ceiling than Will. He has three double-digit scoring nights to his name. He’s showed great skill at getting to the hoop. And he is totally unfazed by the NBA game. To fulfill his potential as a rookie, Barton has to find a way to stay on the court. Much like Claver, it will behoove Barton in the second 41 games to figure out what he’s best at, and just do that while he’s in the game.
My suggestion is figure out how to settle down a bit and get to the rim without getting called for charging. Will’s a dynamic finisher. If he starts attacking the rim more often, he’ll get more buckets, and he’ll also start getting to the line. Barton is currently shooting less than one free throw a night (1.7 per 36 minutes). That number needs to go up.
Grade: B- (A little high, I know, but I see a lot of good things in the future from Will, and I’m giving him the grade I hope he earns in the second half of the season, a classic grading technique)
Stats: 12.8 minutes per game, 2.2 points per game, 1 start, 43% Effective Field Goal Percentage, 4 total rebounds per 36 minutes, 29% shooting from three
Oh Sasha Pavlovic, what are you doing on this team, and why are you sometimes the most important player on Portland’s bench? This one is basically un-explainable. Sasha Pavlovic’s upside doesn’t exist. He seems to kill every Blazer run whenever he’s in a game. He always turns it over at the worst times. He’s stealing minutes from young Blazers who need the time to improve.
But there he is, hitting a big three when nobody else can score. And there he is again making a big defensive stop or a big rebound right when Portland needs a defensive stop or a big rebound. From what I’ve learned about Terry Stotts in the short time he’s been the Blazers’ head coach, he hands out praise honestly. By that token, there seems to be absolutely no reason that Pavlovic should be name-checked over and over in post game pressers by Portland’s head coach unless he deserves some level of credit.
Sasha has been in and out of the rotation all season. Hopefully as 2012-13 rolls along and the Playoffs become further and further away and development becomes more and more important, Pavlovic will fall out of the rotation completely. That way we won’t have to try and explain why he actually isn’t good and shouldn’t be on the court at all ever. And don’t worry, Portland’s not paying him this season, so you can bet they won’t be paying him next season.
Grade: D (I’d fail him, but I don’t want to be accused of making my grade decisions with a total disregard to some actual physical evidence)
Upcoming (hopefully before game 42 and all of this is irrelevant)
Player Grades (The Rotation)
Best and Worst Games, Biggest Surprises and Disappointments