We’ve reached the last entry in the Blazer Report Cards series! We gave Nicolas Batum a B and Victor Claver a C- in the last post, and to close things out, we’ll hand grades to big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Freeland.
LaMarcus Aldridge | #12 | Forward
For the second consecutive season, LaMarcus Aldridge was his team’s only All-Star. LMA was a workhorse for the Trail Blazers, and was a consistent source of points and rebounds every night. Part of his load was shifted on to the young stud Damian Lillard’s shoulders, but Aldridge was still the unquestioned leader of this team.
Aldridge’s scoring wasn’t as flashy as Lillard’s outbursts from the perimeter, but the big man was a model of reliability for Portland. His 21.1 points per game led the Blazers and put him at 9th in the NBA. Getting that type of scoring production from your power forward (at almost 50%, too) is a boon for Portland when they have the perimeter weapons that they do. Aldridge proved to be reliable from practically anywhere within the three-point line: midrange, low-post, under the hoop, at the free throw line. Aldridge’s proficiency in the midrange also melded well with fellow big man J.J. Hickson, as it allowed Hickson to camp under the rim and score the type of easy buckets he wouldn’t be able to get without Aldridge at his side.
While Hickson’s presence gave the Blazers a rebounding force, it didn’t subtract from Aldridge’s aggressiveness on the boards. He upped his own effort, setting a career high in rebounds per game. Aldridge isn’t an elite rebounder by any means, but with Hickson shown the door, an uptick in his rebounding production will prove to be very helpful for the Blazers.
The main knock on Aldridge, as always, was his defense. Aldridge has always been an average interior defender at best. He’s typically been paired with sturdy interior defenders, such as Greg Oden and Marcus Camby, but with Hickson even more of a defensive liability than Aldridge, Aldridge’s middling defensive play was even more of a problem for Portland. 1.2 blocks and decent lateral quickness simply didn’t cut it for the Blazers last season.
Defense or not, Aldridge has once again made his statement as one of the league’s best power forwards and most consistent players. He might not distinguish himself much from some of the other stars in the NBA, but with Lillard in the fold and more changes coming, Aldridge will be getting the help he needs to be able to take this team get back into the playoffs.
Joel Freeland | #19 | Forward
After Portland drafted him with the last pick in the first round all the way back in 2006, Freeland spent six seasons maturing overseas before finally making his NBA debut this season. 9.4 minutes over 51 games doesn’t scream impact, and really, Freeland was just a big man brought in to play minutes where necessary.
Offensively, Freeland was a trainwreck. His 40.8% would be dreadful even for a shooting guard, so as a big man, it’s not pleasing at all. His touch in and around the rim was okay at best, and his midrange jumper was much, much worse. Defensively, Freeland wasn’t much better–still far from average. He fouled often and didn’t contest shots in the paint well.
Perhaps the only thing that Freeland did reasonably well was rebound. By most advanced metrics, Freeland was close to Aldridge’s production as a rebounder, which is a rate acceptable from a player playing less than ten minutes a game. However, beyond rebounding, the Blazers really only found value in his 6’10”, 250 lbs frame.
As a 26-year old that will turn 27 shortly after the season kicks off, Freeland’s future with Portland is murky. He’s earning $3 million in guaranteed money for the next two years, but Portland would be ill-advised to play him in even the small role he played this season. Unless Freeland can make some major improvements in his game, he may be a fringe-level NBA player at best.